If you haven’t flown for awhile, before going through security checks, watch a few other people go through it. Observe what the agents send them back to remove (watches, belts), and learn from the swift routines of the experienced travelers. Go forward in a good mood and helpful spirit.
Travelers older than 75 are allowed to leave their shoes on and may wear a light jacket through security checkpoints. If anything questionable appears during people-scanning, those over 75 can take another pass through the scanner rather than be led off to another room for pat-downs or whatever. If you look younger you may need to ask for your special rights.
If you’re bringing anything unusual, such as a prototype, industrial part, machine, equipment, or a lot of metal and corded items, don’t wait for the hassle to descend upon you, just put it in a bin all by itself. It’s their job to question suspicious stuff going into the cabin; the least hassle is to have that discussion when no concealment was demonstrated.
If you are doing carry-on baggage only and printed out the boarding pass four to twenty-three hours before the flight, you can head right for the TSA baggage scanner check-through line and not have to stand in any other lines.
The things the TSA staff look for at the scanners:
1) hidden liquids containers
2) small electronics—things with cords or batteries
3) things made of metal
4) big shoes
For the least hassle, put bottles into the tub with your shoes, wallet, pocket items, belt and purse. You are allowed to bring empty containers through, but you do yourself no favors if you hide them.
Electronics / metal items. Put everything with a battery, cord, charger, or having a solid metal exterior or metal blade-like parts into a clear bag (no size requirements on this) and drop it into the tubs too. Mystery solved. Even common items can cast an unusual shadow depending how they lie.
Tip: The clear, zippered bags from sheet sets are perfect for electronics. The tough plastic won’t get holes or tears from sharp corners. The pillowcase bag is perfect for electronics.
Lastly, shoes with thick soles or heels often warrant a second look. Put nothing inside the shoes that you wouldn’t mind a stranger handling in public. Store socks but never underwear in packed shoes. Place shoes accessibly. For instance, if placed at the bottom of a backpack, the whole contents might need to be dumped out to reach them.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it: making jokes about having a bomb, asking why they think you have a bomb or gun, or in general using the words ‘terrorist’ ‘bomb’ ‘explosive’ ‘gun’ and you get it, while in an airport is fool-hardy. Save it for later.
Also don’t get vocal about how stupid or scientifically unsupported these measures are. They hear it all day, and it makes you a pill. Pills don’t get the benefit of the doubt when they need it.
TSA will want to look at the shoes in your luggage,
in both checked bags and carry-on.
Don’t try to be funny or witty about the state of TSA security measures. It will cause you to have a much lengthier experience with TSA.
One of the TSA staff may talk to you. It’s a test. They are looking for inappropriate responses that indicate a guilty conscience like hostility, over-the-top efforts to be funny, large gestures, quarrelsomeness or refusal to say anything, as if you’ve already been read your Miranda rights. Simply respond appropriately, whatever that is. Laugh politely at their joke. Press lips together if asked to open your bag, sigh deeply if made to remove more stuff and go through the people scanner again, but don’t go ballistic. Act normal, which can encompass not being happy about being inconvenienced.
They speak to you simply to hear your voice: is it nervous or scared? Are you thrown for a loop by the question “Where are you headed today?” Just respond in your normal fashion when asked a question.
They are looking for congruence. If you are nervous because it’s the first time you’re going through the TSA scanners in your life, say “I haven’t flown in twenty years, this is my first airport scanner.” Sharing the reason for excessive nervousness or anxiety is a timesaver. Telling strangers about your major concern is well-balanced, normal behavior. “I must seem a wreck, but my brother is in intensive care and may be gone by the time I get there.” That would explain the about-to-cry look glued to your face.
Congruence. The TSA is looking for congruence, not a specific set of behaviors. High-strung, nervous people do not get more hassle; most of us can tell when people are always like that.
George Orwell once said “By forty, every man has the face he deserves.” Or may it was fifty. At any rate, after twenty-two we are all on the road to earning the face we deserve. When your face is congruent with your behavior, even if you’re normally a touchy, smart-alecky hot-head, you might breeze through the TSA scanners despite all that. But please, if not for yourself, then for the sake of the people behind you, give it a rest.
Polite requests. This leads to another point: receiving a very calm, gentle request from TSA officers, flight attendants, or airport staff. Perhaps in your life, in your family, this sort of ‘please put that dish in the sink’ tone may have neither compelling urgency nor crushing repercussion for non-compliance. This is not mom, and some of these requests have prison terms for two minute delays. Their tone of voice should not be a factor in whether you comply or not.
All the airport/airline employees are trained to use a nice tone of voice regardless of the nature of the request. The reason is to avoid alarming or drawing the attention of nearby people. It is done that way so you may retain your dignity while getting reined in or guided.
When they ask you to sit down, turn off your electronics, put on your seatbelt, stay in line, come over here, or other small direction, these can end up with you in handcuffs if you think you’ll do that later on, not right now.
Sometimes you will be asked to do something that is puzzling or might indicate they misunderstand your situation. It is OK to ask for clarification or explain your situation again. If you still don’t understand, the real question becomes whether it takes less time to do what you are asked than to keep grilling them about it. If it’s no big deal to you, won’t have lasting repercussions that ruin your day or even the next hour, then simply comply without understanding. The only reason to continue to protest would be because it impacts your health, would ruin your travel plans, or another serious repercussion affecting hours, not just the next ten minutes.
It could be important. This goes back to the first thing, the seriousness of noncompliance could be far out of proportion to their tone of voice or urgency.
Instead of speculating on what kinds of reasons could prompt it, if you are asked nicely to move over there, open your bag, drop that umbrella, leave the restroom, let these men come through or other instruction by a quiet-voiced uniformed staffer with an I’m-not-joking look on his or her face, do it with about as much haste as if they had an Uzi on their hip.