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If you are not a frequent flyer, you may not be prepared for the post 9/11 world of airport security in the U.S. and around the world.  Read our overview and follow our recommendations to minimize the difficulties of current security practices.


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Travel Advice/Travel Tips -  Airport security in the U.S.

If you are looking for information on the airport security rules in the United States and the United Kingdom regarding carry-on luggage, liquids, and gels that are still in effect and we describe them here.

Airport security has become more stringent in our post 9/11 world. The added security has slowed the check-in process, lengthened the security lines, and slowed the boarding process. If you have not flown in the new security environment, we provide a description of what you should expect to encounter.

Most airports advise you to arrive two hours before your flight is scheduled to depart.

  • In some airports, we have found the two-hour requirement to be excessive.
  • In others (e.g. Orange County, California), it is too close for comfort during peak travel times.

If you will be traveling with carry-on luggage, avoid the check-in line by printing your boarding pass at home.

  • Most airlines will allow you to check in electronically.
    • We have found the ability to print our boarding passes a real time saver.
  • Alternatively,  major airlines are now converting from human help to  "boarding pass" kiosks and these can be an effective way to get your boarding pass and even arrange to check your luggage.

If you need to check luggage, you can. also,  do it through a skycap, if you have a paper ticket or have pre-printed your boarding pass as described above.

  • If you plan to check your luggage at the ticketing counter, get in line and prepare to wait.
  • When you acquire your boarding pass, you will be asked to carry your bag to a security counter where you will hand it over to personnel who will ask you some questions and, eventually, take your luggage for loading.

Once you have cleared this hurdle, you will need to get in line for the security checkpoint. Your wait may be lengthy but there is no alternative, so read a newspaper while you serpentine your way to the scanner.

  • When you reach the scanner, you will need to place your carry-on luggage in a bin prior to loading it into the scanner.
  • If you are carrying a personal computer, you will need to extract it from its case and place in it a separate bin for scanning.
  • Your liquids and gels need to be in a quart-sized plastic bag that must be show to the security personnel.  There are a number of restrictions on what can be in the bag and the amount of materials that you can transport.  We cover this information here.
  • You will need to place your overcoat or jacket in a bin for scanning before you will be allowed to enter the metal detector.
  • Remove belts, jewelry, and shoes, and place them in  another bin for scanning.
    • If you have a large belt buckle remove your belt.
    • If you have hair decorations made of metal, remove them.
  • Some larger airports now have “shoe sniff” devices that analyze your shoes for the presence of explosive materials.

You will be required to exit and re-enter the metal detector if it detects something that could be a security threat.

  • You must remove the offending object and place it in a bin for scanning, before you can take a second try at the metal detector.
  • Those  travelers who have not cleared their pockets may  fail the detector test and have to wait for an individual inspection by personnel using a hand scanner. (See our article on preparing for airport security.)

If the scanner operator feels that your luggage has items that might be security threats, you will be required to wait in another line until an agent can hand search your belongings.

  • In addition, the agent may pass a wand with a removable filter over your bags
  • The filter is then removed and passed through a device that tests whether the filter contains residues from explosives or chemicals that might be a security threat.

In September of 2004 the Transportation Security Administration implemented additional passenger screening procedures that increased the use of explosives trace detectors, expanded the use of pat-down searches, and gave screeners more latitude to refer individuals to secondary screening. 

  • The new procedures require all passengers to remove outer coats and jackets for X-ray before proceeding through the metal detectors.  Included are suit an sport coats, athletic warm-up jackets, and blazers.

Passing the security gauntlet is quite a process. I have become so acclimated to the routine that I now travel with a shoehorn in my pocket, so I can get my shoes back on my feet without a major wresting match. Now, if I could just remember to put my belt back on before my trousers start to inch down my hips.

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