5 Mistakes to Avoid Navigating Through Airport Security

In times of heightened alert, airport security procedures can leave passengers feeling really frustrated and even exhausted before they embark on their trip. When you add to the frustration the constant increases in airline fees just as service and legroom are decreasing, passengers may be left wishing they had taken the train.

Although security in international flights is intense, even for domestic flights, the process can seem like a steeplechase with one hurdle after the next.  After traveling to 68+ countries and all 50 of the US states, I generally whisk quickly through security.  I have left nothing to chance by signing up for TSA Pre-Check and making sure it always appears on my boarding pass before every flight. However, all it took was a recent domestic flight from Washington, DC to Houston to take the wind out of my sails. Within minutes, I had at least four stumbling blocks that held me up, adding to my lessons learned the hard way.

Here are five mistakes to avoid in today’s security environment.

  1. On slow travel days, watch out for merging lines combining pre-cleared and general passenger traffic.  Watch how passengers are being shepherded through security.  On my last flight, I was surprised to see that with my TSA Pre-Check stamp on my boarding pass, I was still ushered into the wrong line. I watched what was left of my original pre-cleared line as everyone still there was whisked through a simple metal detector. I found myself herded through the full body scanner and thereby subject to its sometimes confounding findings.  Predictably within minutes, the scanner had singled me out as a person in need of special screening.

If lines converge mixing pre-cleared passengers with general traffic, be prepared to dart across the flow of incoming crowds to reclaim your place in the pre-cleared shorter line.  Otherwise, if your flight is leaving soon. You may not be on it!

  1. Especially for women passengers: Don’t wear skirts or shorts since security screenings can lead to a full body frisk.  In today’s world of more fees and less space, passengers are likely to dress for comfort which in warm weather may mean less not more layers. However, when confronted with a public pat down up one leg and down the other, long pants are likely to be the best option.
  2. Don’t wear bulky clothes or those that have ornate metal buttons and trim. Both can cause problems with metal detectors and full-body scanners meaning greater scrutiny and more delays. I previously had this experience traveling through London. I had been up in Scotland and the chilly North Sea. Wearing heavy clothes, I made a conspicuous figure mixed in with vacationers in tee shirts. Not unexpectedly, a female security guard immediately raced up having found such a seemingly suspicious character among outbound vacationers.
  3. If you are sent through a full body scanner, don’t even arch an eyebrow or dare to shift from one foot to the other. Such a barely perceptible movement will send security darting immediately in your direction.
  4. Don’t use the time waiting in a security line to make friends and trade travel stories with new found acquaintances. Do resist the urge until you have been cleared.

On a prior trip, I innocently found myself wishing I had saved the travel chat for the gate.  Filled with excitement heading out to a new exotic location, I struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger while waiting to board a flight.  When he was approached by security, a small knife popped out of his cell phone. It lay there gleaming on the floor while everyone gawked at this “concealed weapon”. It may have only been an innocuous nail grooming tool, but it immediately caught the eye of security. Worse yet, when his companion wisely melted away into a far off security line, I was left looking like the unfortunate traveler’s companion.  I did manage to get through security and on to my flight on time.  However, this is a mistake that is really easy to avoid.

If just the thought of spending time in another airport leaves you reeling, take heart. Many airport authorities and local entrepreneurs have come to the rescue. Now airports around the world are beginning to offer an array of services from spas/massages to seasonal ice-skating in Denver and in select US locations, “K-9 Ambassadors”.  But just in case, you are stranded for hours, do pack your own entertainment, and save lots of time for security delays.


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