Packing for Airport Security

Spend a few minutes hanging out near any airport screening area, and you will see that many travelers do not know how to pack for the best experience. Seasoned travelers sigh in frustration as those who are new to the game struggle with shoes, computers, phones, “illegal” items, and pockets full of things that cause the alarms to sound. Getting stopped by security officers is embarrassing at best and, at worst, can even make you miss your scheduled flight. Here are a few tips for making your visit to airport security quick and easy.

Carry-on and Checked Baggage

First, understand the difference between carry-on and checked baggage. Checked baggage is the luggage you check in at the ticket counter that will be stowed away during the flight. The airline will have a weight limit for checked baggage; be sure to find out prior to your trip how many bags you can carry and what the total allowable weight is.

Checked bags are not allowed to be locked unless the lock is TSA-approved. These are locks that can be opened using a universal master key. If you insist on locking your luggage with a non-approved lock (and many passengers still do), you will probably find at the end of your flight that security has broken your lock.

Carry-on baggage refers to the smaller items that you take onto the airplane with you. These are subject to security screening and they are the ones that are the focus of this article. You are allowed to take one carry-on bag, plus one personal item. This could be a laptop computer or purse, briefcase, or a small backpack. It is best to label all carry-on items with your name, including your laptop.

The Security Process

Upon arrival at the security queue, you will need to place all your carry-on items on a conveyor belt so that they can pass through the x-ray machine for screening. You will also be asked to remove your shoes and allow them to be screened. Many people choose to wear flip-flops or other shoes that are easy to remove for this reason. If you are carrying a laptop computer, pull it out of the case so that it can be scanned separately. Consider packing most of your contents into clear zip-top bags so that if anything at all is questioned, it can be easily examined. Even jewelry and loose change could go into a baggie for inspection, then put back once you are through the gate.

Certain items are not allowed to pass through security, and if you try to bring them they will be taken from you. Many of them are purchased as souvenirs, then confiscated at the security checkpoint. It is best to leave these at home:

  • knives
  • ice picks
  • razor blades (those that are not in a safety razor)
  • sabers
  • scissors longer than 4 inches
  • swords
  • sports items, such as: baseball bats, bows/arrows, golf clubs, hockey sticks, and ski poles
  • ammunition
  • any sort of firearm, including bb guns, compressed air or paintball guns, flare guns, and starter pistols
  • gun parts
  • gun powder
  • tools that are longer than seven inches in length, drills or drill bits of any kind, and saws
  • hammers
  • crowbars
  • flammables, including lighters except if they are enclosed in a DOT-approved case
  • matches
  • gel candles
  • “snow globe” type decorations.

(The above is only a partial list; for a complete list, visit

Toiletry items that are being carried through the security checkpoint, whether they are in your backpack, purse, or other carry-on bag, must be 3 ounces or less. They must fit in a single quart-sized zip-top bag. These must be placed in a bin or onto the conveyor belt for scanning. If they are larger than 3 ounces or are not in a bag of the correct size, security will confiscate these items.

One of the biggest problems at the security gate is people attempting to bring beverages and food items through the checkpoint. Although you are allowed to take food and drink onto the airplane, you are not allowed to carry bottled or canned beverages or to-go cups through security. Instead, purchase these inside the airport after clearing the security gate.

Avoid Additional Screening

Often, people wear accessories containing metal when entering the security checkpoint. These items may cause you to go through additional screening, like a pat-down inspection or hand-wanding. Some of these are:

  • Things you often carry in your pockets: keys, change, cell phones, and pagers
  • Jewelry – remember to consider necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings as well as watches, pins, cuff links, and other jewelry.
  • Belt buckles
  • underwire bras
  • clothing featuring metal buttons or studs

With a little planning, you will zip through the security gate in no time. This will be much less stressful for you and your family – and the people in line behind you will appreciate it!

Tanya Davis is a freelance writer living in Tennesee.