Monday-Morning Moving: 7 Tips For Skipping Through Security

This kind of flying comes with no security lines. The rest of us fliers have to make do.
This kind of flying comes with no security lines. The rest of us fliers have to make do.

By Sharyn Alden

Whiling away time in an airport security line is not high on anyone’s “boy, I wish I was there” list.

In fact, most of us would rather be anywhere but there – especially on the other side of that line, kicking back, just waiting for the announcement that your flight’s been delayed two hours. (Shoulda had AirCare.) But you can use your travel smarts to get through more efficiently and make it to your gate with time to spare.

Let’s start with drinks. That Super Squishee has to go before you enter the TSA line.  

Time and time again, I’ve been in line behind travelers who can’t believe they have to throw away their just-purchased, jumbo-sized orange juice or smoothie. Some travelers are visibly shaken (and shaky) when they have to toss their latte. But the pain doesn’t stop there. Some have stashed carryon drinks for the journey ahead. Those have to go, too.

When I was in Geneva last month, my mind wasn’t on the important stuff. It was 5 a.m. and I was gliding through high-fashion clothing and jewelry, fine leather gear, and luxurious accessories, totally forgetting that I was right near the gate. The enormous life-size posters of George Clooney hawking Geneva’s most dazzling commodities didn’t help in the major-distraction department, either.

I bought an extra-tall coffee while I was admiring the merchandise, forgetting I’d have to down the whole thing before being allowed to go through security.

If you’re in a long security line you may have time to finish a big drink, but if the line is short and moving, it’s unlikely you’ll want to drain 20 ounces of hot coffee in a couple of minutes.

In my case, I tossed it and blamed it on Clooney, because I really did know better.

Here are seven more tips to help you move quicker and more efficiently through airport security.

  • Know your flight status. It amazes me how often travelers spend hours at the airport bored and tired because they didn’t check their flight status before leaving home. Stay informed. Most airlines will text you with flight and gate changes, or will send you notifications via their app. You can also sign up for notifications at sites like FlightStats.com, so you don’t race to the airport like a crazy person long before your flight is scheduled to depart.
  • Dig out the right stuff.  Here’s something else that amazes me. Unless you haven’t been in an airport in years, you should know it’s standard procedure to present your boarding pass and photo ID (your passport, when flying internationally) at airport security. Believe it or not, the photo-ID thing throws a lot of people. Recently at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, some passengers had to step out of the security line to hunt for their photo IDs. Ouch! This one misstep could make you miss your flight. Before you get in line, grab your passport or photo ID and your boarding pass (or pull it up on your phone), and have it handy.
  • Know the 3-1-1 Rule. Before you leave home, do your part in keeping your security line moving by knowing what items will be okay to take through security. We’re talking mainly about liquids and gels (3.4 ounces or less per item) packed in a single quart-size zip-top bag. Check out other taboo items on the list and be travel savvy by visiting the “What can I bring?” section on the TSA website. Also, remove metal from pockets and take off jewelry before you get to the X-ray scanner, and take out laptops and computers from carryon cases. It’s not always necessary to remove iPads, tablets or cell phones, but if you are asked to do so, they should be easy to remove on the spot—not packed so deeply in the carryon that it entails opening the bag and starting a search.
  • Wear simple clothing.  Not long ago at airport security in Reykjavik, I watched the couple in front of me peel off several layers of clothing before each of them walked through the body scanner. The gear they off-loaded included a boatload of metal — bracelets, watches, necklaces and metal-tipped belts. From where I stood it seemed like they ran out of space packing their bags but had a brainstorm titled, “Let’s wear everything we can’t get in our suitcases!” This may be a good plan for mountaineering, but not for airport security. It will delay you and everyone behind you, and you’ll be sneered at by everyone. Keep it simple. Wear uncomplicated clothing and easy-to-remove shoes, jackets, and coats, and forget the mounds of jewelry.
  • Weigh and measure your carryon bag. If your carryon is packed so tight you can barely close it, weigh it at home, and check your airline’s website for carryon weight and size limitations. At the airport the TSA agent may tell you it’s too big to take on as a carryon. That’s a big delay; you’ll have to go through the bag check-in procedure, and if you do make it through security it may come up again at the gate. Last week at Reagan National, a woman was frantic when the gate attendant said her carryon was clearly too big to stow in the overhead compartment of the Boeing 737-800. The agent proved her point with the airline’s baggage-size tester, and the bag was shipped in the belly as cargo. The woman retrieved it at the baggage-claim area after her flight. As this drama enfolded, it delayed other travelers as well as her —and it was still an issue when she arrived.
  • Mind your own business. Never get into a discussion, heated or otherwise, with a fellow passenger about something pertaining to a TSA agent. If your discussion is overheard, you may be asked to step out of line to explain. Your concern may be legitimate, but spouting off in a security line is wrong. It will likely delay you and may make you miss your flight.
  • Apply for TSA PreChek or Global Entry. If you’re a pre-screened member of PreCheck you can zip through security at more than 130 U.S. airports without taking off your shoes or having to remove laptops from cases. You can apply online, but PreCheck requires an in-person interview at a processing center and $85. Along those lines, the U.S. Customs Department Global Entry program is a shortcut for frequent international travelers.

Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis.