Infrequent Travelers: How to Avoid ‘Rookie Mistakes’ through Airport Security and Onboard Your Flight

Rookie Mistakes to Avoid:

Many travelers experience apprehension and frustration when going through airport security.  By knowing what to expect and being prepared in advance, you can minimize this uncomfortable aspect of travel.  This applies especially to the infrequent traveler who may not be aware of the ever changing world of national security.  To get an idea of what some “rookie” travelers encountered, I stationed myself at security and the boarding area in Chicago O’Hare’s International Airport to see firsthand some of the frustrations travelers were running into.

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Security Checkpoints:

Have your Identification in your hand prior to heading toward security:

There were several people that were struggling to get it out of their purse or wallets when the lines were moving quickly, and their hands were full with their carry-ons or children. Keep it in your hand until you are all the way through security. Some airports require that you show it at a few different checkpoints.

Avoid wearing shoes that are hard to get off:

Most airports do not have chairs to sit in at the point where you need to remove your shoes (there is usually a bench on the other side of security for putting them back on). Some women were struggling to get knee-high boots off and were feeling frustrated because they were holding up the line.

Put your shoes, clothing items, 3-1-1- bag, cell phone, and personal bag in one bin and electronics (laptop, camera, etc.) in a separate bin:

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Be sure your laptop is charged in case they ask you to turn it on. You may have to open your laptop bag, if you do not have a security approved laptop bag.

Avoid making unnecessary conversation with Security Guards and do not argue with them:

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The Security Officers are there to do a job and it is important that you be polite and follow what they ask you to do. If people made unnecessary conversation with the officers, they drew attention to themselves and ended up having to go through additional screening. One man was arguing with a Security Officer over an apple that was removed from his bag and tossed. He ended up being detained.

Follow the directions inside the body scanner:

There is a picture inside the body scanner as to how to hold your arms and where to face. Be sure your feet are on top of the designated footprints. Wait until you are told by the Security Officer to enter and exit.

Avoid wearing items that give the appearance you are hiding something:

People that were wearing baggy clothing were sometimes required to go through a pat down. Some women wearing underwire bras also had to be patted down. Those wearing casts or wraps over injuries required additional screening for explosives. Be aware in advance that you may encounter additional screening. It is all done very quickly, so you can move on without much delay.

Keep an eye on your bin(s):

Be sure to retrieve your personal items out of the bin as soon as you pass through security. Put your carry-on bag on the conveyor belt last. Put wallets or other important items on the bottom of the bin so it is hidden from view. It is oftentimes very crowded and it would be easy for someone to reach in and grab it.

Expedited Service:

At some smaller airports, the Security Guard may hand you an “Expedited Service” card and tell you that you do not have to remove your shoes. Be sure to hold onto the card and give it to security as you exit. Some people made the mistake of sticking it in their bin, which caused them to go through an additional screening, because they did not take their shoes off.

Do NOT talk openly about terrorist groups or joke around about possible terrorist activity or spreading of a disease:

If you do, you could quickly find yourself surrounded by security and detained. You may be forced to miss your flight and could even be arrested. One woman did so at the airport, and she was quickly surrounded and escorted away by about 8 officers. Not sure where she ended up.

Limit what you carry through the airport:

When you are traveling from a wintery cold climate to a warm one, the last thing you want to be toting around is a big heavy jacket and boots. It is best to put those items in your checked luggage and just wear a lightweight sweater or jacket. Also limit the number of items you carry so you are not encumbered as you hike through the airport. That also opens you up to accidentally forgetting an item when you sit them down. Try to carry your snacks and camera in your carry-on baggage rather than in a separate bag. It also makes it hard to pull out your ID or boarding pass, if your hands are full.

Be sure to have your liquids (3.4 oz.) packed in a Quart Size Bag:3-1-1 TSA Brochure

Travelers that forgot to do that ended up having to remove them from their carry-on or personal bags and had to throw these items away. They held up lines which only added to the anxiety they were experiencing. Drink your water and toss the bottle before you enter security. The trash bins were overflowing with items that had to be thrown away, due to lack of planning (especially water bottles!). Some people were getting mad at the Security Officer for making them throw their items away—when it was really their responsibility to be prepared in advance

Empty your pockets of spare change or knives, remove your belt, and remove any large jewelry prior to entering security:

It is best if you are prepared for this before you get to the airport. Check your purse to make sure you didn’t forget items that could be confiscated (like pepper spray, scissors, knives, hand soap, etc.). People that forgot to do this were having to remove these items and toss them…and they were holding up the line. Put your belt and jewelry in your carry-on bag, and then put them on after you go through security.

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Boarding the Plane:

Follow the carry-on bag allowances for your airline:

There were some travelers that had a carry-on bag, a laptop, purse, another cloth bag, and a camera bag. They were stopped by the airline attendant and told they could only have a carry-on and a personal bag. They either had to try and cram them all into their carry-on bag or go back to the counter and check the additional items as checked baggage—which ended up costing them money and opened them up to the possibility of items getting lost or damaged.

Remove items you will be using on the plane (book, Ipod, Kindle, etc.) from your carry-on bag prior to boarding:

Pulling your bag out of the overhead bin during flight is discouraged–they can be hard to pull out, and you don’t want anything landing on the person below. There is not always room to stow your bag above where you are seated either, so you will be disturbing the person in the seat below where your bag is stowed.

Have your boarding pass in hand when boarding the plane.

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Listen to what part of the plane is being boarded and wait until it is your time to board:

Airlines will generally board those with special needs or those with small children first, and then may move on to first class and then call groups of rows. Some airlines may board from the back of the plane forward or go by boarding numbers or sections that are listed on your boarding pass.

Bring snacks:

Many flights charge for snacks and meals and these can be expensive (i.e. $7 on up). Plan in advance and bring snacks for longer flights. On many flights, you will receive soft drinks, juice, coffee/tea, or water for free.

Drink plenty of fluids during your flight:

Many travelers experience problems from becoming dehydrated during flights. These problems can sometimes show up a day or so after they land. Examples include cold sores, sore throats, sores in mouth, headaches, etc. Drinking water or juices are your best bet, rather than soft drinks or alcoholic beverages which are dehydrators as well.

By being prepared in advance and knowing what to expect, this part of your journey can be a pleasant one as well.  Traveling to a new destination is such a great experience, so plan on enjoying every step along the way.

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For insightful travel ideas, check out my book:

Know Before You Go:  Traveling the U.S. and Abroad

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Know Before You Go:  Traveling the U.S. and Abroad by [Patterson, Stephanie Tehan]

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and wherever books are sold




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