Travel Tuesday: Passing Thru Security Without Getting Arrested

Aaaargh!  Airport travel can be such a pain…all in the name of keeping us safe.  When the 9/11 Terrorist Attack first hit, I had to travel the following week for business.  I remember thinking:  “I don’t care what rules the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) comes up with; I’ll do anything they want, as long as it keeps us safe.”  And I meant it.

But here we are 10+ years later and when I think of going through an airport security line, my eyes glaze over.  Of course, I still want us all to be safe, but I can’t help but think, sometimes, that successfully passing through security unscathed (unsearched, un-patted-down) is more of a challenge than it needs to be.

At many airports,  we now have the choice of being felt up or posing for a semi-pornographic pic.  I exaggerate, but that’s the kind of language used by some people who protest these procedures.  I actually don’t think it’s that bad… but then, I’ve been accused of having mildly exhibitionist tendencies.

The Basics are pretty much the same at all U.S. airports:

  • Shoes, scarves, jackets, big sweaters and other outerwear off.  Recently, the shoes-off thing was relaxed for children under 12, so that’s nice for parents traveling with their kids.  And nice for us who might be behind them in line while they use up precious time struggling to get them off and then back on.


  • Sometimes watches and jewelry have to come off , but not always, which is annoying—I never know if this particular watch or bracelet will cause a beep at this particular airport until I try it.  (Or I could just take it off.)


It’s the rules that are slightly different at every airport that make me worry that I’m going to get it wrong.   I’m sure this is a good thing because it makes it harder for the bad guys to figure out the system.

Recently, I was at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.  One of the countries busiest airports.  It seemed we had the choice of the regular screening machine or the enhanced one that makes you look almost naked.  I say “choice,” but I don’t really think it was up to us.   In addition, some lucky folks—they say it’s random—also had the opportunity for an enhanced pat-down.  The first time I had one of those,  it startled me a bit, but not in a bad way.  I thought the security chick was getting a little too familiar; she lightly ran her hands between my breasts, brushed against my butt and even quickly between my legs (or so it seemed).  It was almost funny.  Anyway, she was friendly and very professional, but I didn’t quite know what to make of it.  For a split second it almost felt kinda nice, too, like a bad, clumsy first date.

I’ve come to think of myself as a “pro” at getting through security without being stopped, so if you’re planning to join the millions of other folks who will be traveling this holiday season, here are a few things you can do to make it less painful.  These tips won’t make the plane take off on time, but they might get you through the security check faster.

You’ll want to plan your travel outfit carefully.  In general, the simpler (and lighter weight), the better.  The goal is to be the kind of traveler you wouldn’t mind being behind in the security line.

Clothing
I prefer clothing without a waistband, so I tend toward dresses more so than skirts or pants.  For the pat-down, the fewer hiding places, the better.  I prefer jersey knit dresses because they travel well: they don’t wrinkle and they look good, skimming the body “just so.”  And Mr./Ms. TSA  won’t have to dig around to see if  I’ve got any contraband tucked in the waist.

If not a dress, I choose leggings because they’re comfy on the plane.  But it matters what I wear with them.  I usually choose a T-shirt and long cardigan (which has to come off).   If I choose a tunic, it’s something simple (see dress recommendations above).

When I opt for pants or a skirt, I choose one that doesn’t need a belt because it’s just one more thing to remove, slowing things down.

Footwear
In summer I prefer flip-flops, but at this time of year I usually choose slip-ons: pumps, loafers, or ballerina flats.  Boots with zippers are also fine, but this is not the time to go trotting out the lace-up thigh-highs.  (Pack them if you think you’ll need them).  Avoid any shoe that has to be tied.  Pull-on boots are a no-no as well—you may think they’re easy, but in reality they take way too long.

Legwear
For me, it’s barefoot or tights—I just don’t like socks. But I can’t think of a good reason you shouldn’t wear them, so go ahead if you must.

Undergarments
I always wear underwire bras and they rarely set off the alarm, but I know a lot of women who say that theirs do.  If this has happened to you, maybe wear a bra without underwire. Do wear a bra though; no matter how much of a free spirit you are, you don’t want to make it that much fun for the guys behind the body scanner.

In my opinion, women should always wear cute underwear, but it’s especially important if you’re going to get a body scan.  Some might think the exact opposite, arguing that we should wear something unattractive so the scanner-viewer won’t get any cheap thrills.  But then, we don’t really know what turns him or her on, so I say:  Wear something you’d be proud to be seen in!  Personally, I like lacy boy-cut shorts.  If you’re modest, you might want to avoid a thong.

Jewelry
Chunky, clunky jewelry gets packed or stays home.  I keep travel jewelry

Pack it, don’t wear it.

to a minimum, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll lose something.  (Wouldn’t you know it, I broke my own rule about two months ago and wore a beautiful bracelet I’d  bought in Paris; it beeped, I had to go back through, I put it in a bin and sent it through the machine . . . and that’s where I left it.  Didn’t remember until I was on the plane.)  So if there’s chance it can set off the machine, pack it.

Next Steps
At the airport, you’ll probably have at least some choice of security lines; pick the one that looks the least complicated.  Obviously, you’ll want to avoid getting behind the family with two-year-old triplets in strollers.  Teenagers, with their headphones, electronics, and sullen attitudes should also be avoided (here, and in life in general, is my philosophy).  Ideal: businessmen and -women; they do this all the time and know how to get through security quickly.  I’ve found that older travelers—say, in their 80s—aren’t bad, either; their clothing and travel gear are often straightforward and uncomplicated.

Now that you’ve worked your way through security, the next annoyance is deciding what to do about food . . . but that’s another article for another time. Here’s hoping happy and safe travels for us all.

What can you add to the above?  What tips can you share to make traveling during the holidays (or anytime, really), more pleasant?

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3 Responses to Travel Tuesday: Passing Thru Security Without Getting Arrested

  1. Leslie says:

    Anyone know about getting through airport security wearing a wig? I have read several different accounts about how that could go and some are unpleasant. Curious to know if anyone has had any experience? thanks!

    • Eleanore says:

      I’ve gone through security wearing a wig, with no problem. I think it’s kind of random…like everything else in the security line.

  2. cb says:

    I work for the airlines, and I really need to get out of the business, because the COMPLAINTS about TSA, weather, mechanical issues, gate agents, flight attendants, not having a blanket on board blah, blah, blah…this is a POST 9/11 world we live in…security and safety is #1…the way it used to be before will never BE…10,20,30,50 years after the terrorist attack…it will NEVER BE THE SAME…greyhound?

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