Let’s Talk TSA Consistency (or Lack Thereof)

tsa friendly backpackWhat should travelers expect when they get to the TSA security line? Hmmmm. That’s an interesting question. Reader J says…

I find the inconsistencies in TSA so interesting. I’m flying out of BNA this morning and usually get them triple- marking my boarding pass, looking intently at me as the hold up my drivers license and ask where I’m going.  Today, the guy was super nice and just did the boarding pass scan for the green beep – no markings and didn’t even glance at my driver’s license.  I’d take this version every time but there’s definitely a big gap in what’s being done.

Over the years TSA has been amazingly consistent….in its inconsistency. Sometimes everyone goes through Pre-check; sometimes no one does. Sometimes they move quickly; sometimes they move slowly. Sometimes they’ll let your liquids bag stay in your suitcase; other times they’ll make you move your mascara from your makeup bag to your liquids bag, then  re-run all of your belongings. Sometimes they’re not sure your baby is a baby…. Etc. Here are some reasons for the inconsistency.

Changing it up intentionally. Oftentimes TSA changes some of their methodologies on purpose to throw off would-be terrorists. So even though it looks like chaos to us, they swear there is a design. Guess I’ll have to take their word for it.

New people. Like any job, new agents tend to do things a bit more slowly and methodically. They want to make sure they are performing their duties correctly, which while I don’t love, I totally get it. Although I wish they would schedule the brand new people for off-peak times…..

Airport size. I don’t know what your experience has been, but it seems like agents at smaller airports are the biggest sticklers for the rules. The experienced I mentioned above with my mascara–that was at a tiny little airport in West Texas. The bigger airports see so many travelers that they get to be more efficient. Kind of.

Regardless of how fast or slow the TSA agents are moving, there are things you can do to keep the security line moving:

  1. Be ready when you get to the front of the line. Have things out of your pockets, and your laptop and liquids bag easily accessible. Or use a TSA-friendly laptop bag (pictured).
  2. Put your items on the x-ray belt in an orderly way. Instead of just randomly tossing my stuff, I like to put my shoes first, then my suitcase with the handle facing forward, then my personal item, then my bins. For TSA Pre-check lines I put my suitcase first and then my purse, although it matters less since I’m only putting two things up there.
  3. Once you’re through security, get out of the way. Pick up all of your stuff and move to the bench or table nearby to consolidate your belongings. Please, please don’t just stand there picking up change out of a bin!

Of course, TSA Pre-check is the way to go. Worth it for every frequent traveler!

Readers, any other tips for moving through security efficiently?


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  1. I am traveling this week and just realized my drivers license expired on my birthday in January of this year 2017. I do not have time to go to the DMV and renew it and cannot do it on line because I need to take a new picture. Can I still use my expired license? I was told before that you can use your license for up to a year after expiration date. Is that correct? Can I take credit cards, social security number, w-2 forms, bills, etc. to help them know my identity? Will that help. Do I need to be there 3 hrs in advance? I appreciate any information. Please and Thank you!

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