The Obsessive Planner’s Guide | On Getting Through Airport Security
“To know me is to fly with me. This is where I live…” _Up In The Air (2009) So, you have recently planned your first trip. You booked your plane ticket, reserved your hotel. And…you may have read through the Obsessive Planner’s Guide on how to plan your trip. lol. You’re ready. Except ::insert dramatic pause::enter music from Jaws:: you have to get through airport security. Maybe you’ve never flown before. And all you have in your head are the horror stories your friend told you about going through security and losing her favorite bottle of hair spray because it was too big and the TSA agent none-too-kindly pulled it out of her bag and tossed into the garbage like it was an unwanted sub sandwich. Without even an apology. Or, maybe you’ve flown, but not since 1993. Before TSA tightened up rules on liquids and electronics. So you find yourself with your camera, laptop, cell phone, mouth wash, toothpaste, and baby oil in your hands without a single clue of how to pack them. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most people get more than a little nervous about getting through airport security. Why? Well, for one, the rules seem to change all the time. They don’t, really, but it feels like it. Also, the number of rules just stirs up anxiety–no metal, make sure you use the bin, don’t leave your items, remember to take off your shoes, put your hands up, spread your legs… make it stop, make it stop! Well, that’s why I’m here–to help guide you through the lines and the dreaded full-body scan without having a major panic attack. Follow this guide and getting through domestic security will become as easy as pie. Like apple pie. In the fall. How to Get Through (Domestic) Airport Security Okay, side bar… I know what you’re thinking. Um, but I’m going to France. Do the same rules apply? And the answer is: It depends. Different countries have different rules, but most of what I cover here applies internationally as well (unless I say otherwise). If it’s your very first time flying? You’re going to be a little nervous, and that’s okay. Nerves come from uncertainty, or (if you’re like me) from wanting to do everything “right.” Don’t worry, your Obsessive Planner will guide you smoothly so that when you travel again, you’ll feel like pro. The Obsessive Planner assumes you are traveling with a carry on. However, if you checked your luggage, this guide will still work wonders. You just have less to worry about. 1. Arrive Early Like 2-3 hours before your flight early. Especially if you’re flying internationally. Typical flying protocol. Why? Well, each airport is different, but your major airports will nearly always be busy. And crowded. Therefore, the lines for security may be longer than the lines for Black Friday. And just as chaotic. But don’t panic–you’re getting there EARLY. And I’m guiding you. You have to factor in the time it takes to get through security. Which can take anywhere from 2 minutes to over an hour. This can make or break a flight. I’ve seen travelers miss a flight simply from long security lines–and poor planning. Personally, I arrive to the airport about 3 hours before my flight. Exceptions? Smaller airports. Then I stick to the standard 2. 2. Try to Fly Early in the Morning or Late at Night Because then security lines are nearly non-existent. You may not enjoy rising before 5am, but trust me, if you can manage an early morning flight, you will thank me later when you walk right up to the counter. I once arrived at the airport before the checkpoint even opened! I don’t recommend that, but talk about a time-saver… Late night flights are similar. Obviously, most people fly during the day–the daylight hours. Consequently, security lines stretch longer during daylight hours. Especially late morning (think working commuters) and early afternoon. 3. Have Your ID and Ticket Ready… …BEFORE you get to the counter. Before. When you get to the counter, the TSA agent will want to see your ID and ticket. Having both out and really saves time and potentially a scowl from the agent. This also includes your passport if you’re travelling internationally. Have it out and opened to your photo. I’m a fan of electronic tickets. The less loose, paper items I have to worry about, the better. But majority of flyers still use a paper boarding pass. Airports don’t (appear to) have a preference–just as long as you’re ready when the time comes. Should you choose an e-ticket, some advice? Have your phone on its brightest setting so the scanner can read the barcode. 4. Go Through At Your Own Pace Breathe. You’ve made it past the counter and now it’s the moment of truth… Now your heart throbs so loud people behind you are dancing to the beat. And you can just feel their insistence that you go, go, go… Breathe. You’re allowed to go at your own pace. This isn’t a race–unless you didn’t follow rule number 1–your mission is simply to make it out of security with all your items intact. Don’t allow people behind you to rush you. However, the purpose of my guide is so you will eventually move through security quickly and easily. The good thing? There is at least one agent yelling instructions at the top of his/her lungs–so listen. Bad thing? Sometimes their yelling feels like insistence. Just remember to breathe; they are simply doing their job. 5. Know What Items to Remove/Take Off Shoes Take them off. I remove them as soon as I leave the counter. All shoes–flip flops, baby doll flats, sneakers, peak-toe pumps, blue suede boots. All shoes must come off. You can, and should, keep your socks on. Jacket/Belt/Coat/Hat/Scarf Take it off. Some simply don’t travel in a jacket. I always do–saves space in my carry on and helps when the airplane is freezing. A “jacket” includes a cardigan, a button up sweater, a hoodie, even a shawl. Take it off. For women, we don’t always have to take our hats off. But a TSA agent will check your hat/head later. Same goes for headwraps. Jewelry This has changed in recent years. I do not recommend flying in heavy, ornate, bangle jewelry that recites the melody to the latest Cardi B song while walking. If you do, take it off. But small, simple jewelry–a light necklace, stud earrings? I haven’t had to remove these items in years. Things in your pockets All of it comes out. Ticket stubs, loose change, cards, forgotten stick of gum from last week. All of it comes out of your pockets. Tip–mostly for women? I don’t fly in pants with pockets. One less thing to worry about. Electronics So, this rule has changed in recent years. Especially when it comes to flying internationally. And will likely continue to change as the world becomes more technologically advanced. For now? Any item larger than a cell phone must come out of your bag: tablets, laptop, cameras, Bluetooth speakers (yep, those too), portable DVD players, etc. Oh, Bluetooth headset? You don’t have to take it out, but you can’t keep it on. Best to keep it packed until you get to your gate. Liquids Oh the fun rule. Liquids. So, as most should know, after various incidents involving domestic and international travel, new rules were drafted regarding airport security and traveling on planes with liquid was a big one. When carrying on luggage, “liquids” include: gels, sprays, oils, pastes, aerosols, and of course actual liquid. TSA requires that no “liquid” item larger than 3 ounces (100ml for international travel) be carried onto a plane. And all items 3 oz. or smaller, must be securely inside a clear quart-sized bag. So…the size of this clear bag… obviously, from the TSA rule, they mean a quart-sized Ziploc bag. Which is…comical for women. I can barely fit three items in that thing… Now, I’ve seen people use a gallon-sized bag. I’m not advocating that. I’ve seen people use more than one quart sized bag. I’m not advocating that either although…I’ve done that. More than once–just make sure one bag per bin or you’re going to lose something you like. What I will advocate? Small, clear toiletry bags with a zipper. I’ve used mine for every flight I’ve taken in the last 5 years and never lost a single item to the trash. Fits much, much more than a single quart-sized Ziploc. What’s in my bag? Two different bottles of lotion, two different bottles of perfume, baby oil, Argan oil (for my hair), toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, and contacts. Oh, and most recently? Dry shampoo. Your clear bag must come out of your carry on–must be visible at all times while going through security. And, for you international travelers, DO NOT overpack this bag. Not unless you 1) want to be taken aside for additional screening and 2) want to lose your favorite lotion. Tip: If you’re checking luggage, just put all these items in your checked luggage to save time and stress. Bins/Trays Now this is an interesting one… Not every airport has the same sized bins or trays. Larger airports will have bins so large, your carry on can (and must) fit inside. Others will only have smaller ones. For those airports, you do not put entire bags in those bins. I repeat, you do not put your entire bag in those bins. They will not fit. As for what goes in the bins? Use one bin for your jacket, belt, shoes, pocket items, and liquid bag. Make sure your clear bag is lying flat and visible. DO NOT hide it under the jacket. Use a separate bin for electronics–your laptop must have its own, private bin. It’s special. If the bin is big enough, your carry on AND personal item will go in separate bins. If not, just place them on the conveyor belt. And yes, I realize this ultimately means you may have 3-4 bins. It’s okay. Tip for First Time Travelers? Put liquids and electronics in your personal item And get creative with the person item–a backpack is best. Keeping all these items in one bag saves time and keeps you from having to fumble through multiple bags for required items. Check out this post on packing your carry-on for some great tips on how best to pack before getting to the airport. 6. The Conveyor Belt I prefer to sandwich my smaller items–bins with shoes, jacket, electronics–between my larger bags (carry on and personal item). Of course, if you checked your luggage, this won’t be an issue. Stay with all your items and bins until they go inside the scanner. THEN you can step away towards the full body scanner or metal detector. Should you choose to walk away from your items before this, you may encounter a thoughtful TSA agent who will quickly let you know to stay with your items. 7. Full-Body Scanner–Just Don’t Think About It Because if you do, you’ll get self-conscious and won’t step inside. Truthfully, it’s harmless. Step in, put your feet on the marked spots, place your hands above your head as shown on the figure in front of you, and don’t move. Two seconds later, you’re done and walking out to more TSA agents. They will likely pat you down and check for any areas that flashed on the screen–especially if you’re wearing jewelry. A note for (Black) Women Unless you have straight relaxed hair or straightened natural hair or a really good sew-in with straight hair…(and even then…) you’re going to have your hair checked. In the last three years, I’ve never not had my hair checked. Except when I travelled overseas. No one checked my hair; it was a relief. Naturally curly hair, natural puff, braids (in a bun and down), kinky twists, Senegalese twists, and every kind of crochet style known… Checked every time. Even by...
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