Editor’s Note: This is part three of the Insider series on managing the TSA when you travel. Here’s part one and part two. As always, please send me any suggestions on topics or content I may have overlooked.
Want to get through the TSA screening process as quickly and painlessly as possible? Sure you do.
How do I prepare for screening?
There are tried and true ways to make your screening experience a smoother one.
• Pack light. The more you have to screen, the longer it takes. Bring a small carry-on bag if possible.
• Leave the hiking boots at home. Taking your shoes on and off can slow down the process. Wear shoes you can slip out of — and back into — quickly.
• Demagnetize. You’ve been through the magnetometer before, so you should know what sets it off. Don’t wear anything that might make it beep (if you do, you’ll have to undergo a dreaded secondary screening). Pay attention to belt buckles and jewelry, which tends to make the machine scream.
• No jacket required. If you can avoid wearing a jacket, do it. Jackets have to be removed, and that’s another step that slows the process down.
• Don’t forget to breathe. The screening area is the most stressful part of the airport. Slow down, take deep breaths and don’t let them see you sweat. No, seriously. If you look nervous, you could get a secondary screening.
How do the experts do it?
Card-carrying frequent fliers are members of Pre-Check or have access to the special first-class lines, so they move through the system much faster than us ordinary mortals. But even when their preferred lines aren’t available, they know how to get around the masses.
• Look for the line without the scanner. Those lines tend to move faster, because the body scanner adds anywhere between 30 seconds to a minute of screening time. And you can choose the line you stand in most of the time, at least in my experience. Check the TSA Status site to find the exact locations of the scanners. It’s a good idea to stay as far away from them as possible, as I’ll explain in a minute.
• Follow the suits. Business travelers can sniff out the shortest lines. Follow the passengers in the blue blazers, and you’re practically guaranteed a quicker screening.
• Shoes first. You’ll want to remove your shoes first and put them on the conveyor belt before the rest of your luggage. Why? Because after you pass through the magnetometer, it’s the first thing you’ll be looking for, and the first thing you should do — put your shoes back on. If you reverse the process, it’s less efficient.
• Buy a decent carry-on bag. Get something that’s easy to open and if you’re traveling with electronics, make sure there’s a TSA-approved laptop case (that way, you won’t have to take your laptop out of your bag, which can also cause delays). You’ll also look like you know what you’re doing, which counts for something.