You just booked your dream trip. You managed to hear the alarm clock, and you even beat the traffic to the airport! Now it’s time to enjoy your flight, take in some sights, and relax by the pool—right? Wrong!

Before any of that good stuff can happen, you must first endure—the dreaded TSA! (Cue “dun–dun-duuun” sound effect!)

The Transportation Security Administration is a much maligned group. Some would go as far as to say they’re a pain in the TSA! We’re here to help.

Try these tips for a smooth passage through airport security, and you’ll be dipping your toes in that pool before you know it.

1.) Prepare

 Ollyy / Shutterstock

Ollyy / Shutterstock

High up on most people’s “least fave” lists are dentists, IRS agents, and the TSA. You may be surprised to hear that all three have something in common. They are all best experienced when you prepare in advance! Much as you would floss before your oral hygienist unleashes the gum stimulator on you, and just like you would frantically gather alphanumerically labelled documents from that shoe box in the cupboard ahead of April tax time, so you should ready yourself for your upcoming TSA experience!

Simply by spending a few minutes reviewing some basic rules on the TSA website, you’ll save yourself, the TSA, and all the passengers behind you some valuable time.

Can you carry on that jar of Grandma’s cranberry relish?  Should you check that childhood snow globe you just couldn’t travel without? Will they rip apart your kid’s favorite stuffed animal? The TSA website is full of practical tips and useful information, and even allows you to search specific items that you may be considering carrying with you.

Take a few moments to check out the site and leave those prohibited items at home.

2.) There’s an app for that

Maridav / Shutterstock

Maridav / Shutterstock

That’s right! Like almost everything else these days, the TSA has its own app!

My TSA is available for iPhone and Android, and only took up a measly 11.5MB on my iPhone (still plenty of room for crushing candy and booking cheap flights!).

This free app, like the website, is packed with useful information that, if followed, can reduce the amount of time the TSA spends scrutinizing you. Imagine how quick the process would be if everybody followed these instructions!

The My TSA app will give you access to a useful guide, FAQs, medical policies, and how-to sections dealing with topics like dressing and packing (I’m told I could use some help with both!)

You’ll also find useful links to “Airport Status” and “Security Wait Times,” outlining the current status of your departure airport, from wait times to weather. All of this information can help you plan your arrival time better. This app is a really great way to keep abreast of all the latest TSA policy updates, and the real time conditions at your chosen airport, all in the palm of your hand. Start downloading!

3.) Pack smart

Khafizov Ivan Harisovich / Shutterstock

Khafizov Ivan Harisovich / Shutterstock

Packing is an important rite of passage for all trips. Not only is it important to make you look good when you arrive at your destination, but it’s also crucial to allowing the TSA to quickly and effortlessly get you through the line faster!

For example, did you know that pies and cakes require additional screening? Or that those gifts for your niece and nephew should ideally be wrapped when you reach your destination, not before? Who wants to watch the TSA un-wrapping your gifts and ruining that beautiful bow you spent twenty minutes tying, anyway?

Liquids in the correct quantities must all be screened, so when possible, check these items. Otherwise, you’ll have to place them in the prescribed, transparent bag and into the plastic trays destined for the screening belt. The rule of thumb is “3 – 1 – 1,” approximately 3 ounces per container (technically 3.4 is OK), all packed up in a 1-quart size, transparent, zip-top bag, with a limit of 1 bag per passenger per screening bin. Simple!

Pack in layers to allow you to easily remove medication, laptops, and liquids for screening, and try to limit the number of metal items on your person as you tip-toe through the metal detector (sorry piercing fans!).

4.) Patience

The TSA operates on a “risk-based” strategy, so even if you do put your family-size jar of peanut butter correctly in your checked baggage (hope you tightened the lid first!), and took your shoes and belt off, there is still a chance that you will be randomly selected for what is termed “additional screening.”

It’s a part of TSA policy to “incorporate random and unpredictable security measures” for obvious reasons. Prohibited items continue to be discovered in passenger’s baggage and even if no ill intent was intended, heavy fines and citations are possible—with security line delays the inevitable byproduct.

The TSA website can keep you informed of your rights as a passenger, as well as providing useful tips for passengers with disabilities who may have questions on what to expect at the airport. Passengers with specific religious or cultural needs can be informed about TSA policy ahead of their arrival at the airport, and similarly, any concerns transgender travelers may have about negotiating security can be answered from the site.

5.) Pre-Screen

cunaplus / Shutterstock

cunaplus / Shutterstock

Like all good fireworks shows, I’ve saved the best for last! (By the way—fireworks are prohibited items!) How’d you like to keep your shoes and belt on, and leave your bag of liquids in your carry-on through screening? Yes please!

TSA Pre is an initiative that allows eligible passengers at participating airports to undergo an expedited screening process, utilizing dedicated TSA Pre lines! There is an enrollment process and a one-time fee, but for regular travelers who are approved, and receive their KTN (“Known Traveler Number”), the benefits are great.  With more than a million passengers already enrolled and the list of airports expanding, this seems to be the face of the future. You can benefit from the TSA Pre experience if you are already enrolled in other “Trusted Traveler” plans like “Global Entry,” which ease passage through Customs and Border Protection.

The TSA is an important organization, performing an invaluable service in ensuring the safety of almost two million passengers—per day! That’s a lot of screening! We know everyone wants to get through security as quickly and as painlessly as possible—but at the same time, we all demand that we are kept safe when traveling. We like the best of both worlds!

So, be pre-screened and be prepared. Plan and pack properly. You can make a difference and make your journey through the airport more enjoyable! And hey—maybe you’ll help reduce those long security lines once and for all!

Normally we don’t hear much about the TSA unless a passenger has a complaint! Have you ever had a GOOD experience with the TSA? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.


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About The Author

Brian Lees

Brian Lees is a Content Writer and Editor with 21 years of experience in the travel industry and a lifetime of personal traveling memories. Originally from Scotland, Brian is a big fan of soccer, family, friends, and food. He's now happily settled on South Shore Long Island with a wife, 2 kids, and a dog to keep him busy! Between trips to Jones Beach, he's happy to keep the CheapOair blog filled with travel insights for you all.