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How to Pass Through TSA Airport Security Like a PRO (2023)

Posted by Bea Manzano on
Backpack and liquids bag through airport security

First time flyers, nervous travelers, and everyone else... eyes here! We know passing through airport security can be scary (and nerve-wracking!) especially if you have no idea what to do or which procedures to follow. But hey, even seasoned travelers started from scratch. Long lines and unpredictable protocols can be quite a headache. But don’t worry, we know a thing or two about getting through TSA like a pro and we’ll tell you all about it! 

We curated a list of the best tips and tricks to help you get through TSA security quickly. Let go of those worried looks and be confident at the checkpoint as you follow this guide closely. 

Do these before you leave

Tips before you leave for the airport

Planning and preparing before you leave can be your greatest weapon against unnecessary frustrations and inconvenience at the airport. These pre-travel tips will show you the way.

TIP #1 - Pack smart (and know what’s allowed!) 

The trick to a speedy screening process at the airport is to know which items are (and aren't) permitted at the checkpoint. For instance, did you know that items like pepper spray, gel heating pad and ski poles aren’t allowed in your carry on? The TSA website is super helpful because it has an exhaustive list of items that you may want to bring on board (and info on whether it’s allowed). Of course we wanted to make things easier for you, so in a nutshell, here’s what you need to know:

What YOU CAN pack in your carry-on bag

✔️ Toiletries / Liquids - Must be in containers that are 3.4 ounces or smaller and packed in a Quart Size Bag (more on this later).

TSA Approved Toiletry Bag

✔️ Hand sanitizer - In light of recent events, TSA is currently allowing every passenger to bring 1 liquid hand sanitizer of up to 12 oz, until further notice. Read the full disclosure of TSA regarding this exemption on their website.

✔️ Medications - All kinds of medications (including any accessories like freezer packs, IV bags, pumps, etc.) are allowed in larger amounts but must be declared to the TSA officers at the checkpoint for inspection. Know more about their full regulation about medications here.

Medicine kit for travel

Pro Tip: Make sure medications are labeled accordingly to avoid being questioned at the checkpoint.

✔️ Formula, breast milk, and juice (for infants or toddlers) - These items are exempted from the TSA Liquids Rule but need to be screened separately. 

✔️ Food / Snacks - These are allowed as long as they’re not in liquid, gel or cream form (so no dips, spreads, etc. unless they’re under 3 oz).

Kid snacks for travel

✔️ Electronics - Laptops, tablets, cameras, power banks and other electronic devices are allowed in both carry on and checked bags. But it’s best to pack these items in your carry on to avoid losing them. 

✔️ Disposable Razors - These razors usually come in two types. The first one is completely disposable (handle and all) while the other one has replaceable cartridges. Both are allowed in carry-on luggage with the blade and replacement cartridges. Read more about permitted razors here.

✔️ Crochet / Knitting Needles - TSA allows knitting needles and crochet hooks of different sizes and materials (like plastic, aluminum, bamboo) in carry-on and checked bags as long as they are sheathed or securely wrapped.

Organized colorful yarns in pink medium packing cubes

✔️ Powders (Baby Powder, Coffee, etc.) - Powders that are 12 ounces or less are allowed in carry-on bags. Those that exceed the size limit will be subject to separate screening or will be disposed of. Learn more about TSA’s updated policy on powders here.

✔️ Aerosol Sprays - Just like liquids, gels and aerosols (such as hairspray, deodorant, suntan lotion, etc.) are safe to bring aboard aircraft as long as they are stored in 3.4 ounces containers and are sealed in a 1-quart, clear plastic, zip-top bag. However, aerosols labeled as hazardous material (HAZMAT) are not allowed in carry-on or checked luggage. Know more about TSA’s travel tips on aerosols here.

✔️ Multi-tool - As long as it doesn’t have blades, it’s allowed. 

What YOU CAN’T pack in your carry-on bag

Travel essentials in a carry-on bag

 Liquids larger than 3.4 ounces (100ml) - Liquids that are stored in containers larger than 3.4 ounces regardless of the amount inside are required in checked baggage.

 Sharp Objects - Box cutters, ice picks, knives, meat cleavers, swords, and scissors with blades longer than 4 inches are not allowed in carry-on bags but can be permitted in checked bags if sheathed or wrapped securely to avoid injury to baggage handlers and inspectors. See the full list of sharp items you can’t bring right here.

 Sports Equipment - Most sports equipment are not allowed in carry-on bags. Baseball bats, bows and arrows, cricket bats, hockey and lacrosse sticks, ski poles, golf clubs, and other sporting gears must be stored in checked luggage. Here’s a list of prohibited and permitted sporting equipment through security.

 Wrapped Gifts - Presents that are wrapped in paper shaped like a knife or firearm should be packed in checked luggage. These will be unwrapped by TSA agents for inspection and additional screening.

Note: When it comes to packing gifts, TSA suggests sending them ahead by mail, putting them in a gift bag, or just wrapping them at your destination instead.

Pro Tip: Can't find the item you are bringing on the list of TSA prohibited items? You can always ask the TSA about it on Facebook or Twitter way ahead of your trip.

TIP #2 - Get a TSA Approved Toiletry Bag

TSA Approved Toiletry Bag

The TSA Liquids Rule requires each passenger to fit all their carry-on liquids (under 3.4 oz) into 1 quart size bag. Yup, ALL liquids so that includes your toiletries, any makeup which is considered a liquid (like mascara), etc. Ditch the ziplock bag situation and get yourself a real TSA toiletry bag to make your life easier.  

We’re talking about our TSA Approved Toiletry Bag! It’s super cute, available in lots of fun colors and most importantly, compliant with the TSA’s rules for a 311 Liquids Bag:

✔️ Has a clear design - TSA agents can see what’s inside at a glance and you’ll know where your essentials are when you need them right away.

✔️ Under quart size - This cutie patootie bag may be extra small but it can hold your 3-1-1 liquids with ease!

But that’s not all, it comes with other superpowers that will come in handy for all you travel junkies out there. Like:

TSA approved toiletry bag clamshell opening

✔️ A convenient pull handle - Super useful when you need to grab the bag on the go!

✔️ Clamshell / zip-top opening - Our cube zips open from three sides so you don’t need to dig through or dump the contents outside to find what you need.

✔️ Upgrade from the regular ziplock bag - Definitely more durable than a ziplock and more spacious because of the box-like design.

Pro Tip: Place your TSA Liquids Bag on the outside pocket of your carry-on for easy access. You can simply take it out and put it in the bin to avoid holding up the line behind you.

TIP #3 - Shed the layers

Believe it or not, you can determine how long you’re going to take through security just by the clothes you wear. So, if possible, avoid wearing too many layers. TSA officers might ask you to take all your layers off, not just your big jacket. Plan your airport outfit in advance; our go to is a comfy pair of leggings, t-shirt and sweater / jean jacket (it always gets chilly on the plane).

Did you know? Ladies’ bras that have metal underwire might set off the scanner. Make sure yours doesn’t have one when you go through security.

Pro Tip: For all your other travel essentials, you can always organize with our  Starter Set:

Starter Set packing cube

 ✓ Large Cube - Good for storing your bulky clothing items such as sweaters and jeans

Medium Cube - Comfy storage for your casual tops and lightweight bottoms

Small Cube - Great for packing underwear, socks, and loungewear

TIP #4 - Accessorize with very little metal

Setting off the metal detector is definitely not your goal here. Do not wear any jewelry or accessories with metal at the airport. Pack them safely in your carry on and wear them once you arrive at your destination. Remember, anything from a metal belt buckle to body piercings can trigger the alarm in the security line.. If you have piercings that cannot be removed, inform a TSA officer so you may be screened or patted down privately. 

Pro Tip: Keep your jewelry and other accessories organized in a Travel Jewelry Roll and pack them in your carry-on.

Travel jewelry roll

TIP #5 - Lose the loose-fitting clothing

If you're thinking about passing through security in style by wearing droopy pants or flowy skirts, paired with bulky sweatshirts, you're definitely asking for an additional inspection. Baggy clothes such as these, and even loose dresses or skirts that are worn for religious purposes, may be subject to a pat-down inspection if TSA suspects some prohibited items in your clothing.

TIP #6 - Slip-on shoes (and socks!) are a must

Most, but not all, airports usually require passengers to take their shoes off at the security screening. Wear shoes that you can easily slip on and off (no laces). And don’t forget to wear socks! Trust us, you don’t want to find out the number of feet that walk on that floor every single day. Best to keep your soles protected.

Packing essentials for travel

Did you know? Security procedures are different for every airport. Some airports might require you to take off your socks, if needed. Remember to be gracious even if they require you to do this or any other inconvenient requests. 

TIP #7 - Check in online 24 hrs before 

Most airlines allow passengers to check in online usually at least 24 hours before departure. The earlier you check in, the more available seats you can choose from. After checking in online, you can print your boarding pass, access it through a mobile app, or have it sent to your email. Doing this can definitely save you the trouble of having to wait in line.

TIP #8 - Arrive at the airport 2 to 3 hours early

The general rule of thumb is to reach the airport at least 2 hours before a domestic flight and 3 hours before an international flight. Check with your airline for a more accurate estimation according to the hour and date of your flight. If you’re traveling during holidays and weekends, expect a more crowded terminal compared to a midweek flight.

Pro Tip: You can install the MyTSA app on your phone to get a real-time update of security wait times so you can make plans around that.

TIP #9 - Double check passport validity, ID, and other docs

For travelers 18 years old and above, don't forget to bring a government-issued photo ID such as a driver's license, passport, or permanent resident card which might be required at the airport checkpoint. If you are flying out of the country, make sure your passport has at least 6 months validity before it expires. Many countries will not grant you passage if it expires in less than 6 months. Here’s a complete list of valid identification you can present to TSA officers at the airport checkpoint.

Did you know? Due to COVID-19, TSA is now allowing expired driver's licenses to be used at TSA checkpoints. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also extended the time to obtain a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license next year, October 1, 2021, for every traveler 18 years old and above. Read everything you need to know about REAL ID right here.

Passport and other essentials in a black extra small cube

Pro Tip: Place your tickets and IDs in a secured but quick-access area so you can easily show them to TSA agents when needed.

TIP #10 - Sign up for a trusted traveler program (Optional but worth it)

If you travel often, the absolute quickest way to get through security is to sign up for programs such as Global Entry, TSA precheck, or CLEAR. If you travel to Mexico a lot, SENTRI membership can mitigate the wait for you. For those who cross the US/Canada border often, NEXUS can be quite handy. These programs allow you to speed things up at the security check, reduce wait times, skip processing lines, have the liberty of keeping your shoes on, your laptop inside your bag, your liquids, belts, and light jackets right where they are. You just need to pay an annual membership fee depending on the program you’ll choose.

Did you know? TSA PreCheck lanes are not available at all airports, and they are not always open at airports that have them. Be prepared to go through a regular security screening process at all times.

Do these at the airport

Things to do at the airport

You’re almost there! But before you get to enjoy your destination, you need to pass through security unscathed so you can proceed to the next level - the boarding gate. Here are the things you must do at the airport.

TIP #11 - Have your boarding pass out and ready (on your phone)

After checking in online, you can either print or save a digital copy of your boarding pass. If you go with the latter, it’s best to take a screenshot of the boarding passes (so you can access it even without WiFi). 

Passengers are no longer required to hand their boarding pass to a TSA officer. Showing the officer at a safe distance where they can visually inspect it is recommended. Through less physical contact, cross-contamination can be avoided.

Airplane essentials in an extra small cube

Pro Tip: Keep your boarding pass and valid IDs together in an easy access place.

TIP #12 - Drink your water (or other beverages) 

Chug down any liquids you might have before going through the checkpoint. Don’t worry, you can purchase liquids at duty free shops once you get through security. Or you can bring your own water bottle (just make sure it’s empty) and fill it up after security. 

TIP #13 - Practice Social Distancing

Social distancing at the airport

With the “new normal” in mind, help prevent the spread of the virus by putting into practice TSA’s procedure regarding social distancing. Their new protocols involve less direct contact between passengers and staff as much as possible, without compromising security. To have an unruffled experience at the airport, make sure to follow all the standard protocol of an increased distance between individuals when lining up at the security checkpoint. No worries about how far apart you should be from other people; there are visual reminders of the appropriate spacing that are strategically placed on the floors. 

TIP #14 - Wear a face mask, especially in a crowd

Face mask for travel

Upon arriving at the airport, you should already be wearing your mask. Wearing a face mask or a face shield is advised in order to help prevent the spread of disease. TSA officers will be wearing face coverings (such as eye protection or clear plastic face shields) and gloves, not only to protect themselves but you as well. You can definitely ask TSA officers to change their gloves after patting down a passenger before you. 

Did you know? TSA has intensified their cleaning and disinfecting process especially on  surfaces that are frequently touched and exposed to skin contact such as security screening equipment, metal railings, bins, and toilets. However, frequent hand-washing or use of hand sanitizers (with at least 70% alcohol) is still encouraged.

TIP #15 - Empty pockets into your hat or jacket

When we say empty, we (and the TSA) definitely mean clear out everything from your pockets and place them in the plastic bins. Avoid having to go through the detector over and over again just because you think your keys, watch, sunglasses or some spare change will not set the alarm. It will! Just take everything out and empty your pockets. Trust us, it will make your life (and those travelers waiting behind you) easier!

Extra small cube TSA security checkpoint

Pro Tip: If you're wearing a hat, before getting to the security checkpoint, empty your pockets and put everything in the hat so it's all easier to hold until you get to the bins. If you’re wearing a jacket, use the pockets to secure your wallet, keys, cash, and other items from your emptied pockets and put the jacket on the bin so you won't have to worry about your things.

TIP #16 - Laptops (& large gadgets) should go into a separate bin

Keep your laptop and other gadgets in a place where you can access them easily. Consider putting them on top of other things in your carry on and transfer them somewhere secure and safe once you get past security. Have your laptop ready; slide it out and put it in a separate bin. If you have extra electronics that are larger than a cellphone, pull them out as well and have them ready. Electronics can be placed side by side in one bin to avoid overlapping. 

TIP #17 - Take off layers and untie shoes beforehand 

If you’re wearing a vest, jacket, or coat, take it off and get it out of the way while lining up. If you’re going to wear sneakers with laces, make sure to untie them before going to the conveyor belt.

Travel essentials in suitcase and backpack

Did you know? Passengers who are 75 years old and older may keep their shoes and jackets on.

TIP #18 - Don’t worry about light head coverings

You don’t have to worry if you’re wearing head coverings during the screening process. You will only be asked to undergo a pat-down inspection if your head covering is too concealing, in which case they might ask you to remove it. You may ask the TSA officer to do it privately, away from public view.

TIP #19 - Provide TSA Disability Notification Card (if applicable)

TSA has protocol for passengers requiring special assistance. If you're traveling with a disability, just present this Disability Notification Card to your TSA officer. However, please know that passengers in wheelchairs, mobility aids, and other medical devices are not exempted for the airport screening process. Smaller support equipment like walkers will go through the x-ray machine while wheelchairs and scooters will be physically screened by TSA. 

TIP #20 - Remove pet/s from carrier during screening (if traveling with one)

Cute dog in a bag

If you're traveling with your fur baby, be sure to control them during the screening process. You can hand-carry your pet with you through the metal detector while the carrier will be screened through X-ray. It's important to let the TSA officer know that you're traveling with an animal.  

TIP #21 - Get familiar with the airport policy changes due to COVID-19

Airport lane

The pandemic has altered the entire world completely, and one of the industries most affected by this drastic change is traveling. It’s best to know what traveling in the “new normal” is like so you know what to expect and how to cope with it. Aside from those already mentioned above, some other policy changes due to COVID-19 include:

✓ Wearing a face mask during the screening process. (TSA agents might ask you to adjust your mask to verify identification or remove it completely for secondary screening.)

✓ Taking out food items from carry-on bags and into the bin.

✓ Reduced security lane usage to avoid crowding.

✓ TSA officers wearing face protection and gloves.

✓ Points of interaction between travelers and agents installed with plastic shielding.

✓ Intensified routine cleaning and disinfection of surfaces in the security screening area.

Wiping the floor clean.

✓ New explosives trace detection swabs for each passenger.

TIP #22 - Pack your listening ears and patience!

If there’s something you must leave behind, make sure it’s not your patience. This guide will definitely help you get through airport security quickly, however, you still need to be patient for whatever unprecedented events that might happen at the checkpoint. Be sure to listen to what TSA agents have to say to avoid misunderstandings. Read TSA’s FAQS  to know the general rules for screening passengers,  permitted and prohibited items, TSA PreCheck, pat-down screening, and more!

Do these after security screening

Quart Size Bag for TSA airport security

Hooray! You got past security! Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? But not so fast. Here’s what you need to do after getting through the checkpoint.

TIP #23 - Move aside the area of checkpoint to reorganize your things

Once you have gone through the screening process, take your bin to the repacking station. Don't leave your things on the conveyor belt while putting your items back in your bag. Doing so will hold up the line. You definitely wouldn’t want that. Pick up your little tray and move along to the side to make way for others.

TIP #24 - Double check your valuables

Before proceeding to your boarding gate, make sure you have all your things with you. Double check the plastic bins and make sure nothing fell off the floor while you were regrouping. Take time to collect your things and pack them securely where you won’t inconvenience other travelers. If you did leave something behind, you can always ask a TSA agent or the nearest help desk in the airport to assist you in retrieving any items that you may have left in the area.

Congratulations, you made it!

Throwing an extra small cube into the air

You made it through security! But wait, that’s not it. Some airlines require passengers to undergo a redundancy security screening and documents check at the designated boarding gate, so be ready for that. But once you’re through, that’s where you can finally breathe.

Remember, travelers behind you would be much happier if you go through security quicker. And so would you! It's tough for first time flyers and nervous travelers (especially during this time) because you're not sure what to do or where to go. Even seasoned travelers sometimes make mistakes like wearing the wrong pair of jeans, the wrong pair of shoes, etc. That’s why this guide is perfect for every traveler!

We hope this guide helps you get ready for your flight and know what to expect through security. Need some more tips? We've got the Best Flying Tips for Airplane Travel at your service. Have a safe trip!


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Time!

Do you have to take chargers out at airport security?

✓ No, chargers and cables for electronic devices are perfectly safe in your carry-on when going through the airport security.

Can you bring pads through airport security?

✓ Yes, you can! Have your personal items (like sanitary pads, tampons, wipes, etc.) with you in your carry-on bag or purse at all times so you will be prepared.

Can airport scanners see my private parts?

✓ No, definitely not. Airport body scanners only detect masses either on your body or hidden inside of your clothes. Don't worry, the scanners can't see inside of your body and you don't appear naked on the scan.

What do you have to take out of your bag at airport security?

✓ First, remove your 3 ounce liquids bag from your carry-on. Next, empty your pockets (keys, tissues, cash, wallet, cell phones, bulky jewelry, etc.). Then, take out your laptop and other large gadgets. Remove your jacket (& extra layer of clothing), shoes and place them on the X-ray belt. All these items should be placed inside the plastic bin.

Discount code for TSA Airport Quart Size Bag

Can you take a mirror in hand luggage?

✓ Compact ones, like that in your makeup, are allowed. Although mirrors are not specifically mentioned, however, if it gets broken, it will be classified as a sharp item and this is not allowed.

Does airport security check your wallet?

✓ No, they don't. But you have to take it out of your pocket and put it in the bin, along with all the other items in your pocket. You can also put it in your carry-on bag for safety.

How many 3 ounces bottles can I take on the plane?

✓ You can bring as many 3 oz bottles as you can fit in a clear quart-sized, zip-top bag.

Can I bring snacks on the plane?

✓ Solid food items are allowed in your carry-on. If they are in liquid form, make sure that they don't exceed 3.4 ounces in size. These items will be screened separately.

What should you not wear at the airport?

✓ Don't wear shoes that are difficult to take off, flip flops or high heels (walking barefoot through the detector is very uncomfortable), perfume, jewelry, clothing or any accessories with metal, baggy dresses, and such.

How can I get through airport security faster?

✓ The cheapest way is to follow the tips we’ve presented above, but if you don’t mind paying extra, signing up for TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, and other trusted traveler programs will definitely do the trick.

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