Feb 04 2012

Navigating the TSA Line

Practical Hacks has got a nice article up on the best way to cruise through the security line at the airport.


A couple of things are worth adding (although, I have to confess I loved his “line profiling” comments) to help you breeze through.

Most airports will not allow you to have anything in you pockets when going through one of the new AIT security machines. Empty your pockets completely before you get to the machines.

For me, the most efficient approach is a jacket with a zippered pocket. Stuff that would be in my pants pockets goes in there and the jacket goes through the X-ray.

If you do find yourself going through the X-ray machine with a watch or bracelet on that sometimes sets the machine off, hold it to the center of your body. Proximity makes most of these machines more sensitive.

Also, smaller airports tend to have all of their automatic machines set to the most sensitive level. This means things that don’t register on the O’Hare machines will call out the Marines at the Valparaiso airport. Put it in your bag and run it through the X-ray, it will save you time in the long run.

As a rule of thumb, iPads and tablets stay in your bag, laptops come out. The issue is a clear view for the X-ray screener so if your bag is a nylon slip with JUST a laptop it will likely go through. If there is any thing else in the bag, including a power supply, they want it out. If it has a big battery, they typically want it out.

As we say in the south, “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.”
While the TSA agents range from polite to criminal in their attitudes the best thing to speed your trip through the line is to be patient and polite.

Agents are trained to look for people who seem nervous or agitated, and if you fall into this category they are likely to be more thorough and detain you longer. If an agent is truly going over the line than ask to speak to a supervisor, fighting with him or her will do you no good at all.

Finally, don’t be “that guy”. You know the one I am talking about. The one that has a jar of home made salsa in his carry on. The guy that refuses to take his shoes off or the person trying to bargain to get a pocket knife on the plane.

Even if the TSA is inconsistent in how they enforce them, the rules laid out are pretty clearly.

A touch of planning ahead and you will be at your gate in a flash instead of enduring a body cavity search!


  1. macrogeek

    I always wear my Scott eVest jacket through the TSA. Everything I can take out of my pockets goes in the SEV pockets. Belt, wallet, phone, keys, change, then I stuff the whole phone through the scanner in a tray.

    The two things I see folks screw up are:

    Phone in your pocket going into the body scanner.
    Liquids not separated in the suitcase.

    If you remember to have the right size liquid containers and keep them separated in a transparent bag, you can get through pretty quick.

  2. Jeff Mac

    The other thing I’ve seen are people that are open minded about how they interpret the rules. They’ll use a gallon clear bag or they’ll have four different bags with liquids, definitely a good way to get the whole line to stall.

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