Everything You Need to Know Before Going Through Airport Security

Some airport security tips are obvious: don’t bring a bunch of liquids with you; don’t wear really complicated footwear because you’ll need two minutes to remove it; take off your belt – you get the idea. The single most effective way to get through security faster, TSA Precheck, is also pretty well-known, and it prevents you from having to worry about your mystery fluids or your complicated footwear at all. But maybe there are some things you still don’t know about airports, in general, and the security line, in particular. It’s also always good to have a strong understanding of the kinds of people you might encounter at the airport.

Some airport security tips aren’t very obvious, such as getting through the line faster by having a boring hairstyle and being certain never to whistle (more on that later). And some airport security facts that used to be true are now obsolete. For example, you may remember some notable items that were initially banned, such as knitting needles, without being aware of the items that are now permitted, such as knitting needles. If you are so inclined, along with your knitting needles, you may also bring some falcons and a chainsaw. If that sounds like something you might be into, read on!

Pick The Security Line With Only One Agent Monitoring It If You Want To Move Fast

According to investigative reporter Peter Greenberg, one surefire way to get through security is to avoid lines monitored by multiple agents. This, more than actual line length, will determine how quickly the line moves. Greenberg explains that lines in which several agents are watching one monitor indicate that one of them is in training, meaning that every single bag in the line may be inspected for a few minutes as part of the training process. Even a significantly longer line will probably move more quickly than one that gets searched in this way.

It’s Possible To Fly Without ID

Well, you can’t fly without being identifiable, but you can fly if you do possess ID and just happened to leave it at home. The TSA tries to make allowances for who forget their identification and will give you a chance to give them enough personal information to confirm who you are. They’ll also ask you some additional questions and potentially screen you more than most, but if they can determine that you are who you say you are, you can still fly without your ID.

The Scanners Don’t Actually Expose You To Much Radiation

The FDA sets a limit on the allowable output from the scanners passengers are forced to go through. And, while airports formerly used X-rays, many now use a device called a millimeter wave unit. In any case, the national standard requires that an X-ray screening system deliver less radiation than four minutes of airline flight, and the TSA went beyond that standard and set its own to two minutes of flight. Incidentally, since existing on the Earth exposes you to ionizing radiation everyday anyway, you get the same dose from an X-ray scanner that you get from 42 minutes of daily life.

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TSA Sort Of Doesn’t Care About Drugs

It is obviously not advisable to test the TSA on this matter, but the Agency’s goal is security, not looking for other contraband. Technically, officers are supposed to refer anything that looks like drugs to law enforcement, but the Agency also says outright on its website that officers don’t specifically look for them. And then there’s the story of rapper Freddie Gibbs, who allegedly went through security with in his checked luggage, leading the inspecting officer to leave him a note that just said “C’mon, son.” That said, if you do plan on sneaking weed through security, you probably shouldn’t conceal it inside of a grenade.

Don’t Carry Bomb-Looking Cheese In Your Carry-On

Apparently, cheese is “indistinguishable” from explosives when viewed through the X-ray machine. (So is sausage.) This may explain how a Boston passenger heading through security with a block of cheese and a cell phone charger was classified as a potential terroristic “dry run.” The lesson here is that if you’re going through security with any ominous foodstuffs in your luggage, you should probably just remove them first and let them be examined separately.

If You’re A Jerk In Line, TSA Might Treat You As A Terrorist

The TSA’s Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program has been pretty heavily criticized. A psychologist specializing in lie detection described the ‘terrorist tells’ that the TSA looks for in the process as “behaviors [that] have no established link to deception whatsoever.” But whether or not they’re correct to look for these behaviors, officers may come up and talk to you, usually asking something simple like “So where are you going today,” and they’re not really interested in your answer so much as how you answer. Traveling is exhausting, but anyone asking you questions like this in the security lines just wants to make sure you’re able to respond without showing undue fear, aggression, or anything else not expected of a typical traveler.

Yawning Too Much Is Terrorist Behavior In The Eyes Of The TSA

The TSA SPOT program involves attempting to identify potential terrorists by observing passengers’ behavior. If you exhibit multiple tells from the TSA’s list, you might be pulled aside for additional screening. These tells include “exaggerated yawning,” “widely open staring eyes,” and “excessive throat clearing.” The list also includes “appearing to be in disguise” and “whistling while approaching screening,” so if you tend to show nonchalance in the exact same manner as a character, you may need a plan b.

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Don’t Joke About Having A Bomb, Seriously Don’t

The TSA’s “Week in Review” blog is full of stories in which people decide it’s a hilarious idea to tell security that they have bombs. Some are straightforward in their approach and simply say “I have a bomb.” Others, having been relieved of their snow globes, are more enthusiastic (“I am going to blow up the plane and know how to do it”). Even statements that are much less ominous (“You better check me close, I am about to blow”) tend to end with the person getting removed from their flight, so it’s probably smart to avoid making jokes like this in the first place. Why TSA guys have no sense of humor might be more fun to ponder while on your flight rather than while you’re sitting in airport jail.

Having Big Hair May Single You Out As A Threat

There have been multiple incidents in which women with big, conspicuous hairstyles have been singled out for additional security. One involved an African American hairstylist who was told, in so many words, that her hair had to be checked for explosives. One woman contacted the ACLU after a similar experience, only to find out that an ACLU lawyer had been through the same thing and had filed a complaint about it. TheTSA has since apparently agreed to stop singling out African-American women for their hairstyles in response. Such progress.

No Matter How Well You Bag ‘Em, Exotic Aren’t Allowed In Your Pants

Maybe you could make it through with only one or two snakes, but you definitely aren’t going to make it with seven snakes and three tortoises; just ask the guy who tried. Security’s so strict nowadays that you can’t even get through with a few hummingbirds stuffed down there either. And two monkeys in your pants, along with 50 endangered orchids, plus some birds in your luggage for good measure? Forget about it.

If this makes you angry enough that you go looking for your grenade launcher, well, that probably didn’t make it through either. At least you can commiserate with the small African child that you had packed in your suitcase.

You Might Encounter A Security Mouse On Your Next Trip To The Airport

According to the Israeli security firm X-Test, mice are more effective than (or people) at detecting explosives. For starters, they’re cheap to obtain and easy to take care of. Their size means they cost far less to take care of than dogs, and it also means they’re easier to wrangle. They can also be conditioned mechanically to detect a wide range of contraband, from drugs to smuggled ivory.

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You May Be Able To Bring Your Chainsaw, A Kayak, And 80 Hawks

It’s not a simple process, but you can fly with a kayak if you’re willing to pay a bit extra to check it (it’ll count as an additional piece of baggage to your normal allowance). Notably, a passenger at the Elmira, NY airport tried to get through security with a gassed-up chainsaw, a situation in which the only non-permissible item was the gasoline (though, of course, the chainsaw had to be checked). On the off-chance that you are a Saudi sheikh and wish to bring your 80 falcons, you may do so, but you’ll have to buy 80 seats for them.

You Can Adopt Unwanted TSA Dogs

The TSA is always seeking people to adopt detection dogs who didn’t make it through the training program, so if you want a that might not be housebroken and definitely can’t find any bombs, give them a call. The dogs are mostly Labradors, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, and German Shorthaired Pointers. The adoption process is fairly involved, as the TSA seems pretty intent on making sure these dogs only go to good homes, so don’t expect to be able to just drive down to San Antonio, throw some dogs in your trunk, and drive away.

After Security, You Enter The ‘Golden Hour’

The time you’re most likely to spend money at an airport is referred to as the “golden hour,” and it’s the 60 minutes right after you get through the security line. This is, in part, why departure times are displayed all over the place; it reassures you that you have plenty of time to waste, preferably by buying things. However, spending an extra 10 minutes in the security line stresses you out slightly more and reduces the amount of money you’re likely to spend by 30%.

The TSA Has Collected Millions Of Dollars In Spare Change

In 2015 alone, the TSA ended up with $765,759.15 in spare change, most of it in coins left by passengers who were about to head through metal detectors. For what it’s worth, the Agency does make an effort to return unclaimed money to passengers when the amount is actually substantial; they returned a bag containing $8,000 to its owner in 2016, and they tracked down the owner of a $30,000 Cartier watch in 2008. And, just in case you’re wondering, according to the TSA blog, items valued at less than $500 are held for 30 days, while more expensive items are stored in a warehouse for two years.