Airport security – that final barrier to airport freedom – can cause horrible hold-ups if you’re not ready. You can even cop a hefty fine or be held up in secondary screening if you (inadvertently) try to bring banned items through. Here are our tips on how to get through airport security fast and with minimal stress.
With the amount of flying we do, we’ve honed our airport routine down to a fine art. Getting through airport security quickly is one of our fortes. I actually get quite stressed when we’re going through airport security – even though I have nothing to hide. It’s the one part of travelling that really bothers me.
I feel like I’m always about to get into trouble.
It’s like being back at school again – not that we had metal detectors or a liquids limit at my school. But the scrutiny and seriousness of the situation gets under my skin.
We recently travelled with my mum and dad, and though they’ve travelled a bit in their time, they’re a bit out of practice. It was really interesting to see how they negotiated their way through airport security and what they did differently to us.
We realised that we probably have a few tips on things like getting through airport security that might help other travellers – and if you have any tips, we’d love to hear them. Just pop them in the comments at the end of this article.
How to get through airport security fast
1. Pack as few liquids as possible
The one everyday thing all international airports are very serious about is liquids. The 100ml limit is strictly adhered to (I even saw a child have a snow globe confiscated once because it was “probably more than 100ml”). Poor kid.
To mitigate risk of confiscation and also having to drag out bags of stuff to put in the tray, I put all my liquids in my checked luggage. I won’t need any of it till I get to my destination, so why carry it?
Christina limits hers to a bare minimum so it’s easy to get to as well. It’s amazing how reducing the number of things you need to put in the trays they give you speeds up your transit through airport security.
2. Have all liquids in one place and in appropriately sized ziplock bags
You need to put all your liquids (that includes gels and pastes) in a sealable ziplock bag. Some airports are very specific about the size of the bag and have their own ones you can use. Airport security might also demand a 1 ziplock bag per person policy, so make sure you’re not trying to take too much through.
Having all your liquids in one bag to begin with will make things quicker and less stressful when you get to the x-ray machine.
3. Have your laptop, e-readers etc easy to hand
I have a backpack with a special inner compartment for my laptop. It makes things so easy to be able to reach in a pull it out.
Laptops, tablets and e-readers need to go in a separate tray to the rest of your stuff and they can’t overlap, so grab an extra tray when it’s your turn. Different airports will have different rules for this. Leaving Cuba last time, they didn’t really care about screening our laptops, so we just left them in our bags.
London Stansted, however, was very strict and wanted e-readers and everything out of bags.
4. Try not to wear too much metal
Everything metal needs to go in a tray. Watches, belts, mobile phones, wallets – it all needs to go through the x-ray machine. It stands to reason then that the less stuff you have to put in the tray, the less you need to collect at the other end.
Christina has this down to a fine art and zooms through security while I’m still struggling to thread my belt back through my belt loops.
5. Don’t worry about loose change
99.9% of the time, metal detectors won’t pick up the shrapnel in your pocket. Save yourself the horrible scrabble of clawing at the bottom of your tray the other side of screening and just keep your change in your pocket.
The same goes for most jewellery – unless you’re Mr T! Wedding rings can stay on.
6. You don’t need your passport or boarding pass at security
While you’re waiting in line for security, put away your passport and boarding pass. You won’t need them again until the gate – or in the shops if you buy some duty free. Having less to carry and put in the trays will save you time and fuss.
7. Security wants you to take off all outdoor clothing
Be ready to remove coats, hats, and heavy jumpers and sweaters. I find airports quite warm anyway, so my jacket’s often already off. This stuff can go in the same tray as the rest of your stuff.
In the USA and Canada, you’ll have to take off your shoes too. Pretty much everywhere else has relaxed this requirement now. I only take my shoes off if they ask me. For some reason, having your shoes off as you go through airport security feels really denuding. Horrible.
If you are travelling through North America, it’s a really good idea to wear socks at the airport for this exact reason. Bare feet feel even worse.
Because of this, make sure you’re wearing shoes that are easy to take off and put on again. Army boots or ballet lace-ups are going to take forever to don.
Bonus tip: Time your exit
Most airport security now has random testing for explosives and drugs after you’ve collected your belongings. They’re easy to spot as they loiter at the edge of your freedom waiting to pounce.
The test is actually quite quick normally. A couple of swift swipes on your clothing and inside your bag with a dry swab, then the officer scans the swab on their machine and your free to go.
If you really don’t want that hold-up though, this is when having a belt comes in handy. If you spot the random test officer hasn’t chosen a victim yet, fiddle with your belt and pretend to be busy putting it back on. Someone else will go ahead of you and fall into the spider’s web. That’s when you can make a dash for it.
If the officer has someone already, just grab your stuff and sort yourself out beyond the realms of the airport security checks.
What about cigarette lighters?
Because I enjoy the occasional cigar, I’ve invested in quite an expensive lighter. I really don’t want to lose this at airport security. I’ve asked so many different people about cigar and cigarette lighters and still haven’t had a clear answer.
The company line is you’re not supposed to put lighters in your checked luggage… so that means you can have them in your carry-on bags, right?
Coming through security out of Cuba recently, I had a small disposable lighter in my hand luggage and they took it off me. I’m just glad I hadn’t brought my expensive one with me.
If in doubt, ask an officer
Finally, if you’re not sure what you need to do or if an item you’re carrying is allowed through, ask a customs officer. There’s always one nearby as you wait to go through airport security and they can tell you what you need to do with that item.
We hope this has helped you prep for your next trip and if you have any other tips for getting through airport security faster and more efficiently, we’d love to hear them. Pop your ideas in the comments below!