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The 6 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make at Airport Security, Experts Say

Don't risk missing or running to your flight with these common errors.

At airports, time is of the essence because everything and everyone—from the tram that transfers you to other terminals to when you can check-in for your flight—is on a timed schedule. If you come to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) line unprepared, you could increase the odds of having to sprint to your gate once you do clear airport security. We all know what happens next: You don't have time for a last-minute restroom stop and you board your flight sweaty and frantic, giving your seatmate the ick.

At security checkpoints, there are a lot of things that are out of your control. You can't predict how long the lines will be or if the carry-on luggage ahead of yours will need additional screening. However, there are things you can do to help speed along the process and get you to your next destination faster.

We asked air travel experts what the biggest mistakes people make at airport security are and how you can nip these bad habits before your next trip.

READ THIS NEXT: 9 Secret Travel Hacks Flight Attendants Always Use.

You don't have your documents out and ready for TSA.

A passenger showing an electronic boarding pass to TSA agent on phone.

Security checkpoints are notoriously known for long wait times, warns Jasmine Cheng, a travel blogger at The Wandering Girl. Don't contribute to the madness by not having your necessary documents (ID, passport, boarding pass, etc.) out and ready prior to speaking with a TSA agent. If digging through your belongings while maneuvering through TSA lines sounds a bit overwhelming (because it can be!), pull over to a non-crowded area after you check in. Locate your documents, then join the other travelers in line for security.

You're wearing a complicated outfit.

A pair of passengers tying their shoes after going through airport security.

In order to breeze through security, you need to wear as few layers of clothing as possible, says Shelley Marmor, a magazine-editor-turned-blogger. Unless you have TSA PreCheck, travelers must remove shoes, belts, hats, and any bulky outerwear including jackets. Sneakers with intricate laces and buttoned jackets will only prolong your time at security. Plus, you get stuck awkwardly trying to juggle your discarded clothes until you have access to an X-ray bin. Marmor of Travel Mexico Solo calls this dance "the belt and shoe shuffle."

"I've lost count of the number of times I've seen travelers balancing on one foot, trying to remove their shoes while also holding up their pants," she tells Best Life. Her solution? Dress smart for the airport. "Slip-on shoes and belts that can be easily removed will make the security process less of a Cirque du Soleil audition," she says.

Your liquids exceed the travel-size limit.

A passenger placing their liquids in a clear bag for TSA airport security.

TSA rules state that travelers must place all liquids (which must be in travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces or less), aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes, in a clear, quart-sized bag. Flyers try to bypass this rule and attempt to bring full-size containers more often than you think, says both travel experts. It's such a simple rule, and breaking it can hold up security lines and result in additional screening.

"This leads to a bottleneck at the checkpoint and a boatload of stress for everyone involved," adds Marmor. TSA will also toss full-size liquids that come through the x-ray belt in the trash. So you're not only wasting the product, but your money, too.

In addition to hair and body products, "liquids" also apply to drinking liquids. Cheng notes that drinking liquids are often overlooked when discussing TSA liquid restrictions. Maybe you forgot that you filled up your water bottle before leaving the house or you're oblivious to the pre-airport coffee still in your hand from earlier. You have two options: toss it back or toss it out.

You aren't packing food correctly.

Person traveling with breast milk in their bag.

Fun fact: Certain foods, like bread and canned foods, can trigger a secondary screening if packed poorly. Additionally, frozen foods and gel ice packs must be fully frozen or have less than 3.4 ounces of thawed liquid. There are also special instructions for bringing baby formula and breast milk through security.

"Dense foods like chocolate, cheese, or any form of spread can be mistaken for explosive materials in the X-ray scan," says Marmor. "If you must travel with these, let the TSA agent know in advance to save time during the screening process." You can also find an exhaustive list of TSA-approved carry-on foods with packing instructions here.

Your electronics are stashed at the bottom of your bag.

Woman removing her laptop from her carry-on suitcase.

Unfortunately, checked luggage can be subjected to games of hide and seek. That's why many—if not most—choose to stow their electronics in a carry-on or personal bag. It's certainly a smart move, but it also means an extra step for you at the security checkpoint. Along with liquids, you will need to remove any electronics (laptops, iPads, tablets, and e-readers) from your bag and place them in their own bin.

"If your laptop is in a laptop sleeve, make sure to take it out of the protective cover before placing it in a bin. You can place more than one electronic device in the same bin, but the important thing is to not overlap them," says Cheng. Officials will ask you to use multiple bins if you try to cram too many electronics in one bin.

Now, if you pack your laptop at the bottom of your bag or hide your tablet in between layers of clothes, you can probably imagine what a hassle it will be to dig it out at security. Save yourself the headache and pack your electronics last and near the top of your bag. Cheng adds that "Apple watches and other fitness bracelets don't need to be removed and can be worn through the screen process."

You're trying to fit a large bag in a X-ray bin.

Passenger trying to fit too many bags in a X-ray bin.

Nine times out of 10, TSA will ask you to place bigger bags like duffle bags, carry-ons with wheels, or backpacks directly on the conveyor belt, not in a bin, says Cheng. "Officials don't want you to put bulkier luggage in bins because when the bag is directly on the conveyor belt, they have a clearer image of the contents inside the bag," she explains.

This can help prevent a bin shortage for the passengers behind you (how many times have you been stuck waiting for an empty bin?) and save you from possible additional screening.

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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