In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for the TSA a few years ago. It was a short project, but my job was to help them increase their effectiveness in spotting threats while acting more humane toward people who aren’t. I’ll let you decide how effective the work was, but every time I go through security, I smile when I think about the fact that every one of them had to listen to my voice during their training, and they likely don’t realize it.
Through this work and my years of constant travel, I’ve gained a lot of insight into how airport security works, which has made airports much more pleasant for me. Let me share some of this experience with you so you can smile through airports as well.
Those “Porno Scanners” don’t work
In America and a few other countries, there is a scanner right after the metal detector that you stand in and raise your arms before picking up your bags. They don’t say anything about it, but someone around the corner is looking at a picture of you naked while you do this. Sneaky, creepy, and I don’t like it. Worst of all, it doesn’t make anyone safer.
There are plenty of reports about the guy whose job it is to stare at these naked pictures running over to get a better look at the people they like, or even saving pictures for themselves. My favorite story was when the manager tested out the machinery himself, and his employee started making fun of his… manliness. This all resulted in a massive fight in the middle of the airport. Not exactly the height of professionalism, or the kind of people I want staring at my naked body when I’m 2 flights into a long travel day.
One someone has your naked image on their screen, odds are that you could still be hiding tons of stuff, as there are widely-documented ways of easily making things disappear on the scanners. After all of this hassle and invasion of privacy, they still don’t do anything to make us safer.
When I’ve been traveling outside of America for a long stretch, it’s sometimes a shock to see the body scanners again, but do what I do. Smile, tell them you want to “opt out” (those are the magic words), and be nice to the person who pats you quickly down. They won’t be friendly back, as it would be very unprofessional to smile and joke with you while feeling you up, but they will be quick, which is the most you can ask of airport security.
Be nice to them and they will be nice to you
I’ve seen so many people make life hard on themselves by treating the security people as if they are personally responsible for the hassle of airport security, like they just want to make life horrible for everyone that day. This is about as misguided as yelling at the highschooler with a part-time job at the gas station because the prices are so high. They are just another person doing their job, and they just want everyone to be safe.
Smile at them. Let them know that you know it isn’t fun to be standing there all day. Do what you can to make their job easier and they will do what they can to make your trip smoother.
The “ban on liquids” ended years ago
They never announced this publicly, but the TSA stopped requiring the tiny containers of liquids back in 2010. Providing you aren’t trying to carry on an industrial-sized bottle of shampoo, they generally don’t care anymore.
Unfortunately, just because they don’t require it doesn’t mean that some individual airports stopped requiring it. A few random airports across the US and most international airports still require the tiny bottles, so it’s generally a good idea to keep your liquids in GoToobs.
Get Global Entry
If you travel internationally a lot, this will save you a ton of time very quickly. Global Entry lets you bypass those ridiculously long immigration and customs lines and just walk out of the airport after clicking a few buttons at a kiosk. You don’t even have to fill out those long forms saying what you are bringing into the country, you just tap and go. They are even working on expanding this to work in other countries, like Australia and England.
There is nothing that will make you feel more like Jason Bourne than walking past the hordes of people waiting in long lines that wrap around each other for miles, directly out of the airport.
Don’t guess if this particular airport’s security requires you to remove your laptop, take off your shoes, or whatever. You will just hold up the line for everyone else when you find out you were wrong, like I always was. When you near your turn, quickly ask the nearest agent and be done with it. So much simpler and faster, and they will be happy to not have to scold you for not knowing their strange unique rules like they do everyone else.
Put everything in your coat pockets
Before going through security, empty your pockets into your coat pockets. Then you can just toss your coat into the bin and send it through safely. Your other choice is dumping your spare change into the giant plastic bin to pick up slowly afterward while everyone glares at you while they wait. So much faster and easier.
Checked luggage is for suckers
Trying to navigate tight stairs with oversized bags. Constantly flipping your bag over while trying to walk across uneven ground. Paying $70 to check a bag. Watching out the airplane window as they throw bags hard through the air inside the plane. Waiting for ages at the baggage claim as bag after bag that isn’t yours drops onto the carousel.
Forget it. All of it. It’s easy to fit everything you need into one carry-on bag. Sign up for the newsletter here and I will walk you through all you need to know step-by-step so you can Carry Everything On.