Airport Security survival guide

Security scanning equipment and lines at Denver Airport.

Image by Danpaluska, no rights reserved

These days the process of going through airport security raises the blood pressure considerably.  It is unpleasant and often humiliating.

The picture that comes to mind includes long queues, unpacking all your goods onto a conveyor belt, scrabbling in your pocket for the last metallic object capable of setting off the beeps on the machine, and taking off your belt.  One’s personal dignity may be affronted by humiliating body searches.

Even worse yet, if you merely have the “wrong appearance”, you may be singled out for special attention by the security personnel.

Being a little prepared can make all the difference between being inconvenienced or enraged.  Here’s how to make your passage through airport security more bearable.

Documents

Keep your passport and boarding pass on your person, preferably in a pocket.  It’s not a good idea to leave it in your bag that is being scanned, as thefts at security points are common.  Besides which, the protocol is that you should present these to the security officers as you enter the scanner.

Valuables

Keep a sharp eye on your valuables.  Lock money in your carry-on bag to be scanned.  (This means, of course, that you should prepare by having a lockable carry-on bag.)  If the authorities wish to inspect it more closely they will simply ask that you unlock it.  Do not insert your possessions into the machine until it is your turn to pass through the scanner – you want to be in the prime position to grab it as it comes out the other side.

Mobile phones and laptops

Know in which pocket of your bag your cellphone is, as it is often required that you take it out and send it through the scanner separately.  As a rule, laptops have to be taken out of their bags and put in a separate tray.  Not having to search for things will reduce your stress levels and keep you from being distracted.

Carry one bag

This may seem obvious, but how often does one see frazzled travellers with an entire hodge-podge of bags and other paraphernalia scattered over the security conveyer.  One bag means fewer possessions that you have to keep track of.

Secure your jewellery

For total peace of mind, we would suggest not wearing jewellery until after reaching your destination.  The simple reason being that all but the smallest of jewellery will set off the scanners, which may qualify you for a body search.  If you are going to wear it, take it off prior to getting in the queue and carry it in your closed hand.  The scanner will not pick it up as a false alarm, and since you are holding it, it will be harder to steal.

Shoes

Wear shoes that are easy to remove.  If you are travelling by air to the US and are not a citizen, you will definitely be required to take your shoes off.  This will be less stressful if you can slip them off or untie them easily.  In other countries you will only be required to take your shoes off if they set off the alarm.  If you wear sneakers then those countries that rely on metal detection will likely let you keep them on.

Clothes

A body search is compulsory in certain countries’ security and although uncomfortable, you can reduce your stress if you are wearing comfortable clothes.  Wearing bulky garments will likely result in a demand to remove some of them.  The more you are asked to do during a security check, the higher your stress level will be, and the more likely you are to be the recipient of special attention.  Special attention at security is not a good thing!

Wear trousers that have a draw-string top rather than a belt with a metal buckle.  Again, unless you are hand-picked for a body search, you will often not need to take your belt off.  As previously mentioned, fewer things to remove means fewer things to track, and if you do not need to take clothes off you are going to feel more comfortable.

Check customs regulations

We would strongly suggest that you check the customs regulations of the country you are visiting and in fact the regulations of your own country for re-entry.  Many food items are prohibited to be taken into Australia for example.  And trying to do so could result in a hefty fine.  Furthermore, if they find undeclared foodstuffs they are more likely to assume that you are carrying other illegal substances and you may be subjected to an even more rigorous search.

In many countries, it is illegal to bring in agricultural products such as cheese, animal products (meat and leather, etc.) and wood products in, due to the bugs that could be infesting them and the danger this poses for introducing foreign pests to the country.

When arriving in South Africa you may not bring in cashew nuts unless they have been through stringent treatment.  The problem for the unwary is that in neighbouring Mozambique they sell huge bags of cheap cashews to tourists going to South Africa.  These are confiscated at customs and destroyed.  So if you buy them, you are throwing your money away, unless you can eat really quickly.  (If you must know, we ate fast.)

There are restrictions on how much alcohol and tobacco can be carried.  Certain medications that are available over-the-counter in you home country may, somewhat to your shock, be illegal substances elsewhere.  In the USA codeine is not permitted in medications, despite it being common in Europe and elsewhere.  Codeine is banned completely in the United Arab Emirates.  It is best to find out ahead of time if your prescribed medication is permitted.  Even if it is, take a copy of the script with you, or an official letter from your doctor.

Remain calm

We ourselves can do a lot to develop and retain a sense of tranquillity:

  • Arrive early at the airport.
  • Keep a positive frame of mind – we forget the problems of security once we are back home and remember the good times.
  • Check-in early, preferably online before you leave home (Our online check-in link page is here: Online check-in links)
  • Go through security as soon as possible, well ahead of boarding time.
  • Make normal eye contact with officials, but do not glare.
  • Co-operate with the officials.  Maybe they ought not to enjoy their jobs so much, but they can give you a lot of extra trouble if you give them a hard time – they have a huge degree of leeway and discretion as to how awkward they can potentially make life for you.
  • Be polite and friendly.
  • Do not wear tee-shirts with rude slogans about the security officials.  Red rag / bull / go figure.

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