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TSA Security without Hassles - How to have!

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A exit from TSA security. Go through TSA security without hassles.

If you’ve gone through TSA security at a large airport, you know that you may be in for a mess.

  • People delayed by being pulled aside due to items left on them,
  • Delays due to hand inspections and additional x-rays of bags,
  • Piles of confiscated items that weren’t allowed through,
  • Loudspeaker announcements asking people to come back for missing laptops, cell phones, or even in one case I heard shoes!

This doesn’t have to be. You can protect yourself by following several simple procedures.

Above: Notice that I did not take this photo while actually passing through TSA security. Although at times permitted by TSA if it does not interfere with the screening process and that you do not seem to be doing it for a harmful purpose, why attract unwanted attention? Moreover, there may be state or local laws that prohibit photography.

Prepare in advance

  • First, prepare for security. Do as much as you can before reaching the crowded security area. 

    If you have these, take off your watch and take out your cell phone, coins, and wallet. Remove any necklaces. Take off your belt. Put these in your laptop case if you have one, as this will be the second to last item you put on the x-ray belt. Try to put valuables in your case while others are not watching you.

    Not only will you be less likely to face a pat down, which delays you, others in the secuity line will be less likely to know where your valuables are.

    Because these are difficult to carry with other items, leave your shoes on and your laptop in its case until you reach security.
  • Make sure that you have your boarding pass and personal identification readily available before reaching security. Do not fumble for these there, where you might more easily drop something without noticing.
     
  • Because I believe this helps security more easily verify that I am not a person who requires special attention, I use my passport for all flights these days.

Routine, routine, routine

Always follow exactly the same routine. That means if your mind is on missing your flight, on an upcoming meeting or whatever, you do not have to think very much about security.

  1. As mentioned, prepare for TSA inspection. Other than your laptop and shoes, do not fumble for items in a crowded security line.
     
  2. Always place items on the x-ray belt in the same order. 

    My small carry on bag goes through first. I keep nothing very valuable in it.

    Next comes a TSA tray with shoes, hat (if any), sealed quart plastic bag of toothpaste and other 3.4 oz (100ml) or less items. Note that a 5 oz bottle with “just 2 oz left in it” does not count as a 3.4 oz item in the eyes of TSA security.

    In this tray, if I have any, also goes a sealed quart plastic bag of liquid or gel prescription medicines with saved copies of prescription information on the boxes they came in (if bottles have been removed). I place this information face up.

    If you’re not sure exactly what TSA allows for carry on or how to pack it (these rules change frequently in this security environment) check the easy to understand and extensive information on TSA's website.

    Some TSA teams do not require shoes off, but others do. I automatically take them off. Remember this is a routine. You may wish to wear slip on shoes for easy removal at security, although I stick with my most comfortable shoes with laces, while others prefer to wear their heaviest shoes.

    Then comes my laptop backpack with laptop removed. I like my padded laptop backpack because it leaves my hands free and does not tell the world that I am carrying a laptop.

    Finally, the laptop goes in a TSA tray.

Protect your valuables

Wait until person ahead of you has successfully stepped through x-ray before pushing the laptop case and then laptop tray through. That way you can more easily keep an eye on these.

At security, beware of a team intent on stealing. A person in front of you stages a delay at x-ray by deliberately leaving some coins or whatever in her pocket while her partner grabs a laptop or two or other valuables owned by people delayed by the person with the coins.

Our routine works to prevent one of these victims being you.

Be friendly and polite

I am naturally friendly and polite. This has helped immensely with the security process.

If you do not like TSA security proceedures, take your complaints to the people who determine the rules, not to the TSA agents on the front line who do not have the power to change anything. What can you accomplish by hassling them?

Note that the person who gained fame by saying "Don't touch my junk" and then refusing to continue the pat down process did not fly that day.

Have you any suggestions to improve these tips? Please comment! Although written with TSA security in the U.S. in mind, the basic suggestions, the same routine always both before and during the security line, apply anywhere.

Comments

Emma Tom
September 23, 2011

I just bought the 20″ Baseline luggage from Briggs & Riley and it is the perfect carry-on. The wider design leaves room to pack two shirts side by side and there are plenty of outside pockets to protect my valuables while going through security. It’s also incredibly light making it very easy to travel.

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jenna@Webjet
March 4, 2013

TSA can be such a pain some times! It always seems that I get stuck behind the people that hold up the line. This tips would be helpful for them to read! I’ve noticed that your attitude can make a HUGE difference on how TSA works, staying friendly will let them do their job and stay positive!

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Paul Marshman
August 23, 2014

Great post, Don. I think the most valuable piece of advice is to establish a routine and stick to it every time you go through security. It’s also a great idea to take steps to protect yourself from thieves when you get to the checkpoint. You’re vulnerable there, and thieves do make a good living preying on travellers at the airport.

My own technique is to dress for the airport without things that will trigger the x-ray machine, like a belt and loose change in my pockets. But somehow I still end up forgetting something, like my watch, and get the pleasure of a pat-down.

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Don Nadeau
August 24, 2014

Thank you so much, Paul.

That’s great advice to think about how you’re dressed even before reaching the airport.

My own advice did not go well one time. Forgetting that I had lost some weight before their purchase, I removed the belt from my trousers before queuing up for x-ray belt inspection.

Very quickly I was standing in my underwear luckily not going commando that day!

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