The Unexpected Traveller’s Guide To Airport Security

As a frequent traveller, I can honestly say that I’ve been through my fair share of airport security checkpoints. Some are more efficient than others but I’ve noticed that the biggest bottleneck stems from people’s lack of awareness at what to do. I’ve compiled a few helpful tips to help you through security when you’re next at an airport.

  1. If you are a frequent traveller or if you intend to travel through a large airport (like New York’s JFK, London’s Heathrow or Germany’s Frankfurt) invest in a hand luggage with wheels.  Your arms will thank you later.  Alternatively consider buying one of those small, light trolleys that you can use for luggage.
  2. Before you even check-in, put your coat or jacket into your checked-in luggage. Unless you’re flying to a remote open-air airport, you don’t need a jacket with you in the airport terminal at either end. This means that you can put it on after you retrieve your luggage.  It also means that you have one less thing to carry when you’re walking around the airport.
  3. Waiting times provided courtesy of Brussels Airport

    Don’t leave security till the last-minute – ask the check-in attendant what the average duration is in security and then add 15 minutes to that for safety’s sake.

  4. Faced with multiple queues at an airport, don’t just pick the shortest one.  Everyone picks the shortest one.  Take a moment to identify the one that’s moving fastest – that’s the one you want.
  5. While you’re waiting in the queue for security, put all your metallic items into your hand luggage. This way you know that you can just grab your bag and walk away with all your possessions. Don’t forget that iPods are metallic too.
  6. If you’ve bought anything from the shops before approaching security, try to place the items into your hand luggage if possible.  One less thing to carry, one less thing to lose.
  7. Invest in a belt that does not have a metallic buckle.  It took me ages to find one but when my companion spotted one in a Madrid market, I was over the moon.  This is a big time saver when passing through the security gates.
  8. Make sure that you wear shoes that are slip-ons not lace-ups.  Taking time to undo and re-lace your shoes is an added hassle for you and an added delay for your fellow passengers.  Also make sure that your footwear can be easily worn without need for a shoe horn.
  9. Follow your bag through the scanner. Do not leave it unattended.  If you’re asked to walk through but your bag isn’t going to be passed under the X-ray machine, politely refuse to do so and explain why.  Keep your eyes on your bag.
  10. As soon as possible, grab your belongings and move away from the moving belt.  If you stay in the way you’ll just block the path for other travellers anxious to get to their gate.  If possible, replace your valuables (watch, wallet, phone) when you’re at the gate.

I hope that these tips help you in your travels.  What else do you do to avoid the queues in airports? Leave a comment and let us know!


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  1. I learnt not to fill up my hand luggage with chocolate while on my travels. In Milan, at the X-Ray machine, a woman security guard asked me to open the bag. When she saw the contents, jokingly with a smile on her face, said “Tu sei un maiale!” translated from Italian to “You are a pig!”. I smiled back when I looked at her… and her obviously big round body! 😀

  2. unexpectedtraveller

    Kevin – I can just imagine that happening in Italy … I wonder if she said it because she was jealous?

    The Unexpected Traveller

  3. This was a very good ‘ what to do list ‘ at airports. Thanks for these tips. I love it.

  4. I wouldn’t recommend checking your jacket/coat. Things go wrong. You’ll be glad of it if you end up sleeping in a departure lounge, or they run out of blankets on the plane (and you’re cold), or you just want to roll it up and use it as a pillow. Admittedly, these things may be less of an issue on a short hop.

    Also, for trainer/walking-style shoes, consider elastic laces with cord-locks. Loosened, you effectively have slip-ons, without dangling laces to trip over, but with the advantages of laces.


    • unexpectedtraveller

      Hi Anthony,

      Good points all in all – I have never been in such a bad situation that I needed my jacket so perhaps that has coloured my view on that.

      I like the elastic laces option – had not thought of that.

      Diane – by “slip ons” I mean anything you can “slip on” without having to waste time un-lacing or un-buckling. Heels tend to be “slip ons” in my experience 🙂

      Thanks for reading

      The Unexpected Traveller

  5. first time visiting your blog… thanks for your usefull info

    • unexpectedtraveller

      Hello there Travel Australia!

      Thanks for reading – hope you enjoy the Unexpected stories!

      The Unexpected Traveller

  6. Excellent security advice, especially stashing things in your hand-carried and also, having hands free, not encumbered with airport purchases or jackets. That’s slows you down, which slows me down behind you. Also, the security line: look for families–then run the other way; they’re going to take a while. If you have a travel partner, tag team: one goes through the arch, the other stays with the items to be screened till the first person’s through the arch. Solo, never put your stuff through the screening machine until you’re turn to go through the arch.

    I added a link to your site on mine, which is more flightcrew, insider-oriented:

    • unexpectedtraveller

      Hey Chris – thanks for the added tips: families are a burden from a security perspective, that’s true and they should be avoided, where possible.

      Love your blog by the way – keep ’em coming!

      The Unexpected Traveller

  7. unexpectedtraveller

    Just came across this post by the hilarious Oatmeal – it’s for guys like him that I wrote this sort of post!

  8. Interesting article, some very good points there. I would slightly disagree with your last suggestion: replacing your valuable only at the gate. It is important that you check the inventary of your prized belongings before you leave the security area. If you arrive at the gate to discover that you are one of the hundreds of passengers who forgot their belt at the security screening, you may not have the time left to return all the way to retrieve it. Better be sure, than sorry.

    • That is a good point Jan. i’ve never been in that unfortunate situation as my trousers would fall down if I didn’t have a belt. I’m sure there are many people who forget personal items so a good double-check would pay off.

      Thanks for commenting

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