Image: Crashworks @ Flickr

Ah, the joys of air travel in the age of terrorism! Navigating the TSA security checkpoint is an unfortunate aspect of traveling today, but there are steps you can take to minimize the inconvenience and the amount of time you spend fumbling with your things at the checkpoint. In no particular order, here they are…

1. Have your ID and boarding pass ready. Need I say more? Just have them ready for the initial screener, and then immediately put your boarding pass in a easily accessed pocket in your clothing. NOTE:  even if you use a wallet or purse with a see-through compartment for your license, you’ll probably be asked to remove it.  I went as far as getting a duplicate driver’s license (went to DMV and said I lost my license) and carry it in a see-through, easy-to-access pocket on the inside of my travel vest. That way I don’t have to mess with my wallet when going through screening.

2. Wear slip-on shoes. If the nature of your trip permits you to wear slip-on shoes, by all means do so. Just flip them off (I am referring to your shoes here,) toss them in one of those marvelous gray bins, and you’re good to go. On the exit side of the x-ray machine, just slip them on. No fumbling with laces, zippers, and the like.

3. Look for a line with business travelers. If you’re in a larger airport and are afforded the opportunity to choose which screening line you’ll be in, look for business travelers. Avoid families, married couples with matching outfits ( ! ), and anyone who (my apologies) looks clueless. They may be wonderful people, but they’ll slow you down.

4. Have your liquids ziploc bag handy! Follow the 3-1-1 TSA rule and make sure your 1 quart bag is in a pocket that’s very easy to access. My Red Oxx Air Boss has a large snap-closure pocket on the side which faces me – I just put my liquids/gels bag in it, as it only takes half a second to grab it. When I’ve passed the x-ray machine I put the bag in a more secure, zippered pocket and go on my way. (Bonus tip: I usually have an extra 1 quart Ziploc bag in my travel bag, should the one I’m using get trashed or ripped somehow.) (P.S.: I have no connection with Red Oxx; they just make superb travel bags.)

5. Wear a non-metallic travel belt. Unless you are going on a casual trip, this option will likely require you to bring an extra belt. But…  going through security without removing your belt makes things a bit simpler and certainly faster. A belt like the one I use from Eagle Creek (click on the link) features nylon webbing for the belt and a polycarbonate buckle. Every once in a while a TSA agent will mention that I’ve forgotten to remove my belt, and I’ll just tap on the buckle and mention that it’s plastic; they then let me pass right through. The Eagle Creek belt is also a money belt, by the way. (I have no connection with the company, by the way.)

If I’m wearing a conventional, metal buckle belt, I’ll actually take it off and put it in the previously mentioned pocket in my Air Boss as I’m in the queue to have my ID/boarding pass checked by the initial screener.

6. Wear a travel (or similar) vest. What’s a travel vest? It’s a lightweight vest with about a dozen pockets, some of them featuring zippers hidden behind flaps.  Whether you opt for a travel vest will depend upon the nature of your trip. Most of my travel includes a combination of business casual and sports jacket-type events, so I do use one. What’s the routine? As I walk toward the security checkpoint, I take my Blackberry, my (heavy metal) watch, excess change – anything which could trip the metal detector – and put them securely away in the vest’s pockets. When I put my stuff on the belt for the x-ray machine, I just send the vest through. The one I use is from SCOTTeVEST; TravelSmith, Orvis and other companies offer them as well. You can read my post about the SCOTTeVEST travel vest here:   SCOTTeVest Travel Vest.

Another advantage of a travel vest: if you’ve adopted the “one bag” approach to travel, a travel vest will enable you to carry whatever you want to access while on the plane – paperback book, magazine, bottle of water, and so forth – short of a laptop. Just put your items in the vest’s pockets before boarding.

7. Travel with one bag. I’ve written extensively about this in the past; you might want to check out this post about traveling with nothing more than a backpack, or this post about going to Vegas for 5 days/4 nights with one bag. With the one bag approach your bag never leaves you so it can’t get lost, you bypass luggage claim altogether, and you don’t of course have to check your bag at your departure airport. Life is simpler with one bag.

Click on this link to visit the website of One Bag guru Doug Dyment.

8. Pack your stuff in an organized manner. Give the guy or gal operating the x-ray machine a break. If you just toss all manner of clothes, electronics, and other stuff into your bag haphazardly, their job becomes more difficult. Pack items in layers or separate electronics from clothing by packing them in separate compartments. In any event, keeping it neat will help the conveyor belt moving – which will help you and all the people in line behind you. See the video below for a bit more detail and an example. Finally, if you haven’t tried the bundle method of packing, you really ought to give it a try. Your clothing will arrive nearly wrinkle free AND it will appear as one mass of clothing material to the x-ray screener – which will help her do her job.

9. Use a laptop bag. If you’re traveling with a laptop, consider using one of the new “checkpoint friendly” laptop bags or sleeves which provide a clear and unobstructed view of the laptop via the x-ray screener. Keep in mind that at present, some TSA employees may not recognize the new bags. Click here for a brief description and explanation from the TSA.

Other resources

Here’s a short video from our friends at the TSA which covers some of the basics:

Also, follow this link to read the related TSA article “SimpliFLY Your Carry-ons.”

Final thoughts

A little time spent organizing and planning prior to your trip will pay dividends in minimal hassle and grief when going through the TSA security procedures. If you’ve discovered techniques for making this process easier and hassle-free, please share them by commenting.

Thanks for visiting!

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3 Comments on 9 steps for minimizing TSA security checkpoint hassles

  1. Michael Webber says:

    Great article – I just got back from a trip to Thailand and your remarks are spot-on, especially about dealing with security.

    “Bundle wrapping” is terrific. The more I try it, the more I like it. On my flight to Thailand I used the shirt pouch that came with my Costco wheelie, but it was a little too big – which meant the ends had to be folded down or jammed.

    Since I had also taken a wrestler’s “pouch style” gear bag with me (to use at my jiu jitsu tournament), I tried using this for my bundle-wrapped clothing on the way home. This minimalist item is nothing more that a square sack of thin cloth with strings that both close the mouth of the bag and serve as rudimentary shoulder straps. Although not much as a back-pack, in this case “less is more” and this rather flimsy pouch turned out to be the perfect size for holding my bundled clothing, without adding any bulk of it’s own.

    I couldn’t locate, on-line, the exact version I use (which has solid cloth instead of mesh, and no zipper front pouch), but you can get an idea of what to look for from these websites:


    I have also seen these at sports stores.

    I am going to take a look at the traveler’s vest concept. If it adds some warmth as well, that would be ideal. I am currently using a Marmot Driclime hiking/running vest, and it has a couple of pockets, but no zippers, and things fall out.

    I found it very helpful to take along a 16 oz Nalgene water bottle on my transpacific flight. The flight crew was willing to fill it up (the water you get in their small cups simply isn’t enough) and of course when I passed through security initially, and during my stop, I could refill it at the water fountain. A Platypus “IV-style” bottle collapses for better storage, but the narrow neck is harder to fill.

    Thanks for the great TSA links!


  2. Kevin says:


    Thanks for the comment and links. I have a KIVA “Keychain Backpack” clipped to my Air Boss, here’s a link:

    With the travel vest, however, this has been rendered pretty much pointless. I still bring it with me, however, for afternoon hikes or shopping. It’ll carry a fair amount of stuff as long as it doesn’t weigh a heck of a lot.



  3. Michael W. says:


    My focus on the wrestler’s “backpack” wasn’t on the backpack use, but as a container for my “bundle-wrapped” clothes, where it is ideal.

    The Kiva key-chain pack you mentioned is much tinier and lighter – I have the Rick Steve’s version (at least I am pretty sure they are the same, Kiva manufactures for Rick Steves). But the key-chain daypack isn’t useful for square bundle-wrapped clothes due to the tear drop shape of the key-chain daypack (I know, I tried, the clothes won’t fit in there without bending the corners).

    The wrestler’s “backpack” is, however, an ideal square piece of cloth, not too big and not too small, for packing bundle-wrapped clothes, to prevent soiling etc.

    The one I have is solid cloth without an unnecessary zip pocket. The current ones seem to be mesh, which will keep the clothes together but won’t prevent soiling. BTW, to keep the shape “square” to match my clothes, I don’t tighten the drawstrings.

    When I used the wrestler’s “backpack” on my trip home from Thailand, I was able to pack a bike messenger style bag much more effectively – the bundled clothing went in on its side, and when I had to root around in the messenger bag, I didn’t jumble up my clothing.

    I’ve enjoyed your latest posts. Keep up the good work. Thanks for the email about the Steves “one bag” and I look forward to your review.


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