Getting Through Airport Security as Quickly as Possible

Terrorism has changed airport, train, bus and stadium security forever. Gone are the days when you could easily sneak a bottle of vodka into a game or show up to your plane at the last minute and still make your flight. In fact, just getting through airport security is now something we dread.

While nearly all Americans agree with the increased security, during the times when we are actually faced with a long security line, we grumble and complain—especially when the problem seems to be one person who holds up the line with a suitcase full of liquids and refuses to take off her thigh-high lace-up boots (yes, this happened in front of me and made me miss my flight).

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been hit the hardest with security increases (some experts say wrongly, but that is a topic for another post). It is now an expectation in major American cities that you will need to arrive two-three hours early, in order to make it through security checkpoints and board your flight on time.

Travel nurses should be prepared for longer lines, but there are tricks in this post for getting through airport security was quickly as possible.

Check Security Wait Times from Your Phone

There’s an app for that. Several in fact, but the most accurate one is from the cause of the lines—the TSA! The official TSA app is My TSA and is available on iOS and Android mobile platforms. One section in the app, appropriately named Wait Times, gives you real-time updates of how many minutes you can expect to spend in every line at the airport. Even if it only shaves off a few minutes that can mean the difference between using a real bathroom before your flight—or the sardine box they call a toilet on your flight.

Helpful? You bet. Accurate? Sometimes. While the data is being reported by thousands of My TSA app users—not the TSA—there aren’t always that many reports. See this screenshot from Detroit’s Delta terminal. It’s the second largest Delta terminal (after Atlanta) and yet most of the reports were from a day prior. This screenshot was taken on a Friday so it should have been packed with updated wait times. Boo.

TSA Pre ®

The pre-check process from the TSA is a program that allows US citizens to skip the security lines, shoe removal, keep their laptops in their bags and avoid embarrassing TSA grope-fests. This is a godsend for frequent travelers and the military. Eleven major US airlines offer the option to join TSA Pre ✓® to their frequent flyers. Sound great? It is—when it’s allowed and when it’s working.

The Pros:

Yes, when you get the pre-check symbol on your boarding pass, you will skip the long lines and get to go straight to your gate with enough time to make a stop at a Vino Volo for a glass of wine! You will not be patted down, you can keep your shoes on and your laptop can stay in the bag. No one will rifle through your unmentionables.

The Cons:

You will have to give the TSA some background information on you along with your fingerprints—and an $85 fee that is non-refundable. You will have to renew this fee in five years.

Secondly, there is no guarantee you will be pre-checked, despite joining the program. What the—? There are two reasons for this.

TSA Pre✓® has hours of operation and if your flight happens to fall on off-peak hours, you’re out of luck.

If you book your flight through a third party to save on travel costs (and really, who doesn’t?), your flight may not be connected to your KTN, meaning you won’t be pre-checked for that flight.

Here’s a sobering if somewhat concerning statement from the TSA’s blog about it.

“As always, TSA continues to incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport, and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening.”

Random and unpredictable?

What to Wear to Get Through Security Faster

Yes, your choice of wardrobe can significantly impact your time in line. Here are our Top Dos and Don’ts. There are a lot more don’ts than dos.

Do wear shoes that slip off easily. You will be required to take them off and even unlacing your sneakers in line may garner you some dirty looks from angry folks behind you.

Do have ID and Boarding Pass in hand before you get in line.  If the line is moving quickly, or you’ll be the hold-up.

Do not wear a miniskirt. Because if you do get patted down, things sometimes get… lifted up.

Do not wear jewelry. Keep it in your carry-on until you’re cleared as most of it won’t pass the screening. A lot depends on the size of it. Your wedding ring will go through fine. A gold bangle? Unlikely.

Don’t wear anything that needs a belt to stay up. You’ll have to remove your belt anyway, and if what you’re wearing needs a belt, you’ll quickly learn the meaning of the phrase, “drop trou.”

Avoid clothing with lots of zippers. We get it. You’re cybergoth. The TSA doesn’t care and your latex pants with 15 zippers won’t make it through the x-ray. You may get taken out of line and asked to strip in another room. Thanks, no.

Don’t wear a strapless top. Remember, your hands must go over your head in the x-ray, and a few women have reported their tops slipping off in this position. Sure, it’s unlikely, but do you really want to be the one?

Don’t assume your body piercings are safe. The CBS News reported a woman who was forced by the TSA to remove her nipple rings—a humiliating experience for her, considering the skin had grown over one ring requiring her to request pliers to remove it. Reportedly, the male agents were snickering at her during this ordeal.

The TSA claims, “[You] may be additionally screened because of hidden items such as body piercings, which alarmed the metal detector. If you are selected for additional screening, you may ask to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to a pat-down search.”

Last thing to remember, when you grab the gray trays to put your belongings through the scanner, grab at least three trays. You’ll need one for smaller items on you like belt, phone, change, etc. One tray for your laptop. One tray for your footwear unless your shoes are small enough to fit with your smaller items. Just don’t stack anything. They will make you get out of line and get another tray. Your carry-on bag will not need its own tray, nor will a large purse. Just make sure it’s zipped up.

Your Connected Life.

There is one big misconception about bringing your digital gadgets. You do not have to remove all of your electronics from your carry-on. Only your laptop. Your tablet, digital cameras, etc. can stay packed away. If you’re smart, you’ll pack them near the top in case your carry-on gets pulled aside by an agent. With your gadgets on top, it’s easier to show them without tearing apart your neatly stowed luggage.

Any tips you’d like to share? Please add them below.


My TSA app:

The TSA blog:

TSA forces woman to remove nipple rings: