7 Mistakes to Avoid When Going Through Airport Security

Avoid these common mistakes for a smooth, stress-free travel experience.

We've all been there — stuck behind the slow-moving person in the airport security line. The frazzled, overpacked, discombobulated traveler who seems to be woefully unprepared for the task at hand. Or, perhaps you've been that person yourself — lost, confused, and feeling the wrath of the frustrated line of passengers behind you.

People passing security check on the airport
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Unless you fly private, going through security is one of the unavoidable components of traveling. It's mundane at best, and chaotic and stressful at worst, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Below, find a list of mistakes to avoid to make your airport security experience as smooth as possible.

1. Arriving Unprepared

You won't get far if you don't come prepared with the documents needed to board your flight. In fact, you won't even be able to pass through security without your boarding pass and/or proper form of identification.

Make sure to have these items at minimum (if you're traveling internationally, you'll also need your passport), and keep them readily available, not packed at the bottom of your suitcase.

"The main thing is to bring the required travel documents, which you should research in advance of your trip," says Sophie Hocquez, commercial director of low-cost, long-haul airline French Bee. "What's required to travel to this destination? Consult your destination's official website (take France, for example), as it will list all travel documents required."

If you're flying overseas, you'll also want to check the expiration date on your passport and your destination's validity requirements; some countries require you to travel with a passport that does not expire for at least six months.

2. Forgetting to Give Yourself Plenty of Time

Jessica Mayle, public affairs specialist for TSA's Great Lakes Region, recommends giving yourself plenty of time in order to avoid rushing through the airport.

"Many airports are seeing activity levels that nearly meet or exceed pre-pandemic customer screening numbers," Mayle says. "Additionally, some airports are seeing new airlines or an increased number of flights from legacy airlines. All of this means more passengers going through the screening process. This is why it's essential to arrive early and prepared to allow for completion of every step of the travel process from curb to gate."

There's nothing worse than trying to elbow your way to the front of the security line because the wait is longer than expected and you didn't leave enough wiggle room. Instead, arrive earlier than you think you'll need to (at least two hours before your flight departs; three if you're traveling internationally) and avoid the frantic rush.

3. Not Investing in TSA PreCheck

Airline passengers waiting in line to pass through airport security.
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If you fly more than once or twice a year, TSA PreCheck is worth the investment. Better yet, apply for Global Entry because TSA PreCheck is included in the program. Wondering how much time you'll save? In August 2021, 96% of TSA PreCheck travelers waited five minutes or less to be screened, according to Mayle.

"People can 'Travel With Ease' and experience a smoother screening process by enrolling in TSA PreCheck," Mayle says. "Eligible travelers do not need to remove shoes, belts, light outerwear, laptops, electronics larger than a cell phone, or travel-size liquids from carry-on luggage."

She adds that another benefit of the program is that children 12 and under are permitted to use the TSA PreCheck lane when traveling with an eligible parent or guardian on the same itinerary.

4. Not Packing Strategically

Passengers going trough security check at the airport.
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One of the worst mistakes you can make when going through security is stowing the items you'll need in place that's not readily accessible. Keep your boarding pass, ID, passport, and phone in your pocket or an outer compartment of your bag so you can easily grab them when needed. And pack your liquids together in one easy-to-remove bag.

"Put all travel documents in one small pouch and keep that on you at all times," Hocquez recommends. "Then, you'll avoid having to look for [your documents] among your belongings when security wants to see them, which can be several times."

"Remember, you'll have to get out some items to go through security, so have luggage where you can easily pack and unpack your computer, phone, tablet, and other devices," Hocquez adds. "Check your toiletries volume to make sure they're compliant with regulations and pre-pack them all together in a Ziploc bag that you can easily reach in your carry-on. "

In addition, be sure to check regulations surrounding what's permitted in your carry-on versus checked bag.

5. Dressing Uncomfortably

If you don't have TSA PreCheck, expect to remove your outerwear, shoes, and belt when going through security. And even if you do have TSA PreCheck, remember that if you're traveling internationally, there's no PreCheck overseas, so you'll have to go through the typical security check on your way home.

"Wear shoes that are easy to take off, especially if you're traveling with children," Hocquez adds. "Avoid strappy sandals and laces if you can."

6. Packing Prohibited Items

Young man holding passport and waiting for x-ray control his luggage.
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This might be an obvious one, but an alarming number of travelers pack prohibited items in their luggage, often unknowingly. Not only does this slow down the screening process for everyone, but it could also land you in some serious trouble.

"We're seeing a lot of prohibited items showing up in carry-on bags, which slows down the lines," Mayle says. "If a carry-on bag triggers an alarm, it will require a TSA officer to open the bag to resolve it. Remember, it's vital to reduce touchpoints during a pandemic, so be sure not to pack any prohibited items."

Only bring items you know are permitted in your carry-on luggage — and pack your bag properly — to avoid any undue hassle.

7. Not Interacting With the TSA Before Departing

Need to find out if a certain item is permitted in your carry-on, checked bag, either, or neither?

Mayle notes that the TSA website has a feature on the homepage called "What can I bring?" Here, you can type in the name of an item and the site will let you know if it should be packed in a checked or carry-on bag, or whether it's forbidden entirely.

"The same handy feature is available on the free, downloadable MyTSA app," Mayle adds. "The app gives users 24/7 access to the most frequently requested airport security information on any mobile device."

Mayle also says that the TSA is active on social media. "Travelers can send a question about where an item should be packed via Twitter to @AskTSA or via Facebook Messenger for live assistance." This service is available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET seven days a week, including holidays.

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