Top Ten Tips for Dealing with Airport Security

In the wake of September 11, heightened airport security measures in the U.S. and for flights to the U.S. have increased the time needed to check in and increased the variety of security measures that passengers may face. The increased security has meant longer waits and longer lines and longer waits at the ticket counter, the gate screening area, and the at the gate. The following advice will help you cope with this new situation by providing tips for making the process go as quickly as possible.

  1. Arrive Early
    Most airlines advise arriving at the airport two hours before your flight’s scheduled departure, but you may need less or more time depending on your needs. Arrive earlier if you have to go to the ticket counter line first for checked bags or special needs, or if you are traveling with young children, infants, or persons with disabilities.
  2. Make Sure that You Have Proper Identification
    In the US, the TSA requires passengers to have some kind of acceptable identification to either enter the secure areas of the airport or to board an aircraft. Typically, a current photo identification that was issued by some level of government will be sufficient. This requirement is similar in other countries. For example, driver's licenses, state ID cards, military ID cards, and passports are acceptable, but photo identification issued by a school or private employer are not acceptable. For a domestic U.S. flight, if you do not have an appropriate photo ID, some airlines allow you to substitute two non-photo IDs that are issued by some level of government. When in doubt, check with your airline.
  3. Get Your Ticket or Boarding Pass Before You Arrive
    If possible, arrange your trip so that you have either a paper ticket, a copy of an electronic ticket receipt, or a boarding pass in hand before getting to the airport. If you follow the next tip and only have carry on items, you can avoid the lines at the ticket counters and go straight to the gate areas. Make sure that your airline allows you to get a boarding pass or to change your current boarding pass at the gate or at a passenger service area inside the secure area of the airport.
  4. Avoid Using the Ticket Counter
    One of the longest lines you face may be at the ticket counter or curbside check in. You can avoid these lines by not having anything that has to be checked or if you do not have to conduct any business at the ticket counter. Also, avoid having any items that have to be checked. Generally, airlines will limit passengers to one carry on item and one personal item such as a briefcase or laptop computer. Check with your airline for details on what is allowed. Also, keep in mind that many items such as baseball bats, golf clubs, and other common items can no longer be carried in the cabin and must be checked.
  5. Clean out Your Carry On Bags Before Flying
    If you have not flown since September 11, you may have items in your bags such as pocket knives that are no longer allowed in the cabin. Take the time to completely empty any bag that you will use before you fly in order to ensure that you did not accidentally leave something behind. Needless to say, this can avoid an embarrassing situation at the airport.
  6. Make it Easy to be Screened
    In order to keep the security screening processes as short as possible, you should do one of more of the following: avoid packing your carry on bags tightly so that it is easy for the screener to search through them; keep your ticket, boarding pass, and ID within easy reach; wear shoes that can be taken off and put back on relatively easily; and make sure that you can show that any computer or electronic device in your carry on luggage works.
  7. Don't be Surprised by the Security Measures
    In addition to the familiar metal detectors and x-ray machines, there may be a number of other measures in place at the airport, such as armed military personnel, bomb detection equipment, bomb sniffing dogs, and photo ID checks at the gate prior to boarding. Among other things, you may be asked to take your laptop out of its case to be screened separately by the x-ray machine, you may be asked to take off your shoes so that they may be checked, and you may have your bags, shoes, or clothing tested for explosives residues. There will very likely be other measures added over time as new security threats emerge.
  8. Don't Take it Personally
    In addition to the standard security measures that everyone faces, you may be taken aside and given extra scrutiny one or more times by airport security and airline personnel. Andy Singer: How Far Will We Go? In most cases, such scrutiny is not an indication that an individual is being singled out. If you feel that you are being unfairly singled out, you should take the time and effort to document your experience and lodge a complaint with the airline, the airport authority, or the US Department of Transportation. provides several resources for filing passenger complaints with the Department of Transportation.

  9. Get to Know Your Airline's Policies
    It is a very good idea to get to know an airline's policies with respect to security, ticketing, and other passenger-related issues. Ask the airline for a copy of their security guidelines as well as for a copy of their policies regarding passenger compensation due to delays. If you are doing anything out of the ordinary on your trip or require any special accommodations from the airline, contact the airline at least a day before you trip and get the information that you need.
  10. Maintain a Positive Attitude
    Traveling by air, even when things go smoothly, can often be stressful. The new security measures will certainly provide more opportunities for passenger to be delayed or otherwise inconvenienced, and provide more opportunities to become tense, angry, or frustrated. Keep in mind that all of these measures were put in place to deal with realistic potential threats to air travelers over time, and that these measures will make it much less likely that any hijacker or saboteur will threaten anyone's safety.

Cartoon by Andy Singer

Top Ten Tips for Dealing with Security -- Revised 23 October 2012