Clearing Security Like a Pro

There is no doubt that the security screening process can be one of the most frustrating parts of air travel. There's a lot that can go wrong at this point in your journey, but there are a few steps you can take to ensure that you’re an ideal security screenee.

Dress for success

Don’t wear too many layers or metallic items. Heavy jackets should be packed in your checked bags (or if you're doing carry-on only, they should be taken off before you even think about getting in the security line!). Shoes should be easy to remove and always wear socks (you don’t want to be stuck walking barefoot around the security area).  If ever there was an ideal time for leggings, this is it—minimal pockets, both warm and breathable, and tight enough that it makes any potential pat-downs a little less invasive.

Airport ready! My favorite outfit

  • Leggings with a top pocket. Oversized, short-sleeved t-shirt. 
  • Either my Northface jacket or Nike windbreaker—both have loads of pockets. I fill the pockets with my phone, chapstick, IDs, etc…. and its super easy to just take it off and throw it in a bin—and nothing will be left in pants pockets. 
  • Comfy sneakers or flats 
  • Weather depending, I may be wearing a fitted hoodie – an item that I’ll stow in my bag before I get in the security line.


Risky Items

Carefully and thoughtfully pack your “security risk” items. If you’re new to the air traveler scene: Google this topic. I call them The 3 Ls: laptop, lithium batteries, and liquids. Make sure you can easily remove them from your bag… OR remove them before you even get in line. There is no better way to piss off your fellow passengers than being the jerk that holds up the security line because you didn’t pre-plan.  You’ll also minimize the time it takes for you to gather your things after they’re x-rayed. And speaking of x-rays….

Wait for your bags to pass

I never, ever go through the screening machine until I have watched my bags enter the x-ray machine.  Coming from Boston, that is now a “you can never be too careful” kinda place (after 9/11 things really tightened up here), I don’t let my bags out of my sight for more than the time it takes for them to go through that security machine. You might not win any popularity prizes with security, but they can’t fault your for your decision to keep an eye on your stuff!

Don’t argue

Its early, you’re tired, it took too long to check in. I get it; you’re not in the mood for some snarky, pimply twentysomething bossing you around. Well, guess what… suck it up, bub. That person has the right to make your life hell for the next two hours. There is no better way to be “randomly” selected for an intense security screening than mouthing off to airport security.

Keep alert

You'll always encounter Chaos at the airport

Keep the line moving, look ahead to see if they may be opening another line, help out the single parent with two kids just ahead of you in line. Don’t be nose-to-phone, and for that matter, don’t be on the phone at all.  Listen to any announcements the security staff may be making. Each airport is different and has different screening requirements.

When you’re done...

… grab your stuff and move along. Do not be the dumdum that is causing a belt backup. They set up seats past the security area specifically for regrouping/redressing/repacking-- spot ‘em, use ‘em.

To sum it up:

Be ready to remove your jacket, shoes, jewelry, belt, and bags. Have your passport /ID and boarding pass in-hand. Listen for announcements. Answer questions politely. Watch your bag(s) go through the machine. Pick up all your belongings from the belt and move somewhere, anywhere else to regroup. 

Story time...

When I was moving over to Korea in 2010, I hadn't given much thought to what I was packing where. I was so excited to bring over a Funfetti cake mix and frosting, but mindlessly put it in my carry-on bag because I ran out of weight in my check-ed bag. Well, this caused a little stir in the security area, and I had my bag searched. Ultimately, the frosting was confiscated because it counts as a liquid.

A little further back: I was 14 and gong through the screening with my parents and 3 younger siblings. Security spent an extra long amount of time checking the x-ray of my bag. Well, I was super into rolling coins and had brought some to the bank the day prior to our departure to have some spending money. Apparently having a whole roll of nickles in the bottom of you bag does a bang-up job of freaking out TSA.

Last one: I was being re-screened in LAX in between domestic connectors. I was 3 flights and something like 29 hours into a 5-flight/39-hour journey between Yeosu and my parent's house in RI. I was looking like a..... well, let's just leave it at "not good." I passed through the metal detector and they swiped my hands with a wipe they use to detect explosive residue. When the machine started beeping, the woman holding it looked at me and then looked at her coworker- absolutely stunned. The other lady looked concerned for a minute, and then was like "uhh... OH! Try the other one. That machines has been weird all day." I passed the second time.

  • What was the worst security experience you've ever had?
  • Have you ever done anything to hold up the screening line?
  • In which airports have you had a great security experience?
More reading:  7 Items for Every Traveler's Day Bag
Posted in How To, Travel, Trip Planning, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .


  1. If you do not already have it, I HIGHLY recommend TSA-Pre. I travelled every week for the past few years and it has helped me TONS. Also when I’m coming back to the country from a weekend getaway outside of the US. A total time-saver! 🙂

  2. Great tips!! I always try to line everything up so I can pack it all right back up again like a champ too 🙂 THe wierdest security experience I have had was in Singapore when they checked you upon arrival to the gate rather than right after check in. I havent seen that before!

  3. Great post and I agree with you wholeheartedly about being prepared, Everything I take on board with me is carefully thought out. Sure, I like to pass through security without any dramas, but I hate holding others up as well. I sometimes get a bit frustrated with others who aren’t quite so prepared, or seem incapable of reading instructions, but then I remember that not everyone is a seasoned traveller, and I calm down. I think it’s always good value to research the country ahead too just in case they have special rules (like no pro photographic equipment in Cuba) and more and more locations are now doing additional checks at the gate before boarding. Like Singapore and Dubai for eg. ie you might have bought water after clearing the main security but then get checked again so you can’t take you water on board.

    • Yeah, its easy to get frustrated with people holding up the line; but you’re right- remembering that this isn’t everyone’s millionth time going through security helps sooth the irritation. And that’s so interesting that you couldn’t bring professional camera equipment. I wonder why that is.

  4. Fantastic post. Really simple to prepare before going through security, but the routine is so overlooked by many! I’m always that person chugging a litre bottle of water just before the security gates because I’ve forgotten that I can’t bring it on board (and am always paranoid of getting dehydrated, hahaha).

    • Same here! I never want to loose a water bottle to the security! They’re wayyy too expensive inside security and no way am I getting on a plane without one! Flight dehydration is real and it… is… horrible. lol

  5. Anyone notice they don’t check liquids anymore? Like they’ll take a water bottle, but you can have three bags of travel sized liquids and they don’t say anything!! Also, my tip is to wear shoes with socks…for sanitary reasons. lol But if you can’t, just bring socks to slip on once you take your shoes off!

    • Yeah I did notice that. I was actually (irrationally) worried last trip that they would try to take my beloved glass water bottle. Naturally one of the guards was making a straight-faced joke about making sure it was shatter-proof… I had no idea he was joking until an older guard was like, "Don’t worry miss, you’re fine. He’s just a terrible flirt."

  6. Great post and helpful tips!! In Asia, they are so much more relaxed about security — it makes me wonder. We have never been asked to take our shoes off and I have accidentally brought water in!

  7. I really, really enjoyed reading this and everyone should have this guide! I’m always struggling with what to wear and you nailed it! I’ve been hearing about the travel poncho with all the crazy pockets. Any thoughts?

    • I’ve seen a few reviews on those ponchos, but they’re just barely a miss for me. Some of them look great and seem totally functional, but I like what I already have, so my opinions is slightly colored by not having a need. Once I’ve worn through my current outerwear, I may have a change of mind, though!

  8. These are all really great suggestions! I always wait for my bag to go into the xray machine too. It’s funny how when you do it so often that it comes second nature but some people or beginners to flying wouldn’t know that. Also dressing for comfort and ease through security is a big thing. I usually wear tights and slip on shoes so it is easy to get through. Having laptop and liquids easy to reach is super important if you don’t want to annoy the 20 or more people in line behind you ha ha. Tweeting it!

    • Thanks, Chantell! I’ve just worn through my travel sneakers and totally need to get some slip-on flats…. I know it seems so obvious to wear slides, but last time I was in the market for travel shoes, I bought regular sneakers. I’ll do better next time, I swear lol

  9. These are all great tips! Thankfully I have been really lucky, or really prepared going through security checks already! The only time I had a problem was recently the airport wanted me to take off these metal bracelets I have been wearing for a year that I got in Vietnam. They are really hard to get off, luckily the guy let me through the metal detector (after convincing him I had been there many other times with them on and it was never a problem.) He let me through and I didn’t sound the alarm. It’s interesting because we also have noticed not every airport makes you take out your laptops recently. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. We have flown in and out of Seoul a few times this year and never did they have us pull out the laptops. Anyways, thanks for sharing your helpful tips!

    • Yeah, I found that Seoul was pretty relaxed… but I like to think that its because they’re so efficient and cutting-edge that the scanning technology doesn’t require removal of items. Here in Boston… things have relaxed, but it happened more than once where I was asked, "Ma’am I need you to break the circuit" aka— unscrew the ball on my metal bracelet. Thank goodness for the new(ish) biometrics systems!

  10. All sensible and useful tips. Fortunately we have not had much issues here till now, as we do follow what you advise, and are extra careful of what we pack in our hand baggage especially.

    • Hand baggage can be a nightmare for sure! When I was 14 my family was flying from Boston to Miami….. and dumdum over here had a coin roll of nickles at the bottom of my bag. Whoops!

  11. Oh the horror of Airport security, I feel your pain! Actually, I’m in a cold sweat just thinking about it but some very good tips especially keeping an eye on your bags.

  12. Oh great tips – I agree on the "Do not argue" part 100% – coz they are hell bent and WILL not listen. It’s just a waste of time. I saw a guy arguing while carrying over 100 ml bottles for over 10 mins – I mean , seriously? I tried to butt in and told him to cool off and that they won’t listen – just throw the bottles, but nope – I guess the argument carried on much longer and I am confident he just had to throw them eventually.

  13. Security line in EU zone is crazy! Long lines and too strict. One tip I can share, look for the line with less children travelling. They always take up a lot of time.

    • YES! Totally – always -avoid lines with kids. And wheelchairs. Even if the kids are used to the whole process, they’re still kiddos. I always accidentally pick the line at customs checks that has a kid in it… like there is no kid, and then mom walks up to dad 3 people ahead of me with a tiny baby. Baby is cute, but verifying "ownership" can be a process.

  14. Haven’t experienced any sort of inconvenience while going through the security but have seen a couple of times people unnecessarily arguing with the security staff and disrupting the waiting queue. And that is so annoying!!

    • Totally. I can understand if it appears to be someone’s first trip, but you have seasoned travelers like business men with nail scissors or oversized liquid bottles– come on dude, you know the rules!

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