Airport Security and How You Can Make it Your Friend

This post is a part of a student-written series, 20 Ideas for Travel Bliss. Chandler Birch is a student at  Taylor University in Upland, Ind. Check out Chandler’s personal blog — Peregrination.

Hating airline travel is one of those universal human connections. Go ahead; ask anybody what they hate the most about flying. Alternatively, check out this list.

You’ll notice some repeat answers—“the food’s bad,” “flying’s too expensive,” “I don’t really like the idea of being thrown across the nation in a long metal tube”—but one thing most everyone can agree on is that getting through security is only marginally easier to do than surviving Thanksgiving with your in-laws (and way less rewarding).

There’s really no good sell for airport security. It’s irritating, the lines are usually endless, and it doesn’t ever smell good. And don’t forget all the stress—Gotta be on time! Gotta get through here! Why do all these people look angry that I haven’t gotten through the line yet? Gotta hurry go go go


And then this happens.

That sort of thing.

But fear not, folks! I come bearing good tidings of the Six Things You Can Do to Survive Airport Security.

1) Show up early.

Perhaps the most unpleasant item on the list, but it’s also one of the most necessary. Many people seem to be under the impression that they can waltz from the airport door to their gate in about fifteen minutes. This is wrong. In reality, your best bet is to show up two hours early for your flights. Anything less is courting disaster and high stress, because you can never guarantee the time it’ll take to get through security.

2) Follow the rules.

This is the most often repeated piece of advice ever and people still don’t follow it. Your best shot of getting through security without an ulcer is to stick to their rules, like not packing prohibited items and adhering to the liquids rule: 3.4 ounces or smaller containers of liquids or gels; 1 quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag holding those containers; and 1 bag per traveler.

3) Pack smart.

Even if you’ve shown up early and been careful not to pack any knives, guns, nuclear waste, or shampoo in your carry-on bag, the ordeal isn’t quite over, especially if you’ve left your liquids bag somewhere between your extra pair of shoes and the big woolly sweater grandma knit for you one Christmas. Your bag probably has a number of pockets: keep your liquids bag in the front portion of your luggage, so it’s easily reached. It’ll speed things up more than you know.

4) Dress for speed.

Ever seen the style of dress we oh-so-affectionately call “gangsta”? You know: baggy jeans, a shirt that could double as a circus tent, and super-fly kicks that cost as much as a fitted prosthetic? Don’t dress that way. In fact, as far as you’re able, avoid baggy clothing. Gangsters favor the style because it lets them keep guns readily available; it’s remarkably tough to keep a .38 hidden when you’re wearing fitted clothing. If the TSA can easily see that you have no suspiciously gun-shaped bumps in your clothing, the chances of them giving you a pat-down plummet.

Also, wear nice socks (you really don’t want to feel airport floor on your toes) and aim for shoes that you can slip quickly in and out of. If you don’t need a belt, don’t bother with one—it’ll only slow you down. And since you’re wearing clothes that fit, you don’t have to worry about dashing through the airport with your pants around your ankles!

5) Send your clothing items through the scanner first.

As I mentioned, TSA requires you to send shoes, belts, and jackets through the scanner. Make sure you send these through before you put your bag on the conveyor belt. This way, you can meet your clothes on the other end and start getting dressed before your bag comes through the other side—saving you your precious time.

6) Above all, breathe.

Even if you’ve taken all these steps prior to your flight, security will probably be irritating and hectic, because not everybody’s an expert like you. That’s okay; if you’ve shown up early for your flight, don’t have any nitroglycerine in your luggage, and avoid irking any TSA officers, you have nothing at all to worry about. When you’re in line, try to breathe a little.

What about you? Are you an expert traveler? What advice would you add to make air travel a little more bearable and a little less like punishment?

About Kendra
  • Nathan Sturgis

    If you’re experienced and know your way around the airport (and traveling solo) you can arrive an hour before your flight takes off. Assuming you aren’t flying out of Atlanta or Chicago-O’Hare. Then, arrive four hours early, and be prepared for extremely unpleasant people in the lines, especially in Chicago.

    • Kendra Beutler

      That’s often the case, Nathan, though I’ve had to wait an hour in Indy before. You just never know. Best to show up with more than an hour, just in case.

  • Jeremy Erickson

    The trick that helps me a lot is to fly at least 25,000 miles each calendar year with the same airline. That gets me status, which lets me skip the worst of the lines. I can even show up to Chicago O’Hare an hour before my flight and be fine. This trick will only work for me while I’m in grad school, though. I don’t plan on having a job afterward that will fly me to Europe as much as being a research assistant in real-time systems does.

    • Kendra Beutler

      Wow, I guess that would help! Didn’t know you got to skip lines if you fly that much. New life goal! :)

  • Rebekah Colson

    I’ll be flying out to Colorado for my brother’s wedding soon, so this was a helpful reminder of what to do. Thanks, Chandler!

    • Kendra Beutler

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Jeremy Erickson

    Oh, and you should also learn from my roommate’s advisor and not bring 2 kilos of cocaine, either. (

    • Kendra Beutler

      Wow. Do you really know this person?

      • Jeremy Erickson

        I’ve never met him myself, but like I said, he’s my roommate’s advisor. We occasionally have dinner interrupted when my roommate gets a phone call from Argentina. It’s been crazy.

        • Kendra Beutler

          I guess so! Thanks for sharing! And we’ll all take that advice to heart. :)

  • Brandon Dotson

    Working for an airline also has its perks. And will greatly help with learning the inside and how to talk with gate/ticket agents. But always try and stay happy. If the gate agent sees that you are calm and happy even if you just missed your flight or you lossed your bag, they will find ways to help you out.

  • Toje Mio

    Hello Monsieur Chandler. What if you go through the express security section?

    • Chandler J. Birch

      The express security section, in my experience, isn’t too different from the normal security section. Folks tend to pick the shortest line. Even so, I’d hazard that all of the tips would translate over to the express line without too much difficulty.

  • Mitch

    Helpful article. IMGURIANS UNITE!

  • Ivy

    all good advice! I’ve done a lot of traveling lately and these all make sense!

  • Benian

    Just an Imgurian here trying to heeelp!