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. High up on most people’s “least fave” lists are dentists, IRS agents, and the TSA. But there’s something else that all three have in common: They’re 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 should you ready yourself for your upcoming TSA experience!
Here are some travel tips to help you get through airport security faster and smoother.
Review the TSA Website
Can you carry that jar of Grandma’s cranberry relish with you? Is it better to check that snow globe you picked up as a souvenir? Will they rip apart a child’s favorite stuffed animal to search inside of it? You can find answers to these questions and more by simply spending a few minutes reviewing some basic rules on the TSA website. The TSA website is full of practical tips and useful information, and even allows you to search for specific items that you may be considering carrying with you. Taking the time to check out the site and leave those prohibited items at home can save yourself, the TSA, and all the passengers behind you some valuable time.
It also provides useful tips for passengers with disabilities who may have questions on what to expect at the airport, and the site’s FAQ section has advice for passengers with specific religious or cultural needs on what to know about TSA policy and even addresses questions transgender travelers may have about negotiating security.
Download the TSA App
That’s right! Like almost everything else these days, the TSA has its own app! Like the TSA website, the My TSA app is packed with useful information, including handy guides, FAQs, medical policies, and how-to sections dealing with topics like dressing and packing.
Most importantly, 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. Start downloading!
The fastest way to get through security is to check your bags so you can avoid having a carry-on searched. But since checking luggage can mean additional fees that jack up the prices of flight deals and more time spent waiting at baggage claim after you land, a lot of people try to bring everything in a carry-on. If that’s your plan, you’ll need to pack items wisely to get through security quickly.
Consider where everything in your carry-on is placed. Your electronics and your liquid bag should be placed near the top or in pockets so you can easily pull them out. All liquids, aerosols, creams, gels, and pastes need to be kept in your quart-sized bag for liquids. All containers inside need to be 3.4 ounces or less.
Another simple way to minimize the amount of liquid you carry with you is to buy special travel-sized bottles or tubes that you can put some of your products in. You can find this at your local drugstore or even online. If all else fails, there is no shortage of mini-sized versions of just about anything you will possibly need for your trip. Once again, the drugstore is your friend for all things mini. Or, you can even pick up some travel-sized items at the airport! Whatever you do, just make sure you prep in advance so you won’t have to throw a bunch of your stuff out.
You also need to make sure that you don’t accidentally bring any of the items that are fine for checked bags but prohibited from carry-on. If you do, that’ll mean you’ll be stopped and your bag will be thoroughly searched — which will take a long time. Items that may cause problems include things like knives and tools, certain sports equipment, and toys that look like weapons. The TSA website has a full breakdown of what you can and can’t bring in both carry-on and checked bags so you can plan accordingly.
Large electronics or lots of cords may also lead to more thorough searches. So while bringing most gaming machines or medical equipment in your carry-on is allowed, you may want to keep stuff like that in a checked bag to ensure you make it through security faster.
Ready Your Travel Documents
There’s a lot happening when you’re going through TSA at the airport and that makes it easy to thoughtlessly tuck your identification into your pocket, your purse, or even leave it on the baggage check-in counter. Using a passport holder or a travel neck wallet gives your identification a specific place and positions it at the ready for security.
Keep in mind that every person in your group eighteen years or older needs to show their own valid identification at the airport security check-in. This means they should hold their own ID. When traveling domestically, you may use your passport, driver’s license, or state-issued identification card. When traveling internationally, you’ll need to show your passport. And be sure to check the expiration dates on your all identification.
If you fail to bring proper identification to the airport, you may not be allowed to fly. For domestic travel, you may have the opportunity to go through a verification process where the security officer attempts to prove your identity, but it’ll take up a lot of time.
Dress Right to Get Through Airport Security
Keeping your travel clothes simple will save you time. Cardigans are a great way to stay warm, while bulky jackets can be a hassle to deal with. Slip-on shoes will make your life a lot easier since you’ll need to remove your shoes. Once you slip those shoes off, you’ll want to have socks on so you aren’t walking on the cold airport floor.
If you’re bringing flashy jewelry, like bangles and big earrings, it may be easier to pack them in a carry-on because the TSA will make you remove large metal pieces. That being said, if you’re wearing expensive jewelry, like diamonds, you can keep them on while you’re going through security.
Do you have jewelry or purses that look like a weapon? For instance, a purse with accessories that look like a knife or brass knuckles? You can be pulled out of line for this, and depending on the item it may even be prohibited, so either leave it at home or check that bag.
Join an Expedited Program
Expedited programs will save you time by letting you bypass the normal lines in favor of shorter ones. Sometimes there are kiosks available and fewer restrictions or procedures to go through. There are several expedited travel programs available, all of them with different uses and pros and cons.
The TSA Precheck program is a government program for domestic flights in the USA. Members submit an application online, pay the fee, and go through an interview process at an enrollment center. If you’re approved, you can skip the normal security lines in favor of the TSA Precheck security line, which is much shorter and doesn’t require you to take off your shoes or remove items from your baggage.
If you’re traveling to the USA from another country, Global Entry is the expedited travel program that lets you skip the normal customs line and head to the Global Entry kiosks instead.
In other circumstances, there are expedited travel programs for certain locations that you can pay for through your airline or are sometimes available for first-class or upgraded passengers.
Remember to Have Patience
The TSA operates on a “risk-based” strategy, so even if you do put your family-sized jar of peanut butter correctly in your checked baggage (hope you tightened the lid first!), and took your shoes and belt off, there’s still a chance that you’ll be randomly selected for what is termed “additional screening.” It’s also part of TSA policy to “incorporate random and unpredictable security measures” for obvious reasons. If prohibited items continue to be discovered in passengers’ bags and even if no ill intent was intended, heavy fines and citations are possible — with security line delays the inevitable byproduct.
No matter if you’re stuck waiting or pulled for additional screening, remaining patient is your best course of action. Losing your cool will just make things worse and drag your situation out. That being said, you should be sure to know and understand your rights as a passenger before your trip.
Have any of your own travel tips to help prep for the TSA and get through airport security faster? Leave them in the comments section below!