Of all of the frustrating aspects of air travel, one of the major offenders is the TSA checkpoint. The TSA is an acronym for the Transportation Security Administration which is a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security. The TSA oversees security efforts for all major methods of public transportation within the United States. The biggest presence of the TSA is found in air travel as they are present in over 400 U.S. airports. The TSA screens passengers and baggage for threats and contraband in accordance with federal regulation and law set forth by the Department of Homeland Security.
The most seasoned passengers know how to navigate through TSA checkpoints with ease. Most new travelers can feel like the TSA checkpoint can be an intrusive practice that violates their personal space and makes an already stressful travel process even more so. As we have done quite a bit of travelling ourselves, and because I have a good friend who works for the TSA, we have a few tips that could provide you with a better understanding of the TSA mission and help you breeze through checkpoints and onto that ever deserving vacation!
The TSA is here for your safety.
I know it may seem like the TSA is solely here to annoy passengers. Lets face it, they aren't the most friendly bunch. It always seems like they are constantly annoyed by your presence and that they have the shortest threshold for patience in the history of mankind. That said, the TSA exists solely for the safety of the passengers and the crew there to serve you. Don't let their, sometimes, sub-par customer service undermine what they are trying to accomplish. They deal with a lot of passengers who most often are not very patient themselves. A little understanding will go a long way in this regard.
Dress for Success!
I have to laugh sometimes when I see what a lot of people wear when they are passing through the TSA checkpoint. Elaborate clothing and shoes only increase the amount of time it takes for you to pass through the checkpoint. The best practice here is to dress like you are travelling. Wear shoes that are easy to remove. Leave the jewelry in a checked bag or carry on. Don't wear big jackets or coats that have to be placed in the scanner. The lighter and easier you dress, the less stress you will have when passing through the checkpoint.
Remove EVERYTHING from your pockets.
I cannot begin to describe how frustrating it is to have to wait in line even longer than you have to because someone did not pay attention to the TSA agent's instructions as they approached the checkpoint. Everything must be taken out of your pockets. Cellphones, keys, wallet, fingernail clippings, lint, dust, loose change, nuclear football codes, the handwritten recipe for the cure for blindness... EVERYTHING! Just to be safe; pull your pockets out of your pockets. Everything contained within must go into the trays they provide at the conveyer. Trust me, you'll save yourself time and your stellar self image by doing this one thing.
Prepare before you get there!
Just to be on the safe side, always spend time waiting in the queuing line to get ready for the checkpoint. Take your shoes off, pull your laptop out of your carry on, break down you child's stroller, remove coats and jackets. Whatever you can do to prepare only helps expedite the process.
Don't joke with TSA agents.
Some might try and take light of a situation, but this isn't the time. The TSA carefully selects those who were born without a sense of humor... Not really, but the checkpoint inspection is serious business for them. Don't try to joke around, especially about serious threats they look for. In other words, don't joke about bombs, guns, knives, sharp sticks, etc... They will dive on you, detain you, question you, and make you miss your very important flight.
3 fl oz. or nothing!
I have seen, more times than I care to count, travelers who try and take large fluid containers through the checkpoint. TSA agents are more than happy to watch you throw it away and laugh at your shame. One good practice is to wait until you have passed the checkpoint into the secure area. Don't go to Starbucks prior to the checkpoint unless you are trying to chug that Venti caramel frappuccino with an extra shot... it will end up in the garbage. There are plenty of areas beyond the checkpoint to get drinks to take with you on the plane.
Babies have restrictions too!
This is for the nusing mothers. Take frozen breast milk! I cannot stress this enough. If it is frozen, the TSA is far less likely to inspect it. If it is slushy or thawed, they will definitely test it. I don't know about you, but I don't like giving my daughter milk that has been tampered with by a stranger who has to perform pat downs on other compete strangers... gloves or not. If you are using formula, prepare your bottles, but wait until you are passed the checkpoint to fill them with water.
Sign up for Pre-Check.
TSA Pre-Check is a program that allows you to enter a much faster line that lets you keep your shoes, jacket, and belts on as well as approved liquids in your carry on. Check with the TSA website to learn more and where Pre-Check can be used.
Full disclosure, I made the TSA seems like mindless humorless rule following robots who despise you, love, and free thinking sentient beings whom they desire to rule... The truth is that they are regular people tasked with the ever important and stressful task of keeping us safe as we travel. They are paramount in making certain we come back home safely to those we love. So cut them some slack and comply with their commands. They are there to help and it will save you an unnecessary headache.
Until next time! Safe travels!
-The No Excuses Travel Team.