airport security

Airport security – I have mixed feelings about them… I love them, and sometimes I hate them. I love them because they protect my air travel from all sorts of disasters. They have to weed out the bad passengers and let the good ones fly safely to their destinations.

I hate them because they are intrusive, ask weird questions and make me throw out my precious cargo like power banks, shampoo, and other liquids. Most people think that tough airport security started with 9/11. But that is not true.

Airport security started to get tough long before 9/11. It all started when small groups of people called hijackers decided to change the destination of hundreds of passengers mid-flight.

Hijacking became prevalent through the 70s and 80s and the ongoing events motivated airport security to beef up its security protocols and inspections. Over the years, these regulations became stricter and stricter due to other threats targeting airports.

I guess some of you already had a pleasure of going through the airport security. Therefore reading this article will be beneficial for you as it contains some useful hacks coming from mine or my colleagues’ experience.

Is it a piece of cake?

Again – yes and no at the same time. It depends a bit on your luck and a bit on what you know. If you think that nowadays going through airport security is easy peasy, you can be surprised what can happen.

A month ago my friend who is also traveling a lot told me what happened to him.

He was coming back home from Europe through Newark. He had a really short layover time so he was in a great hurry. To reach the gate with the connecting flight he had to go through airport security check. The procedure was like always: take all your electronics, liquids, belts, rings, shoes and go through the metal detector – as I said regular security check.

So he passed through a metal detector and started to wait for his stuff. All soon arrived from the X-ray tunnel beside one shoe… Yes, one shoe was missing – lost in this X-ray-portal-to-the-other-dimension-machine.

In fact, he was in such a hurry that he took that remained shoe and he runs to catch the plane in just one shoe – really. When he was telling me this I was laughing like crazy but just after I realized that you never know what can happen and it’s better to know some more to increase your chances to succeed.

Check-in luggage

Let’s start with checked baggage. The rules here are simple. Remember to not pack in your bag following items:

  • Cash and any other valuables – please don’t do it. It’s allowed and it’s nothing against security but believe me – closing your bag you will see that money for the last time…
  • Electronics like laptops, power banks, smartphones. In short – you are not allowed to put in your checked baggage the stuff which has batteries with big capacities. And you know what – they are right! Just take a look what happened has happened to my laptop’s battery:
airport security
Battery bent the cover
airport security
The swollen battery of my laptop

Imagine what could happen if you have it in your suitcase and battery blows causing the fire…

  • If you travel to China or foreign country you should be very careful with the food and drinks. You can face some problems with fruits, meat or sausages – this will be the reward for the Detective Dog (see below – Shanghai Pu-Dong’s Detective Dog). Don’t expect problems with packed food like biscuits, cakes, bottled water.
airport security
Detective dog will find all the food you have in your bag

At the check-in desk you will find the full list of not allowed items, but from my personal experience, sticking to the above-mentioned rules is sufficient.

Now let’s go and see what are the ideas for…

Making your way through TSA

In America, The TSA are not known for their humanitarian behavior towards passengers. Here are some tips on how to get through TSA checkpoints relatively unscathed:

  • Be a boy scout – a person needs to be prepared with their paperwork long before they reach the TSA security zone
  • Scan the lines – lines with families or small children usually go slower than a line with businessmen in it.
  • Look Good – don’t go through line looking like you haven’t left the 1960s hippie era. Shine your shoes, wear nice clothes, cover up tattoos, and other body parts and comb your hair. Those who look good get treated better than those looking like they are drug running.
  • Obey the rules – Make sure you empty your luggage of all items disallowed on a flight Check the internet for TSA approved items.
  • Check equipment you cannot use – if your electronic items do not fit in your TSA approved laptop bag, then check them in your non-carry-on luggage. Extra electronics and their carrying cases need their own e-ray bin and this slows the line down immensely
  • Try the hurry up services – It may cost you a little more but it may save you when you need to meet connecting flights.
  • Be polite – If you give attitude, you will get an attitude and a delay. Maybe even a comforting body search to help you relax a bit.

Navigating the Filipino airport security system

Most people think that the Philippines is a nice friendly country to visit. That would be a slight error in judgment. The Philippines has its share of crime issues. Remember its war with ISIS last year?

Here are some tips to help you get through the Philippine airport security system:

  • Searches are common – be prepared to be searched and bags screened before you enter the airport.
  • Pack right – The Philippines likes to copy America, so be prepared to lose items you thought were okay to carry on board the aircraft. There are a lot of non-compatible items on their list.
  • Be polite – nothing delays your boarding than mouthing off to the security agents at the gates and x-ray machines
  • Don’t make jokes – if you want to a get free overnight accommodations and a nice tour of Filipino jails, just make the wrong joke
  • Follow instructions – nothing upsets a security guard more than a passenger who thinks they know more than the security staff. Stay on their good side and follow all instructions no matter how trivial
  • Paperwork needs to be ready – like all airports, security agents do not like to wait while you dig for those papers you though to you had in your hand
  • Watch where you walk – Do not go into the blocked off areas of the international airports. The Filipino security agents do not look highly upon this activity.

Walking through China’s airport security

China is known to be strict when it comes to airport security. What makes it even more difficult is that the security officers often just ignore your comments and make you toss your items in the trash. Sometimes they will let you leave security to ship an unauthorized battery or electronic device.

  • Be polite – this is going to be on all the lists as treating others right gets you a lot further than pulling the nasty Westerner act.
  • Power banks not allowed – some are but if your power bank exceeds 100wh then expect problems. You need special permission from the airlines to carry batteries between 100 and 160wh on board. Power banks need to be clearly marked or they are not allowed.
  • Liquids are a no-no – on domestic flights, no liquids are allowed besides cosmetics in bottles up to 100ml and only one piece for each type. For international flights, you can take other liquids but in the bottle which not exceeds 100ml.
  • Security checks abound – at the entrance of each big airport all your luggage will be checked (like on airport security control before you reach the gate) via x-ray and you will go through metal detectors. This helps speed up the lines and get passengers to their planes quicker.
  • Exit restrictions – all items forbidden entry into China are also on the forbidden list when you leave the country. You will pass through a customs check to make sure you are not exporting prohibited items.

The European way of airport security

The European nations have practiced airport security for many years. They have fine-tuned their security protocol and it can get dicey. Here are some of those protocols you need to watch out for:

  • Checkpoint heaven – you will pass through several different checkpoints. The first one is more like a customs inspection than a security check. You stand behind the line and wait for permission to approach the officer
  • Follow instructions – you will be given detailed instructions on how to place your bag the correct way on the x-ray conveyor belt
  • The wand massage – You remember the old-fashioned wand. It is used quite intimately in Europe.
  • Explosive search – do not be alarmed if your laptop and other electronics are searched for explosives. It is quite intrusive.
  • Boarding pass checks – You may go through more than one of these, depending on the airport you use in Europe. For sure your boarding pass will be checked in low-cost airlines at the entrance of aircraft – they want to be sure that you do not cheat on your airfare class (you know: priority boarding, additional carry-on bag…)
  • Answer their questions – Europe security officials do not follow American protocol. They will ask very personal questions so be prepared – I know this from my Chinese colleagues angry with the airport security in Germany. They treated them like smugglers without any pieces of evidence.
  • Time is of the essence – make sure you arrive early as it may take a little longer than you think to pass all of the European security rules.
  • No money, no cry – exactly like this. If you arrive in Europe with a large amount of money you will be overexposed.

Some airport hacks to help you

One note to all above: your travel experience may be different than described here. Airport security rules vary between airports and countries. The rules for Beijing Capital International Airport were slightly different from the rules at the Chongqing Jiangbei International airport. At least when I or my friends were there.

It pays to get some travel tips. These help you navigate your way through an unfamiliar airport a lot easier. Here are a few tips or hacks to guide you on your next trip through an airport:

  1. Plastic Ziploc bags – it pays to bring extra ones, so you can meet TSA regulations without throwing your items away
  2. Freezing helps – if you freeze your liquids you may have an easier time with TSA. They allow rocks, not shampoos, etc. Never tried it, but maybe you can check and drop a comment on how was it?
  3. Save some money – Bring your own snacks and save a little by not paying the high airport prices. You do this when you go to the movies, so do it at the airport as well. One of my articles about eating your own food before and during the flight should help you a lot on this topic.
  4. Empties are helpful – you can bring an empty water bottle and fill it up after you get through all the security checkpoints.
  5. Make use of the sleeping quarters – if you have long flights or layovers it may help to sleep in secured rooms at the airport. That way you do not have to pay high taxi rates or hotel prices. These rooms will not be as expensive and you get the same amenities, like a shower and bed 🙂 But please, make a reservation early enough. These rooms are always full in the night so make sure you have booked it. Don’t copy my mistakes – if you know what I mean, check what is number 4 on my list with tips for booking flights
  6. Save time – most people go to the right-hand security booths. Try moving to the left ones as there may be fewer people in those lines.
  7. If in doubt, ask – you can get a lot of freebies if you simply open your mouth and ask for them. This included free flight upgrades.
  8. BYOB  (Bring Your Own Beer) –  you get 100ml of free liquor if you can fit the bottle in your 1-quart extra plastic bag
  9. Put on extra clothes – if your carry-on is too heavy, just put some extra clothes on to cut down on the weight. For some more packing hacks, you can check my how to pack for a business trip guide packing.
  10. Take the red-eye – fewer people, fewer hassles, better sleep and maybe a few more freebies.

Some Final Thoughts

I have found that if you follow the rules and be nice about it, you have a better time with airport security. It pays to be nice, prepared and ready for what airport security throws your way.

I hope that you will be able to use the above advice and your life will be easier because of what you have learned from my blog. If you would like to know some more about how to deal with other problems which can occur with further steps of air travel, just take a look into my guide on flight delay compensation.

Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons

In text image source: Lucas

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