If you’re traveling somewhere by airplane, whether it’s a domestic or international flight, there is no getting around it. You’re going to have to face every traveler’s least favorite part of the journey: the TSA scan. But while there’s no avoiding it, there are ways to make it a less painful process.
By streamlining your packing, attire and approach to travel, you might save yourself some time and frustration up front. You have no control over how long TSA agents take to do scans or check out questionable contents, but having your goods readily available for examination can at least help things along when it’s your turn. In this article, you’ll find tips for how to plan ahead for a reasonably headache-free encounter at TSA.
Shortcuts Before Booking
Before you book your flight, check to see if you for qualify for TSA’s pre-expedited screening program, which allows participants to bypass much of the security hassle at the airport. Passengers who are members of certain frequent flier programs may be able to select pre-expedited screening on flights with the following airways: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways. Those eligible will be allowed to “leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case, and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on,” according to the TSA website. As of May 7, 2013, pre-expedited screening was extended to some international flights.
If you don’t qualify for pre-expedited screening, fear not. There are other ways to make your trip through the TSA queue as painless as possible.
Organize Your Travel Documents
Keep your boarding pass and passport or other form of identification handy right up until you get on the plane. Having to take these in and out of a bag or search around every time you’re asked to present them only slows down you and everyone else in line. Stay organized and be ready to show these items upon request. Purchasing a small bag or case specifically for your most important travel items and documents helps a great deal with this. You can keep that one bag handy and know that all the essentials – travel documents, smartphone, passport, money, credit cards – are in one place and easy to grab at a moment’s notice.
What & How to Pack
Know in advance that your electronic items, including laptops, DVD players, game consoles and video cameras, need to come out of the bag and go through the scanner one by one. To do this as quickly as possible, make them accessible in your bag so you can take them out for scanning and replace them again with minimal hassle. If possible, pack your laptop in what TSA describes as a “checkpoint friendly” laptop case, such as a sleeve. If your case allows for an unobstructed internal view of the laptop, you may get to skip the extra step of removing it from the case before screening.
Accessibility is really the name of the game when it comes to packing. If you’re bringing liquids, be sure to comply with the 3-1-1 rule: 3.4 ounces or less, contained in a 1 quart ziplock bag and one bag per traveler. TSA also suggests separating the liquids within the bag, for quicker processing. Keep non-liquid items organized in different compartments, as this makes it easier for scanners to see what’s in your bag and clear you through the line.
Avoid packing alcohol and sporting equipment in your carry-on, as those should be in your checked baggage. Most souvenirs, such as snow globes, should be in your checked baggage as well, although you’ll want to keep your most valuable items with you in the carry-on. Food items that have gel-like or liquid qualities, such as jams, cheeses, spreads and yogurt should also be packed in your checked luggage. Even items such as gel inserts for shoes can cause you problems in the security line, so pack those away with your tennis rackets and Brie.
What to Wear on the Plane
Plan your travel attire wisely. Unless you’re on a business trip and need to dress for a meeting or conference, opt for comfortable clothing and items that are easy to slip on and off. Jackets and coats must be scanned separately, so a zip-up instead of a pullover will save you time. Even better, put them in your checked baggage if it’s feasible, making one less item that needs to be scanned. Opt for slip-on shoes that you can get in and out of easily, rather than footwear that ties or has elaborate straps.
By packing smartly and efficiently, you can save yourself considerable time in the TSA line. Rather than fumbling to find your electronic goods, panicking over a prohibited item or struggling to get your shoes back on while the crowd behind you grumbles, you can move as quickly as TSA officials can get you through the line and focus your thoughts on the trip ahead.
It is also a wise idea to check TSA guidelines before you pack, to ensure that nothing has changed and no new restrictions have been implemented before you head to the airport. There are few greater hassles than checking your luggage and arriving at the security check line only to realize a vital item in your carry-on isn’t allowed on board. Advance preparation, research and organization are key to smooth sailing through this aspect of a trip.