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Ten Smart Ways to Simplify Security

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Passenger Airport Frustrated Overwhelmed (Photo:iStockphoto/Dystortia)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on November 11, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, airport, baggage, clothing and gear, Jaclyn Liechti, security, technology and gadget, tsa.

Waiting in line at the airport can be a frustrating experience, but don't let long waits in security put a damper on your holiday spirit. Use these 10 simple tips to breeze through airport checkpoints and be on your way in no time (unless your flight is delayed, that is).

  • Know what 3-1-1 means. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations restrict the amount of liquids you can take on the plane. Each passenger is allowed to fill a single, quart-sized, clear plastic bag with 3-ounce (technically 3.4-ounce) containers of liquids. Exceptions are made for medications, baby food, and breast milk, but these items must be declared.
  • Pack carry-ons neatly. Use clear zip-top bags to help organize your clothes, pack in layers so screeners can easily see what is inside, and carefully coil electronic cords. If Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) can't tell what is in your bag from an X-ray, your bags will likely face an extra manual search.
  • Pack holiday goods appropriately. If you're flying home for the holidays, don't wrap gifts since TSOs may have to unwrap them for inspection. Also, liquid and gel-like foods such as cranberry sauce, gravy, and salad dressing will be confiscated, so ship them ahead or put them in your checked bag. Cakes and pies are allowed, but may require additional screening.
  • Use the exact name on your ID. The TSA Secure Flight program is being phased in and will require that the name on your ID match your reservation exactly, as well as extra information such as date of birth and gender. Although small differences between your ID and boarding pass shouldn't be problematic right now, consistency will help minimize your time in line.
  • Schedule enough wait time. Some individual airports offer real-time wait length estimates for security checkpoints on their websites. The TSA also has a Wait Time Calculator that uses checkpoint line history to offer estimated wait times, although it was under construction at press time. Currently, there are a few smartphone apps that can provide you with the TSA's historic averages, including TripCase (Blackberry, iPhone, and Windows Mobile) and TSAwait (iPhone), although the information may not be up-to-date. Keep in mind these are only approximate times for security lanes, not for check-in lines.
  • Dress for success. Before you head to the airport, empty your pockets of loose change, wear minimal jewelry, and avoid wearing a belt so you have fewer items to remove for the metal detector. Wear shoes that are easy to slip off and on. And if your travels include someplace cold, try to wear one jacket you can remove easily.
  • Use a checkpoint-friendly laptop case. Computers don't need to be removed from TSA-approved bags, saving you time. Acceptable cases must meet TSA standards, which require a laptop-only section that lies flat on the conveyor belt; has no pockets; and has no metal. If your bag is not TSA approved, store your computer in an easily accessible pocket so you can quickly place it on the belt.
  • Use line time efficiently. Most likely, no matter when you get to the airport you will have to stand in a security line for some time. While you're waiting, take off your coat and watch, put your phone and loose change in your carry-on, and have your 3-1-1 bag out and ready. This way when you reach the front of the line you can quickly put your items in the bin.
  • Be polite. Agitated or argumentative passengers are more likely to seem suspicious and may require more screening.
  • Choose your line carefully. Many airports now offer three lines for travelers: Expert, Casual, and Family. If you're traveling with little ones or have liquids that must be declared, choosing the latter will help minimize stress. If you've followed all the above suggestions, feel free to choose the Expert lane!

Do you have a great tip to help others get through security quickly? Leave a comment below.

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