Avoid Breaking These Rules at Airport Security Checkpoints (2021) (2023)

Airport security is a nuisance, but it’s one travelers must accept if they wish to be able to fly around the world safely. The best you can hope for is to get through security as quickly and painlessly as possible. That means being prepared and avoiding airport security mistakes that will slow you and everyone else down, and maybe even get you into trouble with the TSA.

The following 10 suggestions for what not to do at airport security will make you a savvier flyer, capable of breezing through the checkpoint like a pro.

Don’t bring more than 3.4 ounces (or 100 milliliters) of any liquid.

Avoid Breaking These Rules at Airport Security Checkpoints (2021) (1)

This may be obvious to frequent flyers, but even though the so-called 3-1-1 rule went into effect back in 2006, inexperienced travelers still show up with full-sized bottles of shampoo, water, and other liquids in their carry-on bags. Each time this happens, a TSA agent has to pull the bag off the security belt, call the passenger over, search the bag, scold the passenger, and throw the bottle out, thus slowing the security line down—and earning the offender annoyed head shakes from those stuck waiting.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, including medications, breast milk, and baby formula. (A temporary rule is allowing passengers to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in a carry-on during the pandemic.)

Also, if you’re flying to the United States via a connecting flight from overseas, you may carry full-size duty-free liquids as long as they’re sealed in a secure, tamper-evident bag by the original retailer, they were purchased within the past 24 hours, and you have the receipt.

For more information on what you can and can’t bring through airport security, check out this comprehensive .

(Video) What NOT to Pack in Carry On Bag in 2023 (TSA Airport Security)

Don’t leave liquids and gels deep in your carry-on.

One surefire method to slow a security line down is to waste time digging through your carry-on for items that need to be placed in the bin individually. Putting travel-sized liquids into a clear, see-through quart-sized bag is not enough. Keep the bag stored in a handy place—such as an external compartment on your carry-on—so all you have to do is reach in and grab it. Note that although electronics and liquids are increasingly allowed to remain inside carry-on luggage thanks to new technology, it may not be the case at every checkpoint.


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Don’t forget to have your boarding pass and ID handy.

Similar to the above, you don’t want to be pulling out your wallet to grab your ID while you’re standing in front of the security agent. Do that while waiting in line or, better yet, before you even get in line. You’ll not only make things faster for yourself and those behind you, but you also won’t annoy the security agent.

Don’t wait to take off your belt, watch, jacket, and shoes.

If you haven’t caught on to the “be prepared” mantra yet, here it is again. The best way to move through security as fast as possible is to have everything you need out and ready to be placed on the conveyor belt as soon as you get there. If you’re wearing a belt or watch, take it off while you’re in line. Same thing with your jacket and even your shoes if possible, especially if they’ve got shoelaces—at the very least, have your laces untied so all you have to do is slip your shoes off. Caveat: Seniors over the age of 75, kids under 13, and those who have TSA PreCheck may leave their shoes and light jackets on.

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Don’t remove items you don’t need to remove.

One of the most common airport security mistakes is to take out all your electronic devices to be scanned separately. You don’t need to do this. According to the TSA, only electronics larger than a cell phone must be removed from their carrying cases and X-rayed separately. This does include laptops and tablets, but it doesn’t include phones, electric toothbrushes, or hair dryers. TSA PreCheck members don’t have to remove electronics for separate screening.

Also, in most cases you do not need to remove your jewelry before going through security. If you’re wearing particularly bulky items, you might want to take them off, but smaller pieces such as wedding rings and earrings can usually stay on. If you set off any alarms, the screening agent will work with you to determine the problem, which might or might not require jewelry removal.


Airport Security Frequently Asked Questions

Don’t wear sandals.

Do you really want to expose your bare feet to whatever’s on a filthy airport floor? Yes, sandals are easy to slip on and off, but they’re not worth a potential case of athlete’s foot. If you can’t give up your flip-flops, consider bringing a pair of disposable booties to protect your feet.

(Video) How To Navigate Your First Time Through An Airport: A Beginner’s Guide

Don’t overlook less busy checkpoints.

Avoid Breaking These Rules at Airport Security Checkpoints (2021) (3)

Most large airports have multiple checkpoint entries for any given terminal, and some may be busier than others at certain times of day. The TSA offers travelers an app called MyTSA that you can use to check security wait times based on historical data. Just be sure you actually can reach your gate via the checkpoint you’ve selected.

Don’t give the security folks a hard time.

You may think your trial shampoo bottle is smaller than 3.4 ounces, or maybe the last time you went through security, no one cared that your mascara wasn’t in a clear bag. All that matters is what they’re telling you this time. While the particular TSA agent demanding you give up your “contraband” very well may be in the wrong, at that moment he or she has all the power, and arguing isn’t going to get you anywhere but possibly detained.

Don’t joke about national security or bombs.

Technically, cracking jokes about national security at an airport is not illegal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble for doing it. There are numerous cases of passengers being arrested after joking about explosives or bombs while being examined at security. You may think your joke is funny or harmless, but remember, the TSA has no sense of humor when it comes to doing its job. Always err on the side of caution.


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Don’t forget about the PreCheck program.

The TSA’s PreCheck program is a risk-based prescreening system that allows frequent flyers to apply for access to a restricted—and faster—airport security lane. The application process is essentially an in-depth background check, but once cleared, PreCheck flyers no longer have to remove their belts, shoes, or lightweight jackets, nor must they place their 3-1-1 compliant plastic bag and laptop in separate bins.

PreCheck lanes are currently available at more than 200 airports across the United States. Do you often travel internationally? Consider Global Entry, which includes PreCheck membership as well as expedited re-entry into the United States. Read SmarterTravel’s summary of Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck to learn more.

—written by Dori Saltzman

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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How do I skip TSA checkpoints? ›

Apply for TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is one of a few government-run trusted traveler programs, designed to allow members to use expedited security lanes at more than 200 U.S. airports. With TSA PreCheck, you can speed through security without removing your shoes, laptops, belts or jacket.

Do you have to answer Airport security questions? ›

If you are a U.S. citizen, you need only answer questions establishing your identity and citizenship, although refusing to answer routine questions about the nature and purpose of your travel could result in delay and/or further inspection.

What do airport security check for? ›

Airport body scanners alert the TSO to threats—mainly weapons such as knives, guns and explosives. They are designed to detect “metallic and nonmetallic threat items,” according to the TSA. Those are things like explosives or knives made out of materials other than metal, like ceramics, says Malvini Redden.

What are the security rules at the airport? ›

Review the prohibited items list for both carry-on and checked baggage.
Liquids, gels and aerosols packed in carry-on must follow the 3-1-1 liquids rule:
  • 3.4 ounces or less per container.
  • 1 quart size, clear, plastic, zip top bag (all liquids must fit in bag)
  • 1 bag per passenger.

What triggers TSA search? ›

TSA counts on the traveling public to report unattended bags or packages; individuals in possession of a threatening item; and persons trying to enter a restricted area or similar suspicious activities at airports, train stations, bus stops and ports. If You See Something, Say Something™.

How do I avoid security checks at the airport? ›

Skip the Longer Lines With TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry

TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry can be a great way to save time. In addition to skipping the longer security lines, members aren't usually required to remove laptops, shoes, belts, light jackets or toiletry liquids at security checkpoints.

Do you have to answer if you are a US citizen at a checkpoint? ›

You always have the right to remain silent. However, if you don't answer questions to establish your citizenship, officials may detain you longer in order to verify your immigration status.

Can a security guard question you? ›

➢ A security guard/proprietary private security officer is an agent of the property owner and can question people on the owner's property.

What questions do airport security ask? ›

Prepare for Likely Questions From U.S. CBP Officials
  • Why are you visiting the United States? ...
  • Where will you be staying? ...
  • Who will you be visiting? ...
  • How long will you be staying in the U.S.? If you're coming in with an immigrant visa (have been approved for U.S. permanent residence), you won't likely be asked this.

What is not allowed in a carry-on bag? ›

Liquid or gel food items larger than 3.4 oz are not allowed in carry-on bags and should be placed in your checked bags if possible. TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine.

What am I not allowed to bring on a plane? ›

Firearms, ammunition, and fireworks are prohibited, as are all knives and safety razors (including pocket knives and Swiss Army knives). Straight razors and replacement blades for straight razors are also not allowed. Most tools also cannot be packed in carry-on luggage, as they have the potential to cause harm.

Does toothpaste count as a liquid? ›

Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels and aerosols. Common travel items that must comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash and lotion.

Do you have to take your phone out at airport security? ›

Yes, you should plan to remove personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone from your carry-on bag and put them in a separate bin with nothing placed on or under them for security screening.

What can you not do at airport security? ›

12 Things You Should Never Do in an Airport Security Line
  • Don't joke about bombs or anything illegal. ...
  • Don't try to hide something that shouldn't be on the plane. ...
  • Don't smuggle too much liquid through the security line. ...
  • Don't bring a gun. ...
  • Don't re-pack. ...
  • Don't get nervous if officers pull you out of line for questioning.
Nov 15, 2017

What do TSA agents notice first about you? ›

The eyes are the first place a TSA agent looks,” he says. If you're unable to look TSA agents in the eye when they are asking you a question, it may seem like you are avoiding or hiding something, adds Price.

How do I make sure TSA doesn't steal? ›

Invest in a sturdy identification tag. Lock checked luggage with a TSA-approved lock. Place a copy of your boarding pass inside your checked luggage. Take a photo of the contents of your checked luggage just before placing it all in the bag to prove your case if you need to file a claim.

Can I bring snacks on a plane? ›

Solid food items (not liquids or gels) can be transported in either your carry-on or checked baggage. TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine.

Can you opt out of security scanner at airport? ›

Any person passing through a TSA checkpoint is legally allowed to opt out of the body scanner for any given reason. However, the TSA is still responsible for ensuring the safety of commercial flights, which requires screening for all commercial passengers.

Why is TSA checking my phone? ›

TSA protects transportation systems: they scan your luggage, ensure your ticket is valid, and provide airport security. The only reason they might be interested in your phone is if it looks suspicious. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), on the other hand, is a different story.

Why do I always get flagged at the airport? ›

Tripping the system during a background check

Other times, you could engage in some type of suspicious travel activity that triggers an additional screening which could include things like: Visits to high-risk countries. Unusual travel patterns (last minute one-way flight) Paying cash for tickets.

Can I refuse to answer questions at the border? ›

You always have the right to remain silent. But if you stay silent and do not answer questions, for example about your immigration or citizenship status, the law enforcement officers will likely refuse to allow you into the U.S. You do not have to show your documents when asked.

Can you turn around at a police checkpoint? ›

No, you may legally turn around to avoid a checkpoint so long as you do so safely and without violating any traffic laws. For example, if you make an illegal or unsafe U-turn, you will likely be stopped and cited.

Can I be denied entry to the U.S. if Im a citizen? ›

The truth is that no one is guaranteed entry into the United States, not even U.S. Citizens. Even if you have the right documents, visa, or legal status, you may still be denied entry to the United States, so it's best to be prepared for the worst.

What security guard should not do? ›

What should a security guard not do? A security guard should not fall asleep on the job, leave their post without permission, or neglect their duties in any way. Additionally, a security guard should not engage in any illegal activity, use excessive force, or accept bribes.

What are security not allowed to do? ›

Without express permission, a security guard cannot search a person or their property. This authority is limited to police, who are legally allowed to conduct searches with consent or with a warrant.

Can security put their hands on you? ›

If they perform a civilian's arrest, security guards must use reasonable force. Otherwise, a security guard should not touch anyone, unless the guard is trying to protect a person, the employer's property, or act in self-defense.

What are the 4 security questions in airport? ›

English Airport Check-in Questions:

What is your country of residence? How many pieces of luggage do you have to be checked-in? Do you have hand luggage? Did you pack your luggage yourself or did somebody help you?

What gets you through airport security faster? ›

TSA Precheck is a federally run program with dedicated, expedited security lines that are typically much shorter than the normal lines. You don't have to remove your coat, shoes, or belt, nor do you need to remove electronics or liquids from your bag.

What is the greatest threat to an airport? ›

Terrorist Threat

One of the biggest threats facing airports is terrorism.

Can I take my purse and a backpack on a plane? ›

Most airlines allow passengers to bring on both a carry-on and a personal item like a backpack, laptop bag, purse, briefcase, shopping bag, etc. The general rule of thumb is that your personal item is smaller in dimension than your carry-on bag and it can fit underneath the seat in front of you.

Can I carry clothes in my carry-on bag? ›

Can you put clothes in your personal items? Certainly, you can pack clothes in your personal items or carry-on bag. But for a better experience, we recommend packing most of your clothes in your carry on and leaving extra space in your personal items.

Can I pack a razor in my carry-on? ›

Safety Razors: Because the razor blades are so easy to remove, safety razors are not permitted in your carry-on luggage with the blade. They're fine to pack in your carry-on without the blade. The blades must be stored in your checked luggage. The same applies for straight razors.

Can you bring a water bottle on a plane? ›

You can bring an empty reusable water bottle through TSA security. Read: It has to be empty. After your items and carry-on bag have gone through security, you can fill up your water bottle at a nearby refilling station. If you bring your full water bottle to the security checkpoint, it's not a big deal.

Do your toiletries have to be in a clear bag? ›

Each item must be 3.4 ounces or less and must be able to fit inside a one-quart size clear zip-top bag. The limit is one bag per person. Typically, travelers put their toiletries in the bag such as shampoo, hair products, make-up and toothpaste.

How many 3 oz bottles can I take on a plane? ›

How many 3-ounce bottles can I carry on? You must be able to fit all your 3-ounce bottles into a 1-quart bag, which is 6 x 9 inches. This usually equates to nine bottles. FYI, you can use a Ziploc or any anything that's about that size, but the TSA doesn't officially approve or disapprove of any bags.

Can you take tweezers in your purse on a plane? ›

Tweezers, razors and scissors are, on the whole, allowed on planes. Straight razors are the only item that you cannot bring in your hand luggage, as they could be potentially weaponized. In addition, your scissors' edges should be less than 12 cm long.

What is allowed in a personal item bag? ›

What is considered a personal item bag varies from airline to airline, but a small purse, briefcase and laptop bag are always considered personal items. Backpacks, totes, and crossbody bags are typically considered personal items too. The key to remember is it must be able to fit underneath the seat in front of you.

How many carry-on bags allowed? ›

Per TSA regulations, carryon items are limited to one bag plus one small, personal item. Personal-type items include: Purses. Briefcases.

Can I bring nail clippers in my carry-on? ›

Looking for a mid-flight manicure? Nail clippers, nail-trimming scissors and cuticle cutters are totally fine in your carry-on bag. But if the blades are over 6 cm in length, they will need to be packed inside your checked luggage (this same rule applies to small tools such as calipers and drill bits).

Does mascara count as a liquid? ›

So is mascara considered a liquid? Yes, when it comes to makeup, the following items are considered liquid cosmetics: mascara. nail polish.

Where do you put your wallet when going through airport security? ›

Reduce touchpoints.

When doing so, put those items (keys, wallet, cell phone, lip balm, etc.) directly into your carry-on bag instead of into the checkpoint bin to reduce touchpoints between your belongings and the bins.

Can I leave my cell phone in my carry-on? ›

Most consumer personal electronic devices containing batteries are allowed in carry-on and checked baggage, including but not limited to cell phones, smart phones, data loggers, PDAs , electronic games, tablets, laptop computers, cameras, camcorders, watches, calculators, etc.

Do I have to take my chargers out at airport security? ›

The answer is No! You don't have to remove the chargers if they're in your carry-on or luggage. You can keep the chargers in your carry-on as well as hand luggage. These electronic devices are not included in the restricted item list by any airport in the world.

Can you wear an underwire bra through airport security? ›

If you really want to avoid setting off the metal detectors at all costs, consider wearing an underwire bra with plastic, a strapless bra or a sports bra. Summary: ✔ Underwire bras are fine to wear through airport security.

Do you have to answer airport security questions? ›

If you are a U.S. citizen, you need only answer questions establishing your identity and citizenship, although refusing to answer routine questions about the nature and purpose of your travel could result in delay and/or further inspection.

Is TSA fast pass worth it? ›

TSA PreCheck can save you an enormous amount of time you would otherwise spend waiting in line for security. Not only can I attest to this personally, but 91% of PreCheck passengers reported waiting less than five minutes at airport security checkpoints nationwide in October alone, based on TSA data.

How much does it cost to skip TSA? ›

The application fee for TSA PreCheck® is $78 for 5 years. Before you apply, we recommend that you review the various DHS trusted traveler programs, such as the TSA PreCheck® Application Program, Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI, to ensure you meet the eligibility requirements and determine the best program for you.

How can I get TSA PreCheck for free? ›

The best way to get TSA PreCheck for free is by carrying an eligible credit card. Dozens of credit cards reimburse the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee if you use that card to pay upfront.

Does TSA PreCheck let you skip line? ›

You can explore choices such as TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, CLEAR and Mobile Passport. These all give you the chance to skip the line and get through the airport faster. TSA PreCheck membership lets you join the shorter PreCheck lines at security.

Which airlines do not participate in TSA PreCheck? ›

Most budget airlines like Frontier, Allegiant, Spirit, and Sun Country all participate in TSA PreCheck. Notable airlines that don't participate in TSA PreCheck include Aer Lingus, China Southern, China Eastern, and EgyptAir.

Should my boarding pass say TSA PreCheck? ›

You must have the TSA PreCheck® indicator on your boarding pass before you can access the TSA PreCheck® screening lane.

Is one hour enough for TSA? ›

The simple answer is: Two hours for domestic flights, three hours for international flights. (More or less.) "The two-hour recommendation is fairly standard across the industry," says Heather Lissner, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport spokesperson.

Do pilots skip TSA? ›

Pilots and flight attendants have to go through some sort of security checks before hopping on board an aircraft. Even though they are essential to the whole operation, a series of factors lead to them having to be vetted before boarding.

Why do I always get stopped by TSA? ›

You're Deemed Suspicious Prior to Check-In

Paying for any of your tickets in cash. Booking only a one-way ticket out of the country. Booking your ticket extremely last-minute. Traveling to or from a high-risk country.

What documents are needed for TSA PreCheck? ›

Valid Photo ID

Unexpired photo ID card issued by the federal government or by a State or outlying possession of the U.S. This must include a federal agency, State or State agency seal or logo (such as a State university ID). Permits are not considered valid identity documents (such as gun permits).

Do seniors automatically get TSA PreCheck? ›

Do seniors automatically get PreCheck? No. Anyone who wants to receive PreCheck needs to apply. However, TSA does provide people who are 75 years old or older access to an expedited screening process in the regular screening lines: You can keep your light jacket and shoes on.

Does TSA PreCheck have senior discounts? ›

While the TSA doesn't offer discounted memberships for seniors or people with disabilities, some credit card companies and loyalty programs offer promotions. Travelers 75 and older should also know that the TSA allows those passengers to leave shoes and a light jacket on during the standard screening.

How long does TSA PreCheck take to get approved? ›

How do I know when I'm approved for TSA PreCheck®? Most applicants receive their KTN (Known Traveler Number) in 3-5 days, though some applications can take up to 60 days. Applicants can receive updates on their enrollment application status by email, phone, text or by checking online.

How can I make TSA easier? ›

Planning ahead and packing properly can help speed up the screening process and ease your travel experience at the airport.
  1. Pack Appropriately. ...
  2. Dress Smartly. ...
  3. Download MyTSA App. ...
  4. Check in Online. ...
  5. Leave Early. ...
  6. Provide Correct Identification and Documentation. ...
  7. Provide Boarding Pass. ...
  8. Separate Food Items.
Mar 16, 2022

What is the fastest way to get through airport security? ›

Travel with ease with TSA PreCheck®
  1. Wait 5 Minutes or Less. In February 2023, 90% of TSA PreCheck® passengers waited less than 5 min.
  2. Families Welcome. Children 12 and under can join a parent/guardian with TSA PreCheck® in the dedicated lanes.
  3. Nationwide Reach. More than 200 airports and 85+ airlines provide TSA PreCheck®

What to do if stuck in TSA line? ›

First and foremost -- tell someone that your flight is taking off soon! Find a TSA agent, explain the specifics, and ask if they can help you get through (a.k.a. skip to the front of) the line. An airline agent at the check-in counter can also help with this. Don't forget to smile and be polite...


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