10 Tricks to Make Your TSA Experience Easier

After reading “10 Things the TSA Won’t Tell You” by SmartMoney made me come to the realization of my own tips and tricks about passing through security and knowing TSA. One of my favorite scenes in Up in the Air with George Clooney is when he teaches his young apprentice how to pass through TSA quickly and easily.

Seriously one of the worse pains about traveling is passing through those TSA security lines. It’s inevitable and normally painstakingly long. You get anxious because you waste so much time waiting to pass the lines and then you have to put all of your belongings in bins. One time while passing through TSA in O’hare, I got a pleasant compliment by a TSA Agent – “This girl knows what she is doing, damn you must travel a lot”. Put a huge smile on my face that day. So George Clooney, watch out… here are my tips on passing through TSA efficiently.

1) If you have a smart phone use your mobile boarding pass or print out your boarding pass beforehand

You will save so much time getting to the airport and skipping the kiosks and the lines at the check-in counter. In fact, I save an average of 5+ minutes, which can be used to make a quick stop at a fast food restaurant or the bathroom before boarding your plane. Plus some of you may not know, but some airlines like Spirit are moving to the model ofcharging for printing your boarding pass at the airport.

2) For the love of God, please please please do not get to the airport more than 2-3 hours before your flight

For one – why would you want to spend that much time at the airport, wouldn’t you rather be home? Also people who get there way too early congest the TSA lines. Then people who get there 1 hour before their flights (like most business travelers) will cut it very close and sometimes miss their flights. You may ask, why then don’t you business people get their earlier? Well sometimes we just can’t, we may have a business meeting right beforehand or some other circumstantial reason.

3) If you are going to miss your flight, just kindly ask people to let you cut them.

Travelers all know that sunken feeling when you know you are about to miss a flight. Instead of just standing there and complaining (like I’ve seen some people do before), just beg and ask people to cut them! TSA won’t give you preferential treatment, so ask your neighbors. If one person says no, then ask the person in front of them.

4) If you must travel with liquids, have them already organized in a bag and put them in a quick and convenient location where you do not have to them out

People hate you if you are that one that has to search through your luggage to find your baggie of liquids. Put them in your smaller carry on where you can quickly take them out or in a front compartment of your roller board so you don’t have to open it up. It makes going through security quicker and then people won’t glare at you for holding up the line.

5) Avoid the line with the body scanners if possible

Don’t be deceived by the shortest line if there is a body scanner being used. I will always opt for the line without it, even if it’s the longest. I’ve timed it before, it takes 2-3 minutes longer to wait to use the body scanner, go through it, then wait again for clearance before grabbing your bag. Just do the math, a line with 10 people all waiting to go through the body scanner will take 20-30 minutes vs a line just using the regular security measures. Plus if TSA hasn’t realized this by now, this is why security lines are so long! That moment two week ago when I spent 1 hr 15 min in security, I realized why it took so damn long, because every single line was using a body scanner. UGH.

6) Start removing your liquids, laptops/large sized electronics, shoes, jackets, BEFORE you reach the bins in the security line

You are just standing around anyway, just do yourself a favor and spare the time of others by taking out and removing everything you need to beforehand. That way when you finally do get to a bin, you can drop it all in and just push it through. No digging, no oops I forgot my belt, crap I have to untie my shoes, etc. Which brings me to my next point…

7) Wear slip on shoes or shoes that are quick and easy to take on/off. Don’t wear hoodies and don’t button up your jacket or sweater.

TSA requires you to take off as many layers as possible. Hoodies are difficult because you have to pull them over and then back on. Button ups are fine, just unbutton them beforehand. Shoes that need to be tightly tied or require lots of zippers are difficult for you to remove and you won’t have anywhere to sit while taking them off, so you will have to do the one legged hop dance until you can remove them. Most people know this, but I still see a few struggling people. Just remember, the easier it is to remove the quicker you pass through security and the easier it is to put back on later.

8) Avoid lines with the elderly, families with young children, and the handicapped.

I’m not trying to be mean, I know these people are under strenuous circumstances too trying to pass through TSA, but from an efficiency standpoint they are simply the slowest. If I can, I will seek the line with the most single travelers and business people. They’re quick, not chatting, and are focused on getting through quickly. I know one day I will fall into at least two of those categories (having children and being old), but until then I want to pass through TSA quickly.

9) Put your items in the bins in the following order: 1. shoes/liquids/jacket; 2.laptop bag or smaller carry on; 3. laptop; 4. roller board.

Why? Because think of it like this… when you walk through the first thing you can do is put all your clothing back on while waiting for your other stuff. Doing it last holds up the bins coming through because your not grabbing your stuff quickly enough and then TSA cannot send more bags through until the bins coming out are all cleared. Then your small bag comes through, giving you time to open it to then grab your laptop to dump in. By then you are ready for your roller board, which you just grab and go. Now you are on your merry way and won’t hold up the lines, and don’t need to stumble with your stuff or sit down on a bench to reorganize.

10) Most importantly, get Global Entry 

Most people don’t know that signing up for this program also gives you TSA pre-check. This program allows you expedited customs coming into the US and also gives you more chances to score TSA pre-check at domestic airports. It only costs $100 and lasts you for 5 years, that’s $20 a year. It’s incredibly worth it, even if you only travel a couple of times a year. Sign up here.

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