3 simple things to do before going through TSA screening

Jan 3, 2022

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The last thing any traveler wants is being held up during Transportation Security Administration screening at the airport — especially when so many people are already bracing for ongoing cancellations and delays.

Random security screenings may not be avoidable. But travelers can also be flagged for forgetting to take a phone or a restaurant receipt out of their pocket.

And getting held up because you forgot to take off your belt or left your chapstick in your pocket could mean missing your flight, especially if you’re traveling on a busy day with long lines.

Here’s what you need to remember to do the next time you go through TSA security screening.

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Empty your pockets

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Travelers typically have a lot of loose items on their person by the time they arrive at security screening, from passports and IDs to boarding passes and headphones.

Even as a seasoned traveler, I occasionally forget to empty my pockets. Nothing can be in your pockets when going through security. The security scanner will flag anything on your person which may cause a pat-down, a search with a hand wand or (occasionally) being sent to the back of the line to go through security again.

If you’re not in a rush, that can be a minor annoyance but it can be devastating if you’re running late to catch a flight. So, that receipt from the airport bar? Toss it. Loose change? Put it in your wallet — and then put your wallet in your travel bag.

When I get to the airport, the first thing I do is place everything — my phone, wallet, headphones, keys — in my backpack and only have my ID in hand when going through security. That also makes it less likely I’ll lose something between security and the gate.

If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, you’ll have to take your laptop out of your bag, remove your shoes and belt and liquids and, if you forget, you will absolutely be reminded. If you’re in a rush and forget to do this, it’s even more of a reason to enroll in the five-year program, which costs $85 but can also be covered by some credit card statement credits.

Leave banned objects at home (or check them)

TSA checked bag holiday food
(Photo Courtesy of TSA)

This should go without saying, but you cannot bring a gun into the cabin of an airplane. Or a knife. Or even a full-size bottle of conditioner.

Certain objects, like fireworks, aren’t permitted on airplanes at all.

But some objects, such as firearms, can be brought onto a plane – just in the cargo hold. Firearms carried in checked bags must be unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided container, and declared at check-in. Items like ammunition or magazine clips may also be placed in your checked bagged in packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.

Of course, you’ll also want to make sure you’re permitted to carry your firearm at the destination you’re visiting.

Your large bottle of mouthwash or lotion can’t fly in the cabin, but it can be placed in your checked baggage. And you can still pack liquids in your carry-on, as long as it adheres to the 3-1-1 liquids rule.

This rule says you can carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers onto a plane. But there’s a limit. Each container can only hold 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less, and they all have to fit in a single quart-size resealable bag.

This isn’t just for safety reasons, either. Getting flagged for an innocuous item like a bottle of shampoo in your carry-on might get you a stern talking to and, if you’re running behind, may cause you to miss your flight. But, trying to bring an item like a firearm onto a plane won’t just cause you to miss your holiday flight. It could also lead to your arrest.

If you’re ever confused about what you can and cannot bring into an airplane cabin (or a flight at all), TSA has a helpful webpage with all sorts of peculiar items, from snow globes to Christmas lights.

If you don’t see an item on the list and wondering if you can bring it, you can also send a photo or question to AskTSA on Facebook Messenger or Twitter from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays or 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Bring your ID

A few years ago, a travel companion forgot his ID at home before a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands. What ensued was a nearly 30-minute verification process to confirm his identity, which added to an already stressful travel day because we’d been running behind.

So, before heading to the airport, make sure you have a valid ID such as a driver’s license if you’re flying domestically. If you’ve lost it, you can also use your passport.

You can still fly if you forget your ID – but prepared for extra screening and carve out ample time.

If you forgot or lost your ID, TSA will require you to complete an identity verification process. They’ll collect your name, current address, and other personal information to confirm your identity. If your identity is confirmed, you will be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint – with additional screening such as a pat-down. (Note that children under 18 don’t have to show ID when traveling within the U.S.)

However, even if you do have proper identification, you’ll want to make sure it’s a REAL ID. Starting May 3, 2023, travelers must be Real ID-compliant form of identification to board domestic flights and access certain federal facilities.

Featured photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

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