Airport screening may be the most overlooked ingredient to a smooth vacation. Rarely do travelers think about the metal detectors and pat downs until they find themselves at the end of the TSA’s long line. Boring, and for travel vets, quite routine, so is there really anything to discuss? Absolutely, because arriving ill-prepared and underestimating the TSA will cause headaches all the way home. At its most harmless, airport security is a time vampire, with potential hours of standing followed by unpacking and shoe removal. But at its worst, the TSA will fine and even imprison if the violation is severe.
Granted, that seems a bit hyperbolic. Honestly, you really don’t need to worry too much, but know that with proper preparation, security checks go a whole lot faster. A quick visit to the TSA’s website (https://www.tsa.gov/travel ) will net you all of their guidelines and procedures. They even have a feature where you can type in an item and find out if you can transport it (carry-on or otherwise). Not everything about airport screening is that simple though. For instance…
You might see references to a 3-1-1 rule. The TSA uses this numerical acronym for its liquid carry-on restrictions. It translates as follows:
3.4 oz (100 mL) bottle or less for all liquids, gels, and aerosols packed in a 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag and 1 bag per passenger.
In case you’re wondering, one of these quart-sized bags can hold roughly 7 or so 3oz bottles. Using smaller bottles will net you more room, so really you can carry-on whatever you can fit in that bag (so long as it’s a legal liquid). Note though, that the TSA agent will want a clear, unobstructed view of everything inside. If the agent can’t see what they need to, they’ll open, spill out, and syphon through its contents. Don’t cram it. How much does one need to carry on? Well, that’s up to you, but you shouldn’t need much. In fact, the less you carry on, the better.
That leads to the next point: Pack and dress efficiently. The TSA will have you remove nearly everything on your person like jewelry, belts, hair accessories, and the whole contents of your pocket. They all get screened, which means the more you have, the more time needed with higher chances of lost items. Unless you plan on dressing to impress the plane (I wouldn’t), cut back. Wear easy to remove shoes, simple clothes, and little to no jewelry. Pack those things; pack them neatly because it’s always safe to assume the TSA will screen your luggage. Pack in even layers, tie up cords, and organize the best you can. If you’re taking gifts, wait until after to wrap them. Keep items like toothbrushes in bags so the handler won’t need to touch it (who knows what they’ve gone through). It makes the process simple for them and therefore simple for you.
It should go without saying, but arrive early. The line may not be shorter (especially at busier airports), but it gives you time to prepare. Utilize your que time to make a quick accounting of everything on your person. Prepare kids and the elderly so that when it’s your time, you keep moving. Unless they’re infants, everyone goes through the detector alone. Younger kids may need a bit of instruction. Don’t say words you know will cause alarm. “Bomb” will certainly land you in deep water. Train your younger kids too as any mention of obvious “trigger” words will create trouble regardless of their age.
Pat downs may happen. They’re random, so it’s not because you did anything wrong. You have some rights you can exercise here. If the situation is uncomfortable, request the pat-down be conducted in a private room and witnessed by the person of your choice. All pat-downs are conducted by an officer of the same gender as the traveler. You will never be asked to remove any article of clothing.
Aside from practical suggestions, the TSA PreCheck service entitles qualified people amenities such as keeping shoes, jackets, and belts on, as well as being able to hold standard-compliant liquids and gels in a carry-on bag. Certain restrictions still apply, so for more information, visit the TSA PreCheck website.
Last, but not least, don’t fret about it. It just pays to be conscious of what you bring with you.