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These 8 things red flag you as a potential problem to airport security

Here's how to breeze through airport security by making yourself a 'model' passenger

Modern air travel kind of … sucks. Just when we think it can’t get any more inconvenient, uncomfortable, and just plain awful, COVID, the airlines, and the TSA find ways to make it even worse. So, why make it harder on yourself than it has to be?

One thing you can do to help breeze through the airport on your next trip is to look and act like a “model” passenger. The goal is to make yourself invisible, so you can coast through those security checkpoints without any unnecessary snags. That means knowing what not to do. Here are eight things most likely to flag you as a potential problem passenger at airport security.

Joking about bombs and terrorism

Travelers speaking with a TSA agent at an airport security checkpoint.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This is an obvious point to avoid for most people. However, some jokers seem intent on pushing the TSA to see just how seriously they take bomb threats. Steer clear of a surprise three-hour interrogation (and any bonus “intensive pat-downs”) at the airport by not talking about bombs, guns, knives, terrorism, or anything resembling violence. Just don’t.

Traveling bearded and alone

Bearded young man with a skull cap on walking up stairs.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sometimes traveling solo is unavoidable. But, if you’re a lone guy, be prepared for extra scrutiny. It’s doubly true if you have a beard. We know, we know. It’s sad but true.

Criticizing the screening equipment and TSA personnel

Air traveler getting screened in a full-body screening machine.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Dealing with the TSA is an unavoidable fact of life for air travelers in the 21st century. It sucks for all of us. But complaining loudly about the fruitlessness of the security screening equipment and TSA personnel is not a soapbox you need to stand on at the airport. By all means, do so at your own peril. Just don’t be surprised if you receive the “extra special pat-down” treatment in front of your fellow citizens.

Traveling with coffee

Two hands together holding a bunch of whole coffee beans.
Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash / Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Watch enough episodes of Locked Up Abroad, and you’ll know that traveling with large amounts of coffee is the mark of most smugglers (it’s an excellent, though obvious, way to throw off scent dogs). If you’re returning to the United States from South America and can’t help bringing back a few pounds of the good ground, so be it. Just know that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers (and their dogs) are likely to scrutinize you even more.

Not following protocol

Airport security agent searching a female passenger's carry-on bag with a dog nearby.

The litany of things — liquids, loose change, laptops, throwing stars — that must be removed from your pockets and carry-on baggage at airport security is inconvenient. But following TSA protocol is a surefire way to make the process smoother for everyone involved. You’d be amazed at the contraband agents find in carry-on baggage every year. If you want to breeze through the checkpoint every time, know the rules, and follow them to the letter.

Getting out of line

Long line of travelers waiting at an airport security checkpoint.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

We mean this literally and figuratively. No matter what, be patient and go with the flow. Shifting lines might be wise at the grocery checkout, but it can be the mark of someone with something to hide at airport security. This is especially true, for example, if you’re standing in a line with a full-body scanner, then suddenly decide to move to a different line with only a metal detector. Trust us, they’re on to you’re shenanigans.

Improper medical documentation

Close-up of tablets pouring out of an orange prescription bottle.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

In these days of ridiculous baggage fees, we’re all trying to pack lighter and tighter (completely carry-on only, if possible). Tossing all your pills into one or two travel-sized bottles seems like a solid packing decision, but traveling with medication — especially prescription medicines — can be trickier than you think. At the very least, keep your pills in their original bottles and bring copies of the prescriptions for each drug you’ll be traveling with. If you’re headed overseas, brush up on the laws surrounding medication in your destination country. What’s legal in the U.S. may be restricted or outright banned (with heavy penalties, including jail time or worse, for possession) where you’re headed.

You can’t power-on your laptop

Traveler carrying a laptop checking flight schedule.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This is one of the most overlooked requirements for air travelers, but the TSA is very clear that they can confiscate your laptop — or worse, deny you boarding — if they can’t turn on the device. Be sure to charge your laptop the night before your flight.

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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