Ned’s TSA holiday tips: at the airport

TSA full body scanner by By Steven Perez,

During the holiday season, many who don’t fly at other times of the year are off to the airport to visit family and to vacation while their children are “off” from school for the Christmas/New Year’s break.

Last week I wrote about planning for your flight and packing smart — especially when traveling with youngsters — to get through TSA (Transportation Security Administration) security at the airport with as little angst as possible.

This week I discuss getting through TSA security once at the airport.

At the airport, if you have printed your boarding pass or downloaded it to your smartphone, if possible, and have no luggage to check, you can proceed directly to TSA security. If you haven’t printed or downloaded your boarding pass, or need to check in luggage, go to the ticket/check-in counter first. If your airline has kiosk-based lines to start the luggage check-in process and print boarding passes, use it, as they’re usually faster than the non-automated lines.

Once at TSA security, you’ll need to show your boarding pass and government issued photo ID to a clerk. When you get your ID back, stow it away to ensure you won’t lose it. You shouldn’t need it again in security. Put your boarding pass in your pocket.

The clerk will send you to the appropriate security line. If you’re eligible for one of the special lines, such as for TSA Precheck or for first class passengers, and you aren’t sent to it, ask about it politely. Being cross or accusatory won’t help.

If you’re enrolled in the TSA Precheck program, popularly known as TSA Pre✓, or eligible to participate by your membership in one of the US government’s “trusted traveler” programs, be advised that one of the great things about TSA Precheck is that it works well for families with young children. Children age 12 and younger can accompany their TSA Pre✓-eligible parents through Precheck-expedited security lanes.

Please note, however, that in order to be unpredictable, according to TSA, those eligible for Precheck aren’t sent to the Precheck line every time they fly. Also, the Precheck program is in an early formative stage. Not all airlines and airport terminals are Precheck ready.

Once in line, be ready in advance for each stage at TSA security.

As you approach the carry-on x-ray area, begin to prepare yourself for scanning or patdown and your belongings for x-ray. As soon as you have access to TSA bins, take off your shoes, belt, jacket, hat, jewelry etc., and place them in a bin. (Children age 12 and under can leave their shoes on during screening.) All your pockets should have already been emptied into the carry-on, personal item, or piece of clothing that you put in a TSA bin. I use a photographer vest’s zippered pockets to hold my wallet, cash, cell phone and other personal items from my pockets. Put your “liquids baggie” into one of the bins. Take your laptop out of your carry-on and put it in a bin by itself.

Put your carry-on bags on the x-ray belt first, then the bin with your clothing, and finally the bin with your laptop. You want them in that order so the laptop sits out on the belt for the shortest time in case you get delayed at the metal detector or the advanced imaging technology unit (AIT, i.e. full body scanner), if you’re willing to use it.

I don’t go through AIT scanners, so if I’m at a scanner, I immediately inform the TSA officer that I’m opting out and wish to be patted down. If you’re at an AIT with children and don’t want to be separated from them, or don’t want them to go through the AIT, inform the TSA officer immediately that you all need to be patted down.

If you’re going to patdown, make sure the TSA officer retrieves all your belongings once through the x-ray inspection belt and takes them with you to the patdown. If you’re traveling with your children, make sure you all go to patdown together. TSA officers should bring all your belongings and those of your children with you. That is the procedure TSA is supposed to follow.

If you’re in TSA Precheck, it will be easier. Normally, you’ll be able to keep your shoes, belt and a lightweight jacket on, and leave your “liquids baggie” and laptop in your carry-on bag. Plus, you’ll go through a metal detector instead of AIT. Some travelers can’t go through metal detectors, of course, such as those with knee or hip replacements. Those travelers will be alternatively scanned or patted down.

After the metal detector, AIT or patdown, you’re done, unless some of your belongings need to be opened and screened by TSA by hand. There will be an area immediately outside the security checkpoint to take your belongings, repack and get dressed.

Have a great holiday.

  • Aaron

    Ned, just to add, its not just laptops that need to come out of cases. Any “large” electrical device, such as medical equipment. Not so frequent travelers might not think of this.

    It’s really fun going through security with a CPAP and two laptops.

  • Aaron

    Ned, just to add, its not just laptops that need to come out of cases. Any “large” electrical device, such as medical equipment. Not so frequent travelers might not think of this.

    It’s really fun going through security with a CPAP and two laptops.

  • Dean Starovasnik

    Only change I’d recommend is that I put my jacket, shoes, belt and such in one bin and send it ahead of my bags which, as you suggested, go ahead of my PC. That way I can be dressing while the rest of my bags come through the X-ray tunnel.

  • mapsmith

    Also suggested. One person stays back until ALL the TSA bins for the family have entered the Xray belt. This will allow you to keep an eye on the last bags while your partner/family goes thru the metal detector. TSA agents have a tendency to forward/reverse the belts to look more carefully at a bag. This could expose your bags and/or laptop to being reversed out of the machine to where someone could take it/ put something in your bin.
    When the last bag is actually in the machine, then proceed. Your family will be waiting for your stuff on the other side.

  • Anonymous

    I would also recommend visiting A careful read will give you a good idea of how aggressive TSA might be at a particular airport, or if there are checkpoints that are free of AIT.

  • Skeptic

    Yes, and when other pax complain about the way you are “blocking” the line (from their point of view), remind them that it’s TSA who is processing your belongings slowly. That’s worked for me as I wait to pass through the WTMD until my last item goes through the XRay, and I seldom travel with anyone else who could keep an eye on my stuff for me.