I traveled to New Mexico for a conference last week and flew home on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The airport was packed with families! It made me remember all the trips I've made with my kids, and the craziness of getting a family through airport security.
Airport security is necessary, but a HUGE hassle. If your family doesn't travel by plane often, it can really be intimidating. There were trips where it felt like we made every mistake in the book, and it was frustrating. I'm sharing my mistakes here, so you don't have to make them too. I want to make airport security easier for your family.
Nearly everyone makes mistakes at airport security sometimes because the rules change frequently, and some TSA agents are more strict than others. Mistakes are rarely serious. There are a lot of things you can do in advance to avoid mistakes and save time in the airport security line. TSA agents will often give families with young children a little extra help to get through security faster.
Make your next flight easier with these tips for sailing through airport security.
Check Your Bags
Check your bags at the curb or airline desk as soon as you arrive at the airport. I know there are advantages to carrying all your luggage onto the plane, but I do it less often when I travel with my kids. Getting through security and boarding the plane is so much easier and faster without unnecessary luggage.
It won't necessarily cost you more to check your suitcases. Southwest checks most bags for free. My Delta Skymiles credit card from American Express gets me one free checked bag per ticket. Frontier charges for both checked bags and carry-ons, and it's less expensive to share bigger suitcases and check them. Click the button below to find out how we packed creatively to save big on Frontier Airlines.
Jackets, belts, hats and other accessories will need to be taken off and placed in a bin. Dress in simple, comfortable clothing that minimizes what you have to take off and put back on. It's a good idea to wear a jacket on the plane – you can layer up when needed and it won't take space in your suitcase – but minimize other accessories.
Clothing that has metal or layers may trigger extra screening. I once got a pat down for wearing a maxi skirt. On my last trip, they quickly patted my head just because I had long hair. It's difficult to foresee every hang-up because TSA is deliberately unpredictable, but simple is always better.
Pat downs are not a big deal. Kids do not generally get patted down – my kids never have been. Pat downs are quick, minimally invasive, and done by an agent of the same gender who is no happier about it than you.
Think About Shoes
Everyone over age 12 has to take off their shoes and place them in a bin. Wear shoes you can pull off and put on quickly. Loafers, flats and flip-flops are good choices. Converse high-tops and anything with buckles are not. Wear socks if walking barefoot on the airport floor makes you squeamish.
I often wear sneakers or trainers through security, even though it takes a minute to put them on again. They slip off quickly, are comfortable for walking in the airport, and wearing my bulkiest shoes saves space in my suitcase.
No Loose Items
It's easy to lose things in airport security so do not carry any loose items. Headphones, a Kindle and a wallet are on my family's list of items lost in security. We found them all, but not without stress and hassle.
Pack wallets, phones, keys and everything else you would normally keep on your body in a bag or zipped jacket pocket, at least until you get through security.
Security often requires you to take stuff out of your bags for more accurate screening. The list changes all the time. Electronics, liquids and snacks are prime candidates. Pack toiletries and snacks in small bags – like reusable eBags – for easy removal and re-assembly.
The 3-Ounce Rule
All liquids must be 3.4 ounces or less to go through airport security. You may not take any more liquids than will fit in a quart-size Ziploc bag. This includes shampoos, lotions, drinks and that jug of maple syrup we brought home from the Adirondacks.
Make sure larger liquids are packed in checked bags, or leave them behind. The only exception is baby food or medical items.
Liquids that are too large will be confiscated. My daughter used to collect hotel shampoos and lotions, but didn't clean out her travel bag before one trip. They were all under 3 ounces, but one TSA agent declared that she exceeded the quart limit and made her throw a bunch away before we could clear security.
Empty Water Bottles
It's smart to bring your own reusable water bottle to the airport. More airports now have filling stations inside the secure area. Just make sure your bottle is empty when you go through security or you may lose it.
Leave Your Laptop Home
You will be required to remove your laptop and tablets and place them in their own bin. Taking it out and putting it back is one more thing that will slow you down at airport security. In my rush, I once dropped my Chromebook on the hard floor at LAX security. It was pronounced dead at the scene.
I used to take my laptop on every trip. Last summer, I left it home on our two-week trip to Europe because I didn't have the space and didn't want to deal with it. No regrets. I'm now packing it a lot less often and just take care of essential tasks on my phone.
Print your Boarding Pass
Most airlines make it easy to get your boarding pass on your phone. If you are only in charge of your own ticket, it's the way to go. However, if you don't use the technology often and are handling multiple tickets, you may still want to print your boarding passes.
You can print passes at home if you check in online. Or you can use airport kiosks. If you check bags, the agent will print your boarding passes there. Having physical boarding passes in hand will help you get past the first checkpoint as quickly as possible.
Keep your ID handy
Adults and older teens will need ID at the first security checkpoint for domestic flights. Pull out your IDs just before you enter the line. If you are using passports, bookmark the photo pages with your boarding passes. This will make it easy for the agent to quickly find the information he/she needs.
Decide where to quickly and safely stash all the IDs and boarding passes after you clear the checkpoint. These are loose items that you can't afford to leave in a security bin.
Prep Your Kids
Tell your children what to expect at airport security so they won't be scared, and so they can help you move through as quickly as possible. Security agents may ask them their names and ages. It's not the time to be shy, so help them be ready to answer.
Consider TSA Pre√
TSA Precheck is a paid program that allows you to use a shorter line and doesn't require you to remove your laptop, liquids, shoes or accessories. It currently costs $85 per person for 5 years. To enroll, you apply online and schedule an in-person appointment well in advance of your next trip. Learn more at https://www.tsa.gov/precheck.
TSA Precheck is ideal for frequent travelers – especially those whose home airport is a major hub like New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver or Los Angeles. At my home airport in Salt Lake City, the wait is only awful at peak times. I've found no lines at all at smaller airports like Albuquerque and Nashville. I don't have TSA Precheck, but if airport security makes you anxious, it could be worth every penny.