Airport Security Issues

Andy Singer: Screening Checkered Baggage Airport security requirements, and the time it takes to deal with it, can vary widely. The information on this page gives you an overview of what to expect when you are traveling through many of the world's airports, and advice on how to deal with many common airport security situations. In general, travelers should contact their airline to find out how early they should arrive at the airport.

General Security Guidelines

  • Carry-On Baggage: Air travelers are limited to one carry-on bag and one personal item (such as a purse or briefcase) on all flights. The carry-on advice page has other insights about common carry-on baggage problems passengers face. You can also review common baggage issues for both checked and carry-on luggage.
  • Prohibited and Restricted Items:Before you leave your house, make sure you know what you can't take to the airport or carry on the plane. The most common restricted items that people accidentally take to the airport are liquid and gel containers that are too large. In general, anything that can start a fire, explode, or be used as a weapon is not allowed, or allowed only in checked bags.
  • Airport Access: Take public transportation to the airport if possible. Parking and curbside access is likely to be controlled and limited.
  • Documentation for Domestic Travel: In the US, a passport or other government-issued photo ID (national, state, or local) is required for travelers age 18 and over. If you do not have a photo ID, you can also use two forms of non-photo ID, one of which has to issued by a state or federal agency. Travelers may be asked to show this ID at subsequent points, such as at the gate, along with their boarding passes.
  • Documentation for International Travel: In the US, document requirements for passing through security are the same for all passengers. However, depending on where you are going, you may be required to have a passport, visa, or other requirements in order to enter or leave the US.
  • Check-in: If possible, check in and print your boarding passes before arriving at the airport. Some airlines may have automated check-in kiosks at the airport. If you have checked bags, you will have to check your bags at airline counter or with the airline's curbside check in service. Travelers should contact their airline to see if it is in place at their airport.
  • Terminal Access: Normally, only ticketed passengers are allowed beyond the screener checkpoints, except for passengers who may need to be escorted to the gate, such as an unaccompanied child or someone with special medical needs.
  • Electronic Items: Larger electronic items may be subjected to additional screening. Be prepared to remove your laptop from its travel case so that both can be X-rayed separately. You can keep smaller laptops and tablets like the iPad in your bag.
  • Valuables: Limit the amount of jewelry or other metal objects that you wear.
  • Metallic Items: Travelers should remove all metal objects prior to passing through the screening process. While belts with metal buckles may have to be removed, smaller jewelry items like tungsten rings and earrings may be left on.

You can also review Top Ten Tips for Dealing with Security as well as the Top 10 Baggage Tips for other security advice concerning your bags. Also, review the common types of items banned and restricted from checked or carry on baggage before you pack for your trip.

Basic Advice for Air Travel

Allow Extra Time for Special Circumstances
During busy periods, or when traveling with young children or infants, or with elderly or disabled passengers, arrive earlier than you usually would.

Do Not Leave Your Car Unattended in Front of the Terminal
Airport parking rules are being strictly enforced and your car may be quickly ticketed and towed.

Keep Your Photo Identification Handy
If you do not have a photo ID, make sure you have two pieces of identification, one of which must be issued by a government authority. Minors are not required to have identification. Failure to have proper identification may result in additional security scrutiny. Some airlines may prohibit you from boarding without proper ID. For international flights, airlines are required to collect your full name and ask you for a contact name and phone number.

Beware of Unattended Packages
If you see an unattended package or bag in the terminal, report it to the airport security staff or other airport authority.

Know What You Are Carrying
Watch your bags while you are at the airport and don't accept packages from strangers. Be prepared to answer questions about who packed your bags and whether you might have left them unattended at any time. Think carefully and answer honestly--history has shown that criminals and terrorists use unwitting passengers to carry bombs or other dangerous items on board aircraft, either by tricking passengers into carrying packages or by simply slipping items into unwatched bags. If you have any doubts, say so.

Humor is Not an Option
Do not joke about having a bomb or firearm in your possession. Security personnel are trained to react when they hear these words. Penalties can be severe, and can include the possibility of time in prison and/or fines.

Expect to Have Your Bags Searched
Both carry-on and checked bags are subject to being hand-searched, especially when airline security personnel cannot determine by X-ray the contents of a package. Leave gifts unwrapped until after you arrive at your destination. Airline security personnel will open it if X-rays are unable to identify the contents.

Leave Your Firearms and Hazardous Goods at Home
There are many hazardous goods that are either not allowed on the aircraft. Do not pack or carry firearms, fireworks, flammable materials, household cleaners, or pressurized containers. Violations of hazardous materials regulations can lead to severe civil penalties, as well as possible criminal prosecution. In the US, you can travel with guns and other firearms in checked luggage if you follow the proper FAA, TSA, and airline security guidelines.

Dealing with Duty Free Articles
Many common duty free items, like alcohol, perfume, and cosmetics, are in sizes that are normally prohibited by the TSA, but if you buy in in the airport terminal and are taking a nonstop flight to your destination, you won't have a problem. If you have to change planes, you may have go through airport security again, so make sure that you follow your airline's advice for traveling with your duty free purchase.

Top 10 Airline Security Tips
Acceptable Identification
Tips for the Novice Flyer
Podcast: TSA Screening Policies

Before traveling anywhere, whether it is an international trip to Dubai or a domestic trip to check your vacation home, preparation will help you avoid most problems.

Airport security products

FLIR Scout TS32R Pro 320x240 65mm monocular 7.5Hz, NTSC

Cartoon by Andy Singer

Airport Security Issues -- Revised 28 October 2012