Business Travel 101: Security (revisited)

Business Travel 101 is a series from a couple of years ago about making that first business trip as easy and successful as possible. I’ve re-tooled the series, and now it’s more comprehensive than ever! It covers everything a new business traveler needs to know for that initial trip, including essential tips for packing, security, safety, etiquette, and comfort.

As a business traveler one of the most frequent things you do, but hardest things to get used to, is going through security. There are so many things to remember, and the rules are always changing. But once you’ve mastered it, your trips will be so much easier. The following tips are a kind of cheat sheet to getting through security smoothly, quickly, and with a minimum of fuss. I know it looks like a lot to remember, but if you take it one step at a time, you will be fine. The most important thing to remember is to be prepared for the next step before it happens.

Before your trip:

  • If you haven’t traveled in a while, even just a few months, go online to the TSA website to catch up with the latest guidelines.
  • Pack neatly! If for some reason they have to search your bag, it will be much easier if the suitcase is not a chaotic mess.
  • When you are packing, make sure your liquids bag and laptop are easily accessible.

The day of:

  • Wear slip on shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
  • Avoid large jewelry (or metal shirts. Sigh) or anything else that will set off the metal detector.

Before entering the line:

  • Get rid of all bottles of water or any other large amounts of liquid in your bag.
  • Get out your travel documents and identification before you get to the TSA agent.

Going through the X-ray machine and metal detector:

  • Once you get to the X-ray line, get your stuff out, even if you don’t have bins yet. The usual things that need to go through the X-ray machine separately are:
  1. Plastic bag of toiletries (one quart size Ziploc bag, nothing over three ounces)
  2. Shoes
  3. Laptop
  • Ideally when you get to the x-ray machine line you will have everything ready, or at least easy to get to. Know how many bins you will need (I need two: one for my laptop, one for my purse, toiletries, and coat; shoes go on the conveyor belt) and get them out, stacked. I put all the things in one bin, with my shoes and laptop on top. This conserves room on the tables and allows other people to get their stuff together. Once you are close to the x-ray machine, separate the bins and put your laptop in the empty one.
  • Once you get to the actual x-ray machine, put your shoes through first (which are slip on and don’t require tying, right?). Then your laptop bin, then your purse bin, and finally your suitcase. Put your suitcase on the belt handle first for easy pick up on the other side.
  • Make sure you don’t have anything in your pockets. If you do, put it all into your bag, not loose in a bin. This will speed up things on the other side.

Going through the Body Scanner:

  • Make sure you take everything out of your pockets—pieces of paper, hair bands, gum, everything.
  • If you have on a long necklace, either remove it or move it to your back.

After going through the machines:

  • When you get to the other side of the x-ray machine, pick up your shoes and drop them on the floor. While you are slipping your feet into them grab your laptop and toiletry bag in one hand, put your purse over your shoulder, and pick up your suitcase and put it on the ground. Walk everything over to the convenient bench just a few feet away so that you don’t hold up the line putting all your things in their right places.
  • If the above scenario doesn’t work for you, grab your bins and your suitcase and move over to the bench.
  • Make sure you double check the bins, especially if there are advertisements in the bottom. Smaller items and boarding passes can blend in and easily be left!
  • Remember (and this can be hard for the seasoned travelers, myself included) that not everyone flies every week. Some people will simply take longer than we’d like, and getting frustrated with them won’t make your own trip go any more smoothly.

Readers, what are your tips for getting through security quickly and easily?


  1. Most of this is totally unnecessary in most airports around the world, including those with much tighter security. So I think your list only really works if you are flying within the USA.

  2. Why would they not allow me to put my shoes in a bin (vs. just on the conveyor belt)? This has happened several times.

  3. Personal DVD players and Ipads can be left in your bag. They don’t need to be scanned separately.

  4. @ Britt–thanks! I’ll remove that.

    @ Ken Y.–I honestly don’t know why they want the shoes on the belt. Anyone?

    @NB–you’re right, this is a list primarily for the US. Do you have any tips for non-US airports?

  5. I’ve had issues with my iPad. I’ve generally been told to leave it in my purse. But sometimes when I leave it in, my bag has to be rerun thru, with the iPad being removed. On some occasions I’ve been told to take it out. I once wrote tsa asking for clarification but never heard back.

  6. Choose your undergarments wisely! The underwire in one bra I have seems to set off the metal detector.

    As noted above, the inconsistency between different facilities is so frustrating! I have never been told to put my shoes on the belt!

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