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Airports 101: Finding Your Way through Airport Security

Airport security is a pain. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why we need to go through security … I like knowing that the person next to me on the plane doesn’t have a bomb in their shoe or a gun stuffed in the back of their pants. I get the reasoning behind security, but man, it’s a pain. I don’t know many people who enjoy standing half-naked, arms and legs spread, getting a pat-down from a complete stranger in front of their mother; and yet, we go through it every time we fly.

The first thing I hate about airport security is the line. Maybe it’s just me, but I always seem to get stuck behind some chatty lady who feels a great need to share her whole life story with me. If the line was only five minutes, maybe I’d be okay with it. But when I end up standing, ticket and driver’s license in hand, in line next to this lady for 30+ minutes, my patience start to get thin …

If it’s not the chatty, share-my-whole-life-story-lady in front of me, it’s a super slow security person checking tickets and IDs. On my last flight, the man checking tickets took his sweet time. I could see he was talking to every person and asking them questions … which intrigued me. When I got up there, I handed him my ticket and driver’s license and he said ‘Welcome, Mrs. Nelson. Please state your first and last name.” Um … is that really your security question? I’m pretty sure if I was flying with a fake ID, I’d take the time to memorize the name. Plus, he used my name in his question.

Next, I headed over to the massive line of people waiting to go through the detectors. I quickly took my shoes off, pulled my laptop out of my bag and waited until it was my turn to go through. I walked into the full-body scanner, spread my legs and put my hands above my head and then walked out and waited for my bags to come through. Getting through airport security isn’t necessarily hard … it’s just a pain. One wrong move (or word) and you’ll be heading straight to jail.

Here are a few quick tips to help make sure you get through airport security as quickly and painlessly as possible.

  • Wear slip-on shoes. You’ll have to take your shoes off and send them through the x-ray machines, so sandals and slip-on shoes are the easiest (and most comfortable) shoes you can wear to the airport.
  • Arrive early. There is nothing worse than being stressed out, trying to hustle to your flight and getting stuck in a monstrous security line. Give yourself plenty of time to get through security and get to your guide. TSA suggests you arrive 90 minutes early for domestic flights and 2-hours early for international flights.
  • Be cooperative. Don’t fight with the TSA people … they can haul you to jail if they want, it’s really not worth the fight.
  • Be familiar with airport regulations. Before you fly, take a few minutes to look over the TSA guidelines and make sure you know what is (and is not) appropriate to pack in your carry-on bags. You don’t want to have to worry about throwing things out at the last minute because it’s a prohibited item.
  • Don’t forget your driver’s license or passport. I was travelling with my grandmother once and she left her driver’s license at home. This was before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but it was still a pain to get her through security. Today, it’s impossible. Double check (I always triple check) to make sure you have your ID before you leave home.

Here are a few other tips to help you get through the airport:

  • Travel during off-peak times. Try to avoid traveling during the summer, major holidays and spring break – those are the times of year that you get families travelling, so airports get really packed. Don’t fly on weekends, if possible – the lines will be shorter and you’ll save money on your airplane ticket.
  • Fly early in the morning. If you take morning flights, you may be competing (standing in line) with business travelers, but they are pretty experienced travelers and know the rules and regulations. You won’t have to worry about getting stuck behind a person who doesn’t know which pieces of clothing to remove or where to put his shoes.
  • Give yourself at least an hour in between flights. You’ll want to have a little cushion just in case your first flight is delayed. If you have less than an hour, you’ll find yourself running to the gate from one terminal to another.
  • Check-in online from home. You can check in online up to 24 hours before your plane departs. Checking in at home can be a real time-saver at the airport – especially if you don’t need to check bags. You can print your boarding pass and pay to check your bags before you leave, which will save you time and a headache at the airport.
  • Make your bag stand out. Everyone has a black suitcase, which makes it really hard to identify your bag at the baggage carousel. If you’ve got a black suitcase, try putting a bright-colored ribbon on the handle to make it easily identifiable. If you are buying luggage before your trip, don’t buy a black suitcase. Find something with color (I’ve got a brown bag with bright green polka dots … I never have a hard time finding my bag).
  • Pack light. You can only carry on two bags and you can’t check more than two bags.
  • Know your airport. Most airports have online maps that you can print out and carry with you so that you can find the right terminal and know where to park.

Do you have any airport or airport security horror stories? If so, we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below and tell us all about them.

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