10 steps to getting through TSA airport checkpoints quickly


Lots of readers and friends ask me how I deal with TSA checkpoints at airports. They know I don’t approve of all of the searches and have privacy concerns. But, the airport checkpoint is not the place to argue the issues you don’t like. TSA officers have to go through their motions just like you have to go through the motions. Register your disgust with the system or your problems with it through comments or in letters to TSA and your representatives.

In the meantime, here are my ten steps to a smooth trip through a TSA checkpoint.

Before you start reading, these are my personal comments. Note: I am a male. There may be different issues for women. I heard recently that one woman was patted down after going through the metal detector because she was wearing a full skirt. If there are women-specific actions I will add them, or put together a post about women (probably by a woman).

1. Look at the security line. Look for the whole-body scanners. Avoid those lanes that funnel into these scanners. Not only is your privacy being violated and you are be doused with who knows how much radiation, but the good old magnetometers move people faster. Nothing against kids and families, but avoid them in any security line.

2. Take everything out of your pockets. Everything. The new whole-body scanners cannot even stand to see a Kleenex.

3. Have a special pocket where you regularly put your valuables and loose junk like pens, receipts, business cards, etc. when going through the scanners. I use the zipper pocket on my Gore-tex jacket that I always take with me when I travel.

4. Take off your belt. No whole-body scanner likes them and will reject you. You’ll probably have to take the belt off anyway and then get a pat down. Plus, even when going through the old-fashioned metal detectors, you never know when they are going to set the darn thing off.

5. Shuffle quietly through the line. Try not to make eye contact with any TSA officer. TSA officers are now trying to chat us up. Since we have no idea what words are considered threatening or what actions indicate that you may be a terrorist, it is better to speak to no one. I think we as passengers have the right to remain silent at least as far as conversations go.

6. Wear slip-on shoes.

7. Pull your computer out of your briefcase (unless you have one of those TSA-approved bags that can be opened partially and laid flat).

8. Remember to have your liquids in small bottles packed into a baggie. TSA repeats regularly — 3-1-1. I honestly forget what it actually is supposed to mean. As for the baggie? Don’t think any baggie will do. You must have a quart-sized baggie. I still haven’t figured out why TSA is so insistent on the size of the baggie. Place the baggie in a separate bin from your computer.

9. Ask to opt out if you cannot avoid the line with the whole-body scanner, politely. That will cause some commotion and you may have to wait a bit for a pat-down artist to arrive. Be pleasant. He doesn’t particularly like patting you down any more than you like being patted down. I normally ask him to give my back a few extra scratches before sending me on my way. The TSA pat-down guys normally chuckle about that. I am fairly certain that asking for a back scratch is not a signal that you are planning to bomb a plane.

10. Carefully pick up all of your belongings at the end of the baggage scanner after going through the magnetometer, or after you get your pat-down. You won’t believe how many laptops, cameras, cell phones, wallets full of credit cards and cash, and keys get left at TSA checkpoints.

There you go. Ten easy steps to get through security. In other words, cooperate (except for going through that blasted whole-body scanner).

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your 10 steps! I think it will be very helpful for my husband.

  • Bunadoo

    To avoid any hassle about your liquids, make sure the baggie is CLEAR plastic.  I had been using a blue-tinted quart size freezer bag for  years because it was sturdy.  Even though you could see what was in it without a problem,  a TSA agent recently required me to repack into a clear baggie.  Didn’t argue with the man.  On a side note about carry-on liquids,  going through the priority security lane at Heathrow,  I noticed that the agent actually went through the sundry kits of the 2 gentlemen in front of me and placed the liquids in a baggie for them.  When it was my turn,  I already had my items in a CLEAR qt size baggie.  The agent – a woman- looked at my well traveled but still intact baggie and decided it was “unacceptable” so she transferred the contents to a new baggie – with a smile.   I doubt you would ever, EVER see this happen in the good ol’ USA.

  • Kelly-O

    the millimeter wave backscatter scanners do not “douse you with radiation” and work completely differently than the x-ray backscatter machines, and the attendant only sees an outline of a stick figure with a star of where to check (so they can tell the other agent over radio) or a big screen that says “ok” if there’s nothing to check (no privacy issue). So if you can’t avoid that line (they are not speedier, that is true) there is zero reason to opt for a pat down and it’s perfectly reasonable to ask which it is if you can’t tell, and only opt out of the x-ray version if you worry about radiation. Which, since you’re about get get on a plane, is a bit ridiculous.

  • Carrie Charney

    Just 2 days ago, I was on the magnetometer line in SFO, without having consciously chosen it. When it was my turn, I was stopped before stepping through and  was directed to the millimeter wave scanner next door, along with a group of Japanese-speaking people. After them, the line continued through the magnetometer. I wish I could detect the reason for the action. 

  • Granny2karla

    Love the way you’ve simplified this mess.  My biggest problem with the TSA-besides its existance-is the lack of consistant rules & regulations, and especially, no avenue for a complaint or greivence.  They can and do whatever they’re in the mood for; totally up to the suppervisor to decide what and how much is allowed in your baggage!  Example:  For health reasons, I must carry my own food and drink (always, not just on planes).  I carry notes from 2 different doctors stating this and should not have any problems going through security.  Last time I left from my local airport, the TSA looked inside my cooler and at my doc notes, then sent me on my way.  When returning hm at an airport in a different state, I was delayed while the agents confered(?) about what I could take with me.  I was told that I had “too many bottles of water and could only take half (3) on board because “that was enough for my flight”!  I asked them to open & scan them so I could take all of them, but they refused.  Remember, I have notes from 2 doctors saying my medical conditions require me to have these.  Having no recourse, I went to my plane & prayed I wouldn’t get too dehydrated!  I have watched these TSA employees put aside food and drink that they confiscate for their own use; if thats not why they save it, then it should immediately go into the trash!!!  Personally, I compare them to the Nazi Gustapo!  No one controls their actions or corrects their behavior!  I have not heard or read about ANY terrorist being stopped by this behavior; has anyone else?  This is also true regarding their singling out someone for “suspicious behavior”….whatever that means.  Example:  A lady takes her 91yr old mothe,r whose dying of cancer and is in such bad health shes unable to stand, to the airport because she wants to die at home.  A TSA agent notices something “suspicious in this dying women’s DIAPER & demands to check it out.  The daughter has to wheel her to a restroom to remove the diaper…all of this is physically painfull..and return to go through security.  The lady had some poop in her diaper….highly danderous!!!!!  My first question is, how did the agent discover the dirty diaper (more pain)?  By this time, the daughter is upset over the treatment of her dying mom, to the point that this agents found her behavior “suspicious” and would not allow her to take her mom to the plane even though she had permission to do so.  Had tha been my mom going through all that pain and humilation, I would have had a fit to. “Rubbing salt into her wounds” was the fact that the TSA found nothing wrong with their agents behavior and that they “were just doing their job”.  In no way do I feel safer because they were doing their job!!!!!  As I said, TSA agents do whatever they want to do and the traveling public can do nothing about their bad behavior!!!!  We have to unite and get our RIGHTS protected!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bill-Fisher/100002384496916 Bill Fisher

    These practices and TSA are abusive and disgusting. It is ridiculous that airport security is so invasive that there have to be articles written to help passengers avoid being sexually assaulted.

    The scanners are invasive whether they show a stick figure or not. The naked image is still in the system. The scanners already had this software in
    Europe over a year ago, so why has it taken so long to use it here?

    The Rapi-Scan x-ray units will still produce a realistic naked image and pose a cancer risk. The EPIC lawsuit also revealed that TSA has stored these images and TSA acknowledges this. So there are thousands of nude images of passengers being stored in TSA computers without their knowledge.

    When the scanners were put into service in November TSA said the images were cartoonish and could be shown to children. In August Denver TSA area director Pat Ahlstrom, said of the scans up until now “They were graphic, no doubt about it,”

    So the TSA story about these being “chalk outlines” was clearly a lie being used to pacify travelers and conceal the fact they were being strip searched.

    Even the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has challenged the validity of the TSA results and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory disputed TSA’s claim that they deemed these safe. NIST recommended that anyone working near the scanners wear a dosimeter. When AFGE requested that screeners be allowed to wear these TSA refused to allow it.

  • Deus Lux

    5. Shuffle quietly through the line. Try not to make eye contact with any TSA officer.

    Charlie, this is what they told me when I was traveling through the Former Soviet Union shortly after the demise of USSR,

    Is this what we have come to today here in the USA?

  • Pkfan2000

    You are incorrect on what the behind the scene person sees, it’s no stick figure.

  • Charles Leocha

    The millimeter wave scanners now have software that only shows a stick figure or cartoon figure of a human body and highlights where there may be something hidden or something that doesn’t seem right. The millimeter wave machines have a screen that allows the passenger and the inspector to see the image at the same time.

    The backscatter machines still have software that shows the graphic image of a human body with details.

  • Paula4cards

    Sorry. You know very well the backscatter is less radiation than a cloudy day in Seattle! And that’s why it can’t see thru a wadded kleenex.

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  • Wiseword

    I’m confused. You start out advising to avoid the  scanner (good advice), then you go on about going through the scanner.  I  suppose the one-quart baggie is required because the TSA hasn’t yet worked out  what two  one-quart baggies add up to. 

  • Wiseword

    Sorry, fat finger typo.  Meant to say “TSA hasn’t figured out what two ONE-PINT baggies add up to. 

  • Wiseword

    If they want to  confiscate your food, spit on before you give it to them.

  • Hapgood

    That’s generally good advice. I might add a suggestion to avoid the whole 3-1-1 Victory Baggie thing and fly without any liquids/gels/aerosols. The inconsistent “interpretation” of the rules about liquids and baggies is an invitation to arbitrary and capricious difficulty that can be avoided by not carrying anything that falls under those rules. Just spend a few minutes and a few bucks at a drugstore at your destination and buy what you need. If you can’t find the specific items you prefer, it’s an opportunity to try alternatives you might like better!

    But I’m skeptical about your advice to “Shuffle quietly through the line. Try not to make eye contact with any TSA officer.” The TSA is very proud of having repealed the Fourth Amendment at their checkpoints, so why wouldn’t they also repeal the Fifth?

    I suspect that the TSA’s elite highly-trained professional behavior detection officers would interpret silence and refusal to make eye contact as suspicious, indicating that you’re trying to hide something. That could arouse their petty-tyrant instincts and lead to interrogation or worse. A better approach might be to respond eagerly to their questions with a cheery smile, to show them that you’re a loyal sheep with nothing to hide, and even that you welcome and appreciate whatever intrusions to your belongings, body, and mind they decide are necessary for security.

    The TSA’s mindset is that, in the Global War on Terror, each and every traveler is an enemy until their screening proves otherwise. And since they surely know that many people despise the TSA (for good reason), they must expect that a lot of passengers will be less than willing to engage them in “friendly” conversation. Thus it would seem that a warm, open, and appreciative response would be the best way to get through that “security layer” with a minimum of hassle, if you can manage it convincingly. 

  • Ton

    i do think it is getting a bit over the top: don’t talk, gestapo etc

    Sure i would not start a discussion about what the best place to hide something are but the best way to defeat rudeness is stil to be polite.

    as for not being able to see the results of all these measures, i  guess that i would not like to know, maybe it is 1 maybe a million, all i need to know is no boom today.

    I fuly understand the wories about privacy and rights, nor would i like to give them up. But the fact is (and i speak as a european who has had these things in one or the other for decades) we need to do something and any measure is going to be a discomfort

  • homebuilding

    last couple of trips, I didn’t even remove my two ‘clear plastic bags’ of toiletries from my very opaque carry on bag.  The first time, I simply forgot to remove it for display….on the return (another airport, of course), I left them in deliberately.  NO PROBLEM–no delay.

    Is there an explanation for this?

    PS:  walk through the metal detectors briskly–as when TSA seems slightly peeved that you don’t know you should be walking through–don’t sprint, though.  Sort of fake inattention.  (It’s just like looking for coins–the faster the coil moves, the less time it has to ‘read’ metal)  Since I started doing this, I don’t need to remove my rings, etc.