“I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get fiddled with by a TSA agent at the airport. I feel unwanted. Maybe next time.” — William Regal
Traveling commercially by airplane in the United States requires each passenger to undergo screening through a TSA checkpoint. Passengers that don’t know how to navigate a checkpoint will get delayed. However there are techniques to speed up the process and increase your likelihood of clearing an airport checkpoint with minimal disruption.
It’s important to know that all airports follow the same federal guidelines for passenger screening, whether TSA operated or privately contracted by a third party. Every passenger at any federally ran airport will undergo the same process. However checkpoints will randomly “upgrade” passengers to expedited screening, which means they will not be required to remove shoes, take personal items from bags, or go through the body scanner. This expedited screening process involves utilizing TSA K-9 units (public will see this) and behavioral detection assets (unseen by public) to screen passengers. Basically it upgrades everyone to TSA PreCheck. If you don’t walk past dogs on your way to the checkpoint, then you will need to remove your shoes and so on.
In most cases passengers will go through standard screen. Knowing how a checkpoint works and the rules will speed up the process. Checkpoints usually bottleneck at two locations: the x-ray and body scanner. These stations can be quickly completed without being stopped by TSA once a person learns how to avoid being unnecessarily flagged.
Everything starts at the TSA ticket counter. That is where a TSA officer will examine your photo ID and boarding pass. Acceptable forms of identification are state issued ID cards or a driver’s license, federal government ID, like passports or PIV cards, and foreign passports. Here is what you need to know:
- Everyone must have a valid ID. Children less than 18 are exempt.
- Each person needs either a boarding pass or gate pass to enter the checkpoint. There is an exception for infants and small children under two years old.
- Have these required documents ready and in hand before getting to the officer. Each person should have his/her own ticket and ID. It will speed things up for everyone.
The x-ray line is next. It’s your first hurdle at the checkpoint where either banned or prohibited items will be flagged and removed. The best way to avoid having your bag pulled for inspection is to know the rules and plan your packing wisely at home.
The TSA has a 3-1-1 rule. This stands for 3.4 ounces of liquid, gels, & aerosol (LGA), in one quart size bag, per person. LGA includes creams, pastes, gels and spreads. Soup, yogurt and peanut butter are examples of what will not be allowed; however, non-liquid based food is not prohibited. Fresh fruit, chips, sandwiches and dry snacks are acceptable, but I recommend pulling these items out of your bags for easy identification by the x-ray operator.
Here are a few tips. Frozen LGA that’s oversized (water, breast milk, sun screen) can be taken through the checkpoint as carry on, provided they are solidly frozen. Medically necessary LGAs (eye contact solution, diabetic supplies, etc.) are also exempt from the 3-1-1 rule. These items can be oversized, but will be screened. I highly recommend having your frozen and medically exempt items removed and sent through separately for easier and quicker screening by TSA. The rules can be changed or updated at anytime. TSA’s website should be consulted prior to going to the airport.
To quickly get through the x-ray have your removable items packed in a spot that allows quick access. Here is where smart packing will facilitate quickly getting your items out of your bags. It is much better and more efficient to pull your items than have a TSA officer do it. The following are my tips to rapidly pass the x-ray:
- Send your LGA bag and medically exempt LGA items trough x-ray separately.
- Reduce as much clutter as possible before sending bags into x-ray.
- Don’t stack and overlap items in bins, use more bins, if needed.
- Remove electronic devices larger than a cell phone (Kindle, tablets, lap tops, GPS units).
- Non-formed food items (peanuts/trail mix, gummy snacks & crackers) should be sent through in a separate bin.
- Metal clusters and opaque items need removed or flattened for easy identification
- Unusual items will be flagged, send them through separately.
After your bags go through the x-ray, you will line up for the body scanner. Everyone must pass through this machine center with the exception of adults aged 75 and older, children under 13-years old, and people who are unable to stand or hold the scanning pose. A person can opt out of this machine, but a full body pat down will be required.
The key to successfully getting trough this screening hurdle is to empty your pockets and reduce layers of clothing. To achieve best results, do the following:
- Empty absolutely everything from your pockets, not just metal items.
- Reduce as much layers as possible.
- Zippered clothing should be removed, if possible.
- Avoid having bling on clothing.
- Cargo pant pockets need to be flattened.
- Pockets should be closed or zipped shut.
- Don’t wear wet clothing.
- Don’t move inside machine.
TSA machines are sensitive. Doing things right can still result in a delay; however, by following the steps outlined above, you will greatly enhance your chances of getting through a TSA checkpoint with minimal delay.