Airport security used to be simple—pack your own bags, keep them in your possession, board your flight. Easy, right? However, since 9/11, Americans have been treated to a complicated and confusing rendition of public security absurdity.
It's going to be a zoo at the airport this holiday season—and you don't want to be the one holding up the line. With a bit of planning and forethought, here's how you can blow through any TSA checkpoint.
First and foremost, the key to getting through security in record time is to travel light and loose. Since all of your carry-ons will need to be inspected once you reach the checkpoint, leave as much as you can in your checked bags. This includes heavy jackets (which have to be scanned), bottles of liquid over 3.4 ounces or 100ml, weapons (duh), inexpensive electronic accessories like spare chargers or headphones you won't need on the flight, and any item you aren't certain will be allowed in your carry-on. Taking the conservative approach to what you bring through is much faster than having to sort out what you can and can't bring on-board with the Transportation Security Officer (TSO).
Dress in clothes you can slip out of at a moments notice. Wear loose garments with wide pockets, a belt that can be quickly removed, and low-top shoes—preferably slip-ons. You'll be taking all of this stuff off and emptying your pockets to step through the metal detector while it's scanned, and the faster you can put it all back on, the faster you get through the checkpoint.
Depending on how many people are queued in front of you and how fast the line is moving, you'll want to start disrobing roughly 5-8 positions from the front of the line. This should give you ample time to fiddle with your shoelaces and put everything in the bin before you start holding up the line behind you. You'll also want to remove all of your jewelry, a watches, and keys. Stick your valuables in a bag or jacket pocket. Remove piercings to avoid any chance of setting off the metal detector and being sent through to secondary inspection. Scarves and religious headdress can be kept on, but may require additional inspection if they are baggy enough to potentially conceal contraband (I'm looking at you, Rastafarian guy with the meter-tall dread beanie).
There are two things that you will not take out of your pocket at any time from curb to runway—your boarding pass and government-issued ID. These will be the first two things the TSO asks you for, so keep both of them in hand from the time you get your boarding pass until you reach the checkpoint, then stuff them in a back pocket while you're getting scanned. The TSA will accept a wide variety of identification so long as it is government issued and has your name and face on it. If you have somehow lost your ID before getting to the checkpoint, you can still make your trip, but you're in for a wait, and no less than three rounds of screening.
The only two groups that don't need to show ID are pets and kids. If you are travelling with a pet as carry-on, you'll have to take the animal out of its crate so that it can be x-rayed while you carry your pet with you through the metal detector. The same goes for small children—you'll need to carry infants and toddlers through primary inspection with you while their prams are x-rayed. Toddlers and pets should be closely supervised, because either one making a break for freedom is only going to delay your travel plans.
When it comes to your electronics, bring as many of your primary devices as you can as carry-on. This is especially true nowadays, with TSA-based thievery so common. Accessories can go into your packed luggage, but your gadgets should remain within arm's reach at all times. They will have to be X-rayed, of course, but many protective cases are now being designed as "checkpoint friendly." These lay flat for scanners, giving TSOs a clear and immediate view of the device's interior without having to remove it from the bag (and potentially drop it). They are available as sleeves, single-fold, or double-fold styles, and they will greatly reduce the amount of time the TSO spends staring at your stuff.
For your personal toiletry items the TSA recommends the 3-1-1 rule—"3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume); 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin." Keep your carry-on liquids in sample-size containers and make sure they're stored in a Ziploc bag while larger bottles of liquid get checked. It's really quite easy.
And, since the holidays are coming up, you'll want to remember to leave your presents unwrapped until you get to where you're going. The TSA doesn't allow wrapped boxes through security, so not only will you have to watch your hard work be torn to shreds, you'll have to watch the TSO's disappointed face as he realizes that, this year, he won't be getting that Red Rider BB gun he wanted—again.
Look, nobody likes dealing with TSA checkpoints—being treated like criminal cattle is degrading—but that doesn't make it ok to vent your frustrations at the nearest TSO. For one thing, you are neither the first nor last snippy traveler to walk through their scanners today. Your attitude might make you feel superior and relieve some anger, but it only serves to irritate the officers and practically guarantee your secondary inspection. So, in general, keep your mouth shut and don't be a pest. And try not to harass the other slowpoke passengers who obviously didn't read this article. Behave like an adult and we might all just get through this checkpoint by December.