Really, airports should be like amusement parks – great pulse-racing places, filled with wonder at the fact that one is about to take off into the skies. In reality, though, they only thing they have in common with Six Flags Magic Mountain is the series of interminable lines that one must endure before hitting the rides. The biggest bottleneck of all comes at airport security, so here we’ve gathered together five tips to smooth your passage through the jungle of guards and scanners to the oasis of the departure lounge on the other side.
by Trey Ratcliff/Flickr
One way to swing past the lines is to buy priority access, which not only jumps you to the front of security checkpoint lines, but gets you on board the plane first, too. Priority access comes with expensive first and business class tickets and as a reward to customers whose long-term loyalty to an airline has won them elite status. But many airlines also allow standard economy class travelers to purchase priority access on top of their ticket fare – what you get, and how much you pay for it, varies from airline to airline, so it’s worth taking a peek at the details before signing up, but sometimes an extra $15 can save you a cool 30 minutes at the security line.
To the absent-minded among us it happens every time: you’re meandering through the security lines, waiting serenely to dump your bag on the belt, and when you get there you suddenly have to empty an entire tray’s worth of stuff from your pockets before you can progress. And so we once again hold up the rest of the line as keys and coins skid across the floor and headphones hook on the insides of pockets. It’s not difficult to avoid this – just take the time to stick all this accumulated sea-drift into your carry-on bag before joining the security line. Alternatively, wear a light jacket with plenty of zip-up pockets, and store those items you want easy access to in it, so you can just slip it off and stick it straight in a grey plastic tray.
As their bags are traveling through the netherworld of the x-ray box, passengers must step up to the next stage of their trial: the full-body scanner. To ensure the machine is quick and efficient, remove all pieces of paper from your pockets before entering the device, as they can interfere with the scan and so lead to you having to go through the intimidating rigmarole all over again.
The attitude of airport security to electronics is constantly evolving: in some countries you’ll invariably have to remove laptops and ipads from your bag, in some you won’t, and in some you’ll have no idea which until you reach the security line at your specific airport. To be on the safe side, then, it makes sense to ensure these electronics – including DVD players, full-size video game consoles, and video cameras – are easy to fish out of your bag and place on a separate tray. Alternatively, take a separate laptop bag and keep all your electronics in there, so they are all in one easily accessible place - many airlines now allow a laptop bag on top of a suitcase as part of their regulation hand luggage.
The first time you come across this rule it can be quite a pain, resulting in shower gels, aerosols and bottles of juice dropping into the oblivion of the security bins. But it is for once a thankfully simple and straightforward rule, and once you’ve encountered it you’re unlikely to forget it: don’t pack any liquids beyond 100 ml into your carry-on bag. 100 ml really isn’t much – you can get away with a travel-sized bottle of lotion for the dry plane air, but not, say, a bottle of Gatorade – so you’ll have to stock up on juice and water from the shops that lie beyond security. Eco-conscious or thrifty travelers can bring an empty reusable water bottle to fill up on the other side. And those who do need to take some liquids should place them at the top of their bag so they can be easily transported into a transparent plastic zip-bag at security for a speedy passage.