Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoint Atlanta
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Stupid Tip of the Day: Take Every Questionable Item Out at Airport Security Checkpoints

Going through the usual procedure at an airport security checkpoint, the agent of the Transportation Security Administration is suddenly alarmed by the machine — and you find out that the belt buckle or the watch or a coin is the culprit when walking through the body scanner.

“I have been through hundreds of airport security checkpoints; and this item has never alarmed before,” you might say to the agent — but that statement is of no use at that moment, which is already too late. Now you get a “free pat-down” and endure an invasive search which consumes the time you were going to use to get to the gate.

Stupid Tip of the Day: Take Every Questionable Item Out at Airport Security Checkpoints

The general rule is that if you have any doubt, take it out. If it is made of metal, don’t settle.

All right — I made that last one up; but you get my point.

This is not exactly a difficult decision which involves a significant amount of risk. While you are on the shuttle bus from the airport parking lot on your way to the terminal — or as you sit in a taxi cab or the car of the ride-sharing service on your way to the airport — transfer the belongings in your pockets into a secure side pocket of the bag which you have with you and plan to carry aboard the airplane with you. Remove your belt and any items of jewelry and place them in the same pocket in your bag.

If your bag is in the trunk, you can perform the transfer in the terminal — perhaps while you wait in the line for the security checkpoint, if you are nimble enough…

…and perhaps wearing delicate clothing or expensive jewelry through an airport security checkpoint is not exactly the best idea — especially if you are ordered to remove them for whatever reason.


Setting aside anomalies and exceptions which are indicative of the rules of trusted traveler programs — such as TSA Pre✓ or Global Entry — my personal rule is to simply empty my pockets completely, with my passport or driver’s license and boarding pass as the only exceptions. Tissues, credit cards, currency, keys, and anything else in my pockets on my person go into a zippered pocket of my bag until after it passes through the airport security checkpoint.

I once had a small wad of tissues in my jeans pocket catch the attention of one agent of the Transportation Security Administration. He saved the world from certain doom that day when he had me remove said wad of tissues from my pocket and pat down only that area of my body. Since that experience, anything that happens to be defined as matter in physics is removed from my pockets. I can spare the few extra seconds to remove the additional items from my pockets and return them after I have successfully been processed through the security checkpoint, as it saves time in the long run and reduces the chance of a time-consuming and potentially invasive “pat-down”.

Do not be the person who unnecessarily holds up the line because you failed to properly prepare yourself for the airport security checkpoint experience. Travel in general is already stressful for many people. Please ensure that you are ready to go through the checkpoint when you arrive and not when you are the next person to be scanned, as the main point is to save yourself — and your fellow travelers — time and effort in general.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

  1. It still amazes me the type of stuff people bring with them in pockets and go through the x-ray just to trigger the alarm and have to back to empty their pockets. Once a guy tried to go through 4 times and every time he was sent back he emptied just one pocket. He had coins everywhere and it looked like he was a pig bank.

  2. I do wonder whether anyone cares that I remove my belt on the AirTrain JFK or the Q70 or Q10 bus, whichever is my last vehicle.

    Whether I’ll proactively remove my wallet from my pocket is another matter. It’s absurd that one would ever be forced to part with one’s money. There are airports in the world where I wouldn’t trust all the contents to reemerge. And putting them in a locked bag pocket isn’t much help, since there are agents who have a problem with my keeping my eye on my bag at all times.

    1. I have been on those buses and the AirTrain, Seth. No, I would not recommend those modes of transportation on which to remove valuable items from your pockets and place in your bag in plain sight…

      …and I do agree with you — but then again, many airports outside of the United States are more lenient with certain aspects of the screening process — such as not having to remove shoes.

      I also am careful not to carry too much money…

  3. What surprises me is folks that obviously fly a lot and have TSA Pre will show up at the line with a pocket and jacket full of junk. It takes them 5 minutes to empty it all into a bin. Just put all this stuff in your carry on “BEFORE” you get in the security line and get it out on the other side. Please.

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