13 Tips to Master TSA Security

Get through the TSA security checks as a professional.  When I say “as a professional” what this means is that when approaching the luggage security line you get to move through it like you’ve done this a thousand times before.  You are a master of the TSA security line.  This TSA security check is so easy for you that it is just a regular part of your day.  

Remember: *** If your child is 13 years old or older, they need their own TSA Pre-check number otherwise they will need to go through the regular security line

Follow these guidelines and remember to not look back at the TSA line, because cool people don’t look back.

These tips are “in order” of experience.  Planning for the TSA security line experience is the best way to get through it quickly.

Prepare for TSA security check – from before leaving home to the end of the line 1.

1. Check the TSA security line waiting time

There is a little known feature of an app that can help you to know what to expect in terms of how much time you should expect to be on the TSA security line.  It will only help you to calm your mind, perhaps when stuck in traffic somewhere.  

The feature is part of the My TSA App, and it will give you a decent estimate before you even get to the airport.

2. Wear socks

You may be asked to remove your shoes, in which case socks are required and better for your health.

3. Pack TSA offending items in your checked luggage, unless vital to you

To best avoid having your property confiscated, put it in your checked, under the plane, luggage.  This includes bottles of sunscreen, liquids of more than 3.4 ounces, any sharp objects – including nail clippers.  And yes… even guns. 

The exception is when you have something sensitive that the TSA will be questioning, but you cannot go on this trip without.  A bottle of sunscreen won’t make it through the TSA line but medication will – after being additionally screened.  

You need to use your judgment and have a back up in your under the plane bag. 

4. What can I pack in my carry-on?  Do your research or reach out to TSA

Oftentimes the things that are important to us are on the line between “I can bring it on the plane” and “what if it gets confiscated”.  I have good news.  There is help.

As a rule, if I think the TSA will flag an item of mine that would not make or break my trip, I just put it in my checked bag instead of my carry-on.

Medication and medical equipment are allowed in your carry-on but often require additional screening by TSA.

Most food items are also allowed through security

  • TSA provides a running list of what is acceptable and not acceptable
  • Ask your question, or browse for it on the “Ask TSA” social media channels on Twitter or via Facebook Messenger.  They do respond in a timely fashion
    • You can browse, but I do not recommend contacting TSA on Instagram 
  • No time?  Call the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673

Liquids and Laptops in your carry-on

Liquids belong in a quart sized plastic bag in your carry-on as some airports require you to take it out for inspection. So pack it where you can access it.  Follow the 3-1-1 guide from TSA

Laptops – expect to have to remove it from your bag for security screening.

Tablets – Do NOT expect to remove them from your bag

Water bottle – bring an empty water bottle in your carry on and fill it on the other side of security

6. Know the coronavirus travel requirements before getting on a plane and pack tests

Today, often wearing a mask is a requirement for getting through the TSA security line.  Bring one and wear it.

New in the travel world is coronavirus requirements.  Depending on the nation you are visiting you may need to get a PCR test 2 days prior to boarding for the results to be valid and for you to be able to enter the country.

Minimally, you will want to pack a mask or two in your carry-on and simply follow the airline’s rules.  

In regards to Covid 19, nothing ruins a vacation more than suddenly being unable to go or come home due to having contracted coronavirus.  Understand the rules, take the proper precautions to enjoy your trip and come home.

7. Get on the right TSA security line and know the rules

Alright, your bags are set and you made it to the airport!  This is when travel anxiety kicks in for everyone.  Which means that after you check your under the plane bags you are joining a line of people who are on edge.  Also everyone hates the TSA security line.

If you have TSA Precheck or Global Entry then get on the optimal line dedicated to that.  If not, get on the larger line.  You should be at the airport early, so while this line is stressful don’t fret.  You’ll have plenty of time to sit and wait on the other side.

If you don’t have TSA Precheck or Global Entry, then you should expect to remove the following and place it on the TSA security box.

  1. Shoes 
  2. Hats 
  3. Jacket 
  4. Jewelry
  5. Belt
  6. Liquids – should be in 3.4 ounce (or less) containers, in a quart sized plastic bag and available for inspection.  This is also known as the 3-1-1 liquids bag.
  7. Everything in your pockets
  8. Electronics larger than a tablet
  9. Large containers of powder-like substances (coffee, tea, medication)

If you do have TSA Precheck or Global Entry, then you should expect the following to apply.

  1. Keep the following on: Shoes, hats, light jackets, jewelry, belts without unusually large metal buckles, laptops
  2. The following should be placed into the tray
    1. Heavier jackets
    2. Large metal buckled belts
    3. Large containers of powder-like substances (coffee, tea, medication)

8. Choosing the final security line

When it’s finally your turn to choose that last line.  After that person has verified your face matches your id.  My best recommendation is to not fret about it.  At that point you will be on the final portion of your security line fun and you should be early for your flight.  Choose the line that you think will move the fastest.  But whether you wait an additional 10 minutes on that line should not matter much.  It just means 10 less minutes of waiting at the gate.  This is where stress hits, this is where you can lose something.  It’s time to get in the game and pay attention.

9. Last minute clothing fixes while on the TSA security line

You need your id and boarding pass to be manually checked while going through security, everything else put into your carry on bag.  

Nothing feels worse than being scanned by tsa and being told that you need to be scanned again.  It is a waste of your time.  When you need to be rescanned, that means that something else in your pockets needs to go through the security machine separately.  Which in turn means that you will be waiting for that additional item to come out of the security belt, and another possible item to be left behind.  Personally I hold my boarding pass and id in my hands while being scanned in the airport and have never had an issue.

Last minute checklist at the front of the tsa security line.

  1. Take off your shoes, hats, coat, jewelry and belt – Remove them all and put them in the TSA box for scanning.
    1. Ideally, you should place these in your carry-on before getting on line,
  2. Your pockets – empty them in the TSA box, in front of your other baggage for quick access on the other side.
  3. Your passport or ID and boarding pass – Keep these in your hands

10. Take suspect items out of your carry-on and put it into the tray.

Do you have things in your bag that you “just know” TSA is going to want to take a look at?  Avoid them going through your bag to pull it out and eating up your time.  Take it out of the bag and put it in the TSA tray.  If they need to take a better look at it, instead of them pulling your bag out and calling you over, they may inspect it and put it back on the tray allowing you a quick exit from TSA security..

Even if they need to inspect it in a secondary area this will help you immensely.  Your bag will go through security and you can re-obtain it.  Then you’ll be called over to a second waiting area where the TSA agent will need to review your item more closely.  While waiting, you can re-adjust the belongings that you have already picked up.

If there is something, like your belt for example, that you will want as soon as possible on the other side of security, put that in the front of your other items on the conveyor belt.  On the other side, it will be there faster.  This lets you put your belt back on while you wait for your other belongings to come through.

11. Be Polite, never criticize or question a tsa agent about their current processes or comment on where their security is lacking

This was a hard lesson learned from one of my friends.  They were going through the security line and noticed that if someone did X, that they could get a bomb through the line.  When they had their carry-on scanned, they told that to the agent.  The agent immediately considered him a possible threat and escorted him to a smaller private room for additional screening and interviewing.  Their friends smartly did not intervene much, including the person’s girlfriend.  One and a half hours later, at the flight gate, he arrived worse for the wear and happy to be going home.  Lesson learned – Don’t tell TSA agents that they could be doing a bad job.  Be polite and get through the line.

12. Post security checklist: Check for and organize your important items

After your tsa screening is completed your bags and property will be returned to you.  Before leaving the area take your phone, wallet and keys out of your carry-on and back into your pockets.  Do you have all of your bags?  Do you have all of your electronics – laptops, cameras, etc?  

You’re likely in a rush.  Slow it down.  This is where things get lost, especially if you got flagged and had to put something outside of your luggage tray through the security scanner.  TAKE… YOUR… TIME and verify that you have your belongings.

13. Special cases

Be aware of the special guidelines if you fall into one of these groups:

  1. Disabled or have a medical condition
  2. Military travel
  3. Children, under the age of 13
  4. Cultural – Native American, Hajj, Sukkot
  5. Law Enforcement
  6. If you are 75 or older, you qualify for expedited screening