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Ten tips to make your trip through the airport security checkpoint easier on everyone
Flying can be a stressful way to spend your day, especially if you only fly once or twice a year. Reports of terror attempts and airport evacuations don't make things any better. Thankfully, if you follow some simple tips, your trip through the checkpoint can be really simple, allowing you more time to enjoy the dreadful airport food, or to waste your money at the airport duty free shop.
Read up on the rules
Are you an "amateur" traveler? Were you allowed to carry box cutters and knives the last time you took a flight? Then chances are you are not up to date on the latest airport security rules. It is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, a prepared traveler is a rare breed, so consider yourself lucky that you are showing an interest in it.
The best starting point (other than this article) is of course the TSA web site. Their "what to know before you go" has the nitty-gritty on airport security, prohibited items and of course their own tips on getting through security as efficiently as possible.
Before you even think about stepping into the security line, frisk yourself. Really - run your hands up and down all your pockets, front and back. Remove anything metallic, and you'll reduce the risk of missing that loose change or pocket knife.
Don't just assume the metal detector will find it for you.
Find the right line
Many airports have introduced separate TSA lanes for the different kind of traveler. The black or diamond lane is for the experienced traveler. These lanes won't have as many staff members assisting you. The casual traveler lane may have someone helping point out the bins, and the family/medical liquid lane is where you'll get the most help. Especially if you are traveling with kids, you'll want to pick the green lane. Sadly, not all airports have adopted this system.
The lanes are not a contest - don't worry if you need to go to the casual traveler lane, because picking the right lane will make life easier on you, and your fellow passengers.
Liquids liquids liquids
I don't think I can remember the last time I passed through the checkpoint without seeing some poor sole being pulled aside because he or she forgot to remove liquids from their bag. I mean, how on earth can there still be people left that don't know about the liquid rules?
It really isn't that hard - the only liquids you are allowed to carry, have to be inside a one quart bag, each bottle has to be under 3 ounces, and you are only allowed one bag per passenger. Your "baggie" must be taken out of your bag and placed on the x-ray machine or in a bin on its own.
There are obviously exceptions for baby milk and medication, but you will need to declare them at the checkpoint.
Don't step in line till you are ready
Don't be one of those travelers that walks into the airport, gets in line at the checkpoint and then starts getting ready for the screening. Unless you are in a terrible hurry to catch a plane, the area before the checkpoint line is the best place to prepare yourself.
Relax, take a deep breath, and start emptying your pockets. Don't wait till you reach the x-ray machine to remove your wallet, the safest place for it right now is inside your bag. Don't forget to put your ID and boarding pass in your shirt or pants pocket, because the screener will want to see them.
Invest in a checkpoint Friendly laptop bag
If you regularly pass through the checkpoint with a laptop, do yourself a favor and invest in a checkpoint friendly laptop bag. These bags are specially designed to fold open, allowing the x-ray machine a clear unobstructed view of your computer. They cost about 25% more than a normal laptop bag.
The advantage of a TSA friendly laptop bag is obvious - you don't need to take your laptop out of its bag, greatly reducing the risk of damage. It also shaves about 30 seconds off your trip through the checkpoint. A good place to find a large assortment of checkpoint friendly bags is Mobile Edge. This company makes stylish bags for men and women, with bags starting at just $49.95.
When you pack your bag, think carefully how it'll look on the x-ray machine. Try not to stuff too many cords together, try and spread your gadgets around a bit, and always check your bag for items that don't belong there. Two metal tubes with wires sticking out of them may be nothing more than two laptop batteries and some cords, but to a screener, it may look like something worth some extra attention.
(Image from The Register)
Never assume it won't beep
Just because that oversized "Texas" belt buckle didn't set off the metal detector last week, doesn't mean it won't beep today.
If you have something large and metallic, do us all a favor, and take it off. One of my number one checkpoint pet peeves is people at the metal detector that act amazed when all their metallic objects make the machine beep.
Seriously, these machines are designed to DETECT METAL. So anything larger than a wedding ring is going to make it beep. And for your information - the TSA will not let you just waltz on through once you point it out. They will make you remove it, put it back through the x-ray machine, and have you attempt to walk through the detector again. And in most cases, they'll make you do this while I am waiting for you to stop beeping.
Count before and after
Put as much as possible in your bags. Too often, I'll see people put a bag, shoes, a laptop, their toiletries, their phone, wallet, keys and watch on the belt. Don't do it! Not only do you run the risk of damaging your items, you also run the risk of something being stolen or "otherwise misplaced".
Put all your items in a zippered jacket pocket or bag. The ideal screening involves nothing more than your bag, jacket, shoes and your clear toiletries bag.
It sounds dumb - but count before and after. If you put four items on the belt, be sure to remove four items at the other end. Travel is stressful, and it isn't too hard to forget your phone or laptop at the checkpoint. By the time you realize you are missing something, it may be too late.
Move away as soon as you can
Did you make it past the checkpoint without setting off any alarm bells? Gather your crap and walk away. Almost every checkpoint has a nice sitting area at the other side, which is the perfect spot to put your belt back on, remove your important items from your bag, and tie your shoes.
Standing around at the end of the x-ray machine doing all of this is only going to slow things down for everyone else. TSA agents like to keep the area as empty as possible, and if too many people are holding things up, you'll delay the entire line.