Throughout my 3+ million miles of road warrior business travel, I’ve figured out a few things and developed a system that seems to work pretty well. This post offers advice for going through airport security as efficiently as possible. You might think it’s crazy to go to this extreme but coming from someone who has flown more than 3M miles, I can tell you from experience that if you are running late, a difference of 1 minute can mean making or missing your flight. I can also wish that if every traveler followed this advice, airport security lines would move 20% faster.
If you have any status with airline frequent flier programs or are in the US and have registered with TSA Pre (www.tsa.gov), you should be able to take advantage of priority security lanes that are usually way shorter and faster than the security lane for the general traveling population. If you don’t have special status, it’s worth trying to get into the priority line anyway because even if you get rejected you’ll simply get into the regular line and haven’t really lost any time. I know, if everyone did this the priority lane would no longer offer priority. Here are a couple of nuances and tricks I’ve learned for those that want to do it anyway:
- You’re supposed to be flying on an airline in which you have special status (ie – gold, silver, platinum). In fact, your status level will probably be printed on your boarding pass. But if you happen to be flying on an airline that you don’t have special status with, try to use your gold/platinum card from another airline. Many times the security screening agents just want to see a card and don’t pay close enough attention to match the airline on the boarding pass with the frequent flier card you show.
- If you used to have gold/platinum status but lost it due to not traveling enough on that airline, present your expired card. Like I mentioned above, the security agents rarely pay close enough attention to notice.
- A couple of airlines don’t have special status levels. If you’re flying from one of their hubs, the security agents will certainly know this and you can’t play this game I’m going to describe. But if you’re flying from an airport where the airline only has a few flights per day, just use the basic frequent flier card for that airline. If they don’t even issue physical cards, you might also be able to print your own on light card stock paper using a card graphic from the airline’s website.
Don’t waste valuable time by not being ready when you reach the security agent. Whether it’s the agent verifying frequent flier status cards to access the priority lanes (described above) or the one that checks your ID and travel documents, be prepared. Have your various cards, IDs and documents out and ready before you reach the security agent.
Slip-on shoes are the easiest to get on/off while going through security. If that’s not practical for your needed dress attire and you wear shoes with laces, untie them after you get past the security agent but before you get to the baggage x-ray belt. In other words, don’t wait until the last second to untie your shoes. Instead, use the waiting time while you’re inching your way to the baggage x-ray belt.
Preparing to Reach the X-Ray Belt
As I mentioned above, you know you’re going to need to put your shoes on the belt, so unlace them ahead of time. Same concept for the plastic bag with liquids. Unzip the part of your luggage where it is stored so you can easily and quickly grab it to put it in a bin. In this same spirit, separate any items in your pockets so that all metal items that need to go on the belt are in one packet and everything else is in the other pocket. If your watch has a metal strap, take it off and put it in the pocket with the other metal items. This way, when you are ready to start putting items on the belt, your shoes slip off easily, your plastic bag with liquids is readily accessible and all loose metal objects can be retrieved from a single pocket.
Placing Items on the X-Ray Belt
The best way to think about this is with yourself on the other side of the x-ray machine retrieving your items. There are certain items that are easier and more logical to put back onto your body or into your luggage before other things. With potentially slow or unorganized people ahead of you and the belt continuing to deliver items, you might be forced to pull your luggage off the belt and put it on the floor to avoid chaos. I like to put things back into my pockets and put my watch on first because it’s really quick and these small, loose items can be easily forgotten if you leave them until last. I then like to get my laptop followed by the briefcase/bag my laptop goes in so I can quickly put the laptop in the bag and then on the floor, if needed. Same thing for the plastic bag with liquids followed by the luggage it goes in. The last item is my shoes. If they are slip-on type, I can quickly put them on right there. Otherwise, I either slip them on but don’t lace them or I hold them in my hands and walk with everything to a bench to finish with my shoes. If I had to take off a belt and/or jacket, I might try to put them on immediately if it won’t cause chaos. Otherwise, I walk with them to a bench and put them on with my shoes. So this sequence of events on the starting side of the x-ray machine would cause me to place things on the belt as follows:
- Bin 1 – metal items in pocket (car keys, change), watch and laptop
- Briefcase or laptop bag
- Bin 2 – plastic bag with liquids, belt and jacket/coat (if have one)
Never Lose Sight of Your Items
There are times when your items come through the x-ray machine before you are able to get back over to the belt. Maybe as you went through the scanning machine, it beeped and they had to run additional tests on you. Regardless, don’t take your eyes off the items you put on the belt. Once they come through, anyone can grab them and walk away. If the security agent needs to pat you down or run a metal detecting wand over you, stand so that you are facing your items. If the agent asks you to turn around, mention that you’d like to keep your eyes on your items and they will either walk around you or if you must turn around they will understand why your head is turned aggressively. If they ask you to walk to another area that might put you out of sight of your items, ask if you they will grab your items and take them to the same place you’re going. You have a right to protect and keep track of your items.
Check out the other blog posts related to road warrior travel here.