Monday, June 08, 2009

Business Traveller Tip - getting through airport security fast and recombobulating in style

Second in my series of tips for the business traveller is how to get through pre-flight security as quickly as you can. There are a lot of elements to getting through security. Things are unambitiously tighter and more stressful in the post-9/11 world. A few simple things will cut time and stress levels:
  1. Get your documents ready before you get in the queue: Surprising how often I see people surprised when asked by a uniformed TSA Agent, security agent, representative of Her Majesties Government, stern looking person in a sterner looking uniform etc to see a traveller's boarding pass and passport. Get yourself a travelling pouch/wallet that keeps your passport, boarding pass and other travel documents in one place, put it in your dominant hand (ie my right hand) and give the right documents to the right person as quickly and orderly as you can (see also rule 7);
  2. Choose who you line up behind: The speed in which you can get through the queue depends most on the speed of the people ahead of you in the queue. You need to do some profiling of the people in front of you before you join a line. Avoid families and the elderly - they take too long to get their jackets, shoes and bags into and out of the scanner. Avoid anyone carrying anything metal (crutches, canes, prams) - there will inevitably be delays in them putting them through the scanner. Avoid large groups of people (school kids, tour groups, sporting groups, air crews) - they will be taking too much time helping each other out and sorting out who owns what. Basically look for other packs of travelling alone, serious looking business travellers;
  3. Select the right toiletry pack and switch to shave oil: The liquid rules are a real pain and the TSA apply the rules in the weirdest of ways. The obvious advice is do not pack anything in a bottle larger than100mm (3oz) and put them in a clear zip lock bag. But that is a given. I have three other pieces of advice for you. Firstly - carry a spare zip lock bag. If you lose your original or it breaks you will need a spare or else have to do a lot of negotiating or last minute running around to do. Secondly - be selective as to toiletry bag you use. I was give a great one a couple of years ago when "involuntarily" upgraded to first class on British Airways. It is a rectangular soft box shape with zip covering three sides of the lid. Allows me to open the toiletry pack so as to fully expose all of the contents for scanning (in a zip lock bag) but keeps it neat, orderly and safe from breaking bags. The security agents are happy as they get to see what they need to see, and I am happy because I have eliminated the chance of a break in the zip lock bag causing an awful mess in my bag. I searched for a photo online to show you but unfortunately could not find one. I hope the description is enough. Thirdly - keep your liquids to a minimum by doing the following. Save all of the small toothpastes you get on board. They are the perfect size for taking on trips. Ditto for moisturiser. Don't pack shampoo- use those provided by the hotel. Finally for travelling switch from using shaving cream or foam and a separate after shave balm to using shave oil. Shaving oil (ie King of Shaves Kinexium Oil) takes getting used to but once you do you can carry hundreds of shaves worth of oil in a 15ml bottle. It can be used as a post-shave balm as well as an alternative to foam/gel. Only downside is that it clogs up your razor blade - so you will go through blades faster. But is worth it for being able to ditch two large liquid bottles for one small one;
  4. Slip ons not laces: Your shoes should be slip ons not lace ups to speed on and off;
  5. Put everything in your bag: Before you get to queue (ie at check-in or in the taxi) put your wallet, coins, mobile, blackberry, pens, everything in you pockets into your carry on bag. Don't keep things in your pocket as you will just have to take them out and put them back in again;
  6. Store, keep and hoard express passes: Plenty of airports have express queues for those carrying special passes. Often the special pass is nothing more than a boarding pass for first of business class. But equally as often (ie Sydney airport) they are a separate document handed out at check in. I hoard these and keep spares in my travel wallet. You never know when you are going to need a spare (ie flying economy with the family). You will only realise the true value of having a spare when you have one;
  7. Smile: Security people get frowned at all day. Give them a smile.
  8. Afterwards - take a break and recombobulate.
Do you have any other tips to share? If you are looking for the TSA's official tip list look here.

PS - if you have no idea what the references to Recombobulation mean then read this post.

thanks to Larsz over a flickr for the photo


Stephen Joyce said...

Great Post Tim. I was just explaining some of the very same things to a colleague while we were waiting in line at Vancouver Airport. A little bit of preparation and knowing what sets off that darn metal detector can save you a lot of grief. Not to mention, your fellow passengers will be grateful for your speediness.

Tim Hughes said...

@Stephen - thanks. There is a definite community benefit in all travellers doing the little things to get through security fast. As a great speaker once said "Ask not what your fellow traveller can do for you but what can you do for your fellow traveller".

Carl Jackson said...

Yes, excellent post Tim, thanks. Agree with all here especially the line profiling part.

Only thing I'd possibly add is that with the vague'aries of metal detectors, belts sometimes go off and sometimes don't so it's one more thing that goes in the bag with rest (wallet, phone etc). I actually now have a travelling belt which has very minimal metal in it to stay under the aggregate threshold.

Also when travelling domestic, where you don't always have to be travelling to go the the gate, I wait until it's my turn and completely clear to walk through the detector before I put my bag on the conveyor for Xray. I've personally seen someone get to the other end and their phone was no longer with their belongings (another reason for strictly adhearing to point 5) but have also heard of someone having a laptop lifted after a (likely manufactured) delay in the line. Less likely with vigilance but possible.

Thanks for the tips. Recombobulating has been done with a chuckle since you shared this most excellent word in the previous post.

@Stephen J, If you have to be standing in line at an airport Vancouver is definitely one of the nicest.

Tim Hughes said...

@Carl - great tips re electronics. The security screen area is always chaos and it is too easy for things to get "lost".

Get A Trip said...

One of the biggest red flags and will place you on the "extra security search," is ticketing late. If one buys their ticket very last minute sometimes you are automatically placed on the maximal search which we all know is an extra 10 minutes. I have missed flights as a result of this. So many great tips here that we never thought of this is definitely worthy of a printout.

Tim Hughes said...

@GAT - true. Timing of buying tickets (and if you are on a one way sector) are also important.