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How Not To Suck At Airport Security

How Not To Suck At Airport Security

Airport security is probably the absolute worst part about flying. The waiting, new rules, TSA searches, and body scanning machines that don’t have Superman’s x-ray vision.

After years of flying around the world for business, I’ve perfected the art of getting through airport security as fast as possible. Flying practically every week, you kind of get good at these things.

I want to share with you some tips, tricks and mostly common sense about crossing security — kind of like Chris Rock’s rules for dealing with the police.  As dumb as some of the rules seem, they serve a purpose.  If you don’t obey them, you’re going to look suspicious. Inspired by Hipmunk’s 4 airport security tips, here are 5 of my own to make you that much more efficient at going through security.

1)  Oh, Liquids

Yes, this is probably the dumbest rule ever and has made flying 10 times more annoying than the pre 9/11 days, but I kind of like knowing that my plane isn’t going to blow up.

If you have your toiletries with you, make sure you have them all organized together and that they’re all less than 100mL.  I use a toiletry organizer bag.  It bends the rules, but if I know I will be flying through London Heathrow (LHR), I make sure to put the liquids in a clear plastic bag because they have the strictest rules.

If you want to have a bottle of water when you get to the gate, just dump your water in the bathroom or drinking fountain before you go through security.  Empty bottles are totally fine. Just refill it back up at the fountain on the other side.

2)  Get Your Stuff Ready In Line

You know it’s coming, so why not just get ready while you’re in line?  A trick I learned was to put all of the things in my pocket (phone, wallet, coins), watch and jewelry into my carry-on bag (i.e. backpack) and my belt and jacket/hoodie/sweater slung over my arm so that when I get to the trays, I just dump it all in.  This way you’re not scrambling with your pockets when you’re at the conveyor belt. Also, make sure you have your boarding pass ready because they always ask for it.

3)  Get Your NEXUS/Global Entry Or Equivalent

NEXUS is the biggest time-saving investment you can make, especially if you’re crossing the Canadian/American border frequently. NEXUS is a joint program between Canada and the US to get pre-approved low-risk travellers across the borders of either country more quickly.  Originally for business travellers, regular travellers are also starting to see the benefit of the program for a mere $50 every 5 years.

The main benefit is the ability to cross customs incredibly fast, but a nice side bonus of having a NEXUS card is that you can go through the expedited security line, which can save you a lot of time. People that use the expedited line are typically also well-seasoned travellers, so you won’t see too many newbie mistakes here either.

One interesting tidbit is that NEXUS is also being rolled out into 27 US airports this year and I got to experience this first hand. With my NEXUS in hand at LaGuardia in NYC, I was considered to be a PreCheck passenger, so I didn’t need to remove my shoes, hat or jacket when going through security.

4)  Pick Your Lines Wisely

If you’ve seen the movie “Up In The Air,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Never get into line with seniors or families with kids. Look for a line with business-looking folks.  Frequent fliers know what they’re doing so chances are the line will be faster.

That being said, this really isn’t a fool-proof way to move faster through security because often times you don’t have a choice of what line you go into and each line is never composed of a certain type of traveller.

5)  Order Matters


Image via Flickr mrbell

The way in which you place your items on the x-ray conveyor belt can help speed things up when exiting security. Here’s what I always make sure I do:

  • If shoes have to come off, I never take them off until the last moment and when it’s time I add them to the front of all my other stuff on the conveyor
  • Laptops and miscellaneous stuff come next, including that belt that I already took off
  • Last is always my carry on bag

My line of thinking around this is that I always want to be able to put on my shoes first. Next, if I do have a belt, I want to be able to get that on right away. Then with my laptop in hand, I can then quickly slide it into my carry on bag and get the heck out of there.

What Not To Do At Airport Security

  1. Don’t joke about bombs or terrorists.  You might think it’s funny, but if security overhears, you’ll find yourself in trouble.
  2. Refusing to do the body scan.  It’s within your rights to refuse, but that means an automatic pat down and swab scan.
  3. Rage quit.  If security’s giving you a hard time, now’s not the time to throw a fit.  Losing your temper where national security is concerned is not so smart.

Featured photo via Flickr schermpeter42

About Will Tang

Will is a travel blogger writing for Going Awesome Places. Since quitting his consulting job in 2012 he's been travelling the world and along the way writing about his epic adventures and taking amazing photos. His true passion lies in telling stories, inspiring others to travel, writing detailed trip itineraries for others to follow and providing helpful tips and tricks to travel better. Also the founder behind Travel Blog Breakthrough and freelance writer for Hipmunk and currently working on the #‎HipmunkCityLove Project.


  1. One of the things that REALLY annoys me is the people that wait until their turn comes and then start dealing with the stuff in the pockets, etc. Totally agree … take care of this stuff while you’re in line … or BEFORE you get in line! These are some of my strategies: 1.) I bring a small pouch that my change, keys, and mobile phone, etc., can be put in. 2) I wear shoes that are easy to take off and put on – definitely nothing with shoelaces. 3.) I try to wear a belt without a heavy metal buckle (or preferably pants that don’t need a belt): 4.) I bring a plastic bottle, which I empty before passing through security so I can fill it at the drinking fountain before getting on the plane.
    Michael Taylor recently posted…Number of Bookstores at Hong Kong Airport to Be CutMy Profile

  2. Great Tips! It’s amazing how many people act as though they had no idea they would have to get stuff out of their pockets, etc.. It’s pretty funny! We had a jar of peanut butter they wouldn’t let us cross with once saying that it was a liquid. I didn’t agree since that sounded crazy! They said if it was frozen it would have been fine. Strange but alas, we just go with the rules!

  3. The only times I get grumpy is when they pull me out the other end of the x-ray to re-check my computer! I’m still not completely organised, the shoes aren’t tied up properly, and now I’m supposed to walk to another desk, unpack my computer again and turn it on?! Silly thing is: when I fly out of Australia this happens to me roughly 8 out of 10 times – there’s just no statistical justification for this! That’s why it upsets me in the meantime and I let them know in clear words. (And no: I hardly ever use the same airport twice in row, so they won’t remember the grumpy guy from last time. And I’m not a frequent flyer either.)
    Juergen | dare2go.com recently posted…Valparaiso’s amazing StreetArt on this self-guided walkMy Profile

  4. Great tips!

    When I went to NYC for a girls weekend getaway with my then 7-months pregnant friend, she (rightfully) refused the bodyscan, and TSA was AWFUL to her. It was actually disgusting the way that they treated her… so be prepared to be treated like the worlds worst human if you refuse the scan.
    Melissa @ The Mellyboo Project recently posted…10 Things I Learned as a Travel AgentMy Profile

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