How to Sail Through Airport Security

denver airport

Last Updated Apr 26, 2010 7:10 PM EDT

Business travel has no shortage of indignities, but none rivals
the dreaded security line. The process is full of little dramas and
cliffhangers: Will the fashionista in front of you take twenty minutes to
unlace her knee-high boots? Will your bag be the one selected for a
dump-it-all-on-the-counter inspection? (Answer: Only if you're
running late.) If you're a super-frequent flier, make sure you join
an elite status program, the key reward of which is sometimes a dedicated line.
Otherwise, to keep your wits and your schedule, you need to do all you can to
up your odds of zipping through quickly.

Romancing the Queue

Know your checkpoints

Denver airport security

Airport security at Denver International Airport

When you make your way to the line for security and spot a
seemingly endless queue of travelers, don’t just join the masses. Look
for another way in. At some airports, they exist. In Denver, for example, there
are two lines on the main floor and one upstairs. They all get you to the same
place, yet often the difference in length even between the two downstairs lines
can be dramatic because, oddly, people seem to gravitate to the line with the
most people.

Hit the black diamond lane

In the busiest airports around the country (and even some of
the not-so-busy ones), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has created
what it calls black diamond
. The idea is to let the experts — those who can recite the
TSA procedures in their sleep — stand in one line while the
inexperienced fliers wait in another. This way the novices don’t feel
the pressure of a bunch of pros on their tails, and the always-in-a-rush experts
can cruise through with like-minded travelers. The system has helped speed things
up, so take advantage of it. Unfortunately, so far the expert line is unique to the United States.

Avoid small children

When the black diamond lanes aren’t available, you
can still avoid the one line that’s guaranteed to move the slowest:
the one with kids. Nothing against children, but we all know that kids come
with bags, strollers, tantrums, and a whole lot of gear that slows everyone
else down. So steer clear of the family lines.

Stay away from the crew line

Many airports have separate lines for airline crews. No
problem, right? Wrong. You want to avoid the line beside the crew line
because crewmembers are allowed to cut in front of everyone else and will invariably
cut in front of you just as you’re getting ready to push your bag on
the conveyor belt and head through the metal detector.

The security dance

Stay calm or else

Security line rage is likely an underreported phenomenon. So
if you suffer from it, take a deep breath and try to keep your temper under control,
or you’ll pay dearly. The TSA has href="">Behavior Detection
Officers, known as BDOs, stationed at about 160 airports to try to spot
people who give very slight behavioral cues that would suggest they’re
up to no good. The aim is to catch terrorists. Your agitation may not send a signal
to the BDO folks, but it will likely grab someone’s attention. And if
you’re rude to the agents, you might find yourself pleading for that dump-the-bag-and-empty-your-pockets
search instead of the more thorough inspection.

Don’t bury the liquids

First, know the rules: No
container of liquid can be more than 3.4 ounces
(100 mls), and all your
liquids and gels together must fit in a single, 1 quart-sized, clear zip-top bag.
Now, you know you’re going to have to take your plastic bag out, so
make sure you keep it in an outside pocket. This holds true for any flight into or out of the U.S., and many countries have adopted this rule for all international flights. For example, liquids may not be a big deal on that flight from Christchurch to Auckland, but when you go from Auckland to Los Angeles or anywhere else outside New Zealand, you'll need to get that baggie ready to go.

Yup, the laptop too

Actually, the laptop doesn’t always have to come
out of the bag. The TSA has urged manufacturers to design cases that don’t
obstruct the view when they go through the X-ray machine, and href="">here
are the styles that it has deemed okay. However, using a TSA-approved bag
doesn’t guarantee a screener won’t make you remove your
laptop; it just ups the odds.

Nail clippers, too?

Nah. These can stay in your bag, just as your iPod can. But
why take chances? Screeners are always looking for anything suspicious, and
sharp objects and electronics are likely culprits. So keep them on top or
someplace where you can pull them out easily.

Slip-ons do the trick

We have Richard Reid, the so-called href="">shoe bomber,
to thank for this one. You know you’re going to have to take them off,
so why wear shoes with laces at all? Your fellow business travelers will thank

Brett Snyder, who runs the href="">Cranky Concierge air travel
assistance business and has worked in marketing for United Airlines, blogs
about travel for BNET.

Image of Airport security at Denver International Airport courtesy of Flickr/dan paluska

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