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First Timer’s Guide: What You Need to Know About Airport Security

airport security guide

One of the unavoidable hassles of flying is dealing with airport security. But if you know what to expect and you arrive at the airport prepared, you can get through the security line with ease.

For the first-time traveler, here is our post on what you need to know about airport security so you can breeze by and get on to your trip of a lifetime!

Packing for airport security

You will have to take certain things out of your luggage in order to go through the security line, so it saves time if you pack with this in mind.

  • Liquids: All liquids in your carry-on luggage need to be 100ml/3.4 ounces or less, and all bottles must fit into a one quart/one liter zip-top bag. Pack this bag towards the top of your luggage or in an easy-to-access pocket so you can take it out quickly.
  • Laptop: Store your laptop where you can easily slide it out before going through the security line and easily put it away afterwards.
  • Other electronics: It doesn’t happen every time, but at some airports the security officials will ask you to remove tablets, Kindles or other e-readers, and sometimes other electronics like external hard drives. Make sure they are accessible in case you do have to take these out of your luggage.

Prohibited items

Before you leave for the airport, make sure you’re not carrying any prohibited items. No weapons, sharp objects, or anything that could pass as a weapon. Even your nail scissors should be left at home or in your checked luggage.

Remember that liquid containers above 100ml/3.4 ounces are prohibited, even if the bottle is almost empty. You are allowed to bring an empty water bottle to fill up once you’ve passed security.

Know what you can actually take through security.
Know what you can actually take through security.

Airport security is no laughing matter

Security officials are there to keep you safe. They have to take things seriously, which means a seemingly obvious joke will be taken seriously. Don’t make jokes about bombs or terrorists or guns or anything else really.

At the airport security check

Have your ID and boarding pass ready when you approach the security line. Once the official checks your ID and boarding pass, put them back in your luggage.

What you have to take out of your bag at airport security

Aside from taking your liquids bag and laptop out of your luggage, there are a few other things you have to do at airport security. In the US and many other countries, you have to take off your shoes before going through the security line. (This may vary depending on the destination you’re flying to or even the type of shoes you’re wearing.)

Also, remove your belt, anything you have in your pockets, and anything metal like a watch. If you’re wearing a jacket, take that off as well.

Use the plastic bins provided to hold your belongings. Typically your laptop gets its own bin. Put your shoes, liquids bag, and anything else you have removed from your luggage or pockets in another bin. Don’t stack things on top of each other though, so you might need additional bins depending on how much stuff you have.

Airport Security
Airport security scanners vary by destination and airport.

Scanning and collecting belongings

Scanners vary by location. In some airports, you might simply walk through a metal detector while at others you will stand in a full body scanner.

Once you get through this part, gather your belongings as quickly as possible, and move out of the way to nearby tables or chairs to repack your bag. I try to send the bin with my shoes in it through the x-ray first, that way I can slip my shoes back on while the rest of my stuff is still coming through the conveyor belt.

By following these tips for getting through airport security, you’ll be on your way to enjoying your trip quickly and hopefully without much hassle. Do you have any other advice for dealing with airport security?

what you need to know about airport security

Written by Ali

Ali Garland is a freelance writer, blogger, and travel addict who made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She enjoys travel planning, encouraging others to see the world, and packing carry-on only. She and her husband are expats living in Berlin. You can find Ali at Ali's Adventures and Travel Made Simple.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Kaci says

    Always be nice to the staff. I have a metal plate in my leg so I always get stopped for extra screening/pat downs and stuff. I’ve found I don’t get roughly handled or treated overly poorly as long as I’m polite and cooperative. It’s okay to dislike the rules and be annoyed about the situation provided that you remember the staff there with you didn’t make the rules and they can’t change them, either.

  2. Clariza says

    -wear socks so you don’t have to walk on the dirty floor that thousands of people have just walked on

    -make sure you push your bins all the way until the conveyor belt catches it and pulls it through the scanner

    -you can use more than one bin

    -I second the tip on getting out of the way! When your bins come through, grab your stuff and move to seats that may be provided or move to an area away from the search area. So many times, I see people standing at the other side of the scanners, taking their time putting their shoes and belts back on, sorting out their keys, coins and other things right there where everyone else is either trying to get through security or trying to do their job conducting security checks. It is not the time or place to be rethinking your packing strategy or count your change.

  3. Need A Nap2 says

    You’ll need to put your sunglasses in the bin too. 🙂 In an international airport, I got my hands scanned b/c I was holding my husband’s books – it was weird but no big deal. We went to Africa and you had to take your glasses off when going through one part b/c they take your temperature (looking for Ebola).

  4. Andrea says

    Going through Paris Airport in transit last April, I had to take EVERY electronic thing out….my DSLR, photo viewer included.

    Some airports don’t mind that the liquid bag is in your bag, as long as the liquids are in a clear bag. (Went through a few US & Heathrow airports last month and it varied)

    • Ali says

      Andrea, the Paris airport is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote that! I had to do the same thing in transit there once. It was before I was even traveling with a laptop or kindle, but I had to take out my camera, phone, travel alarm clock, everything!

    • Angela says

      I have a battery inside my body, I have a card that I carry to show people
      I take lots of medications so how can all my medications and the personal stuff fit in a 1 gallon zip bag

      • Miranda says

        Medications often don’t count as part of your 1L bag as long as they are clearly prescriptions issued from a pharmacy with the appropriate labels. I would put any liquid medications in a separate plastic bag and take it out at the same time as your other liquids bag. This is just what I’ve read from other blogs though, so take it with a grain of salt and perhaps phone the airline in advance to confirm.

  5. Lisa says

    I always keep an eye on whatever I put on the conveyor belt until I have to go through the X-ray machine (sorry don’t know the official name for it). There is a lot going on during security and someone can easily take your stuff either by accident or on purpose. Also, don’t assume the security guys are always on the up and up either. I hold my passport in my hand because it is the only thing that, if lost or taken, will stop the trip. While I would not want anything else stolen, it can all be replaced. If I’m traveling with my husband and I get to the luggage before him, I take his stuff and vice versa. When I am able to take the bags to a sitting area, I check them to make sure the important things are still there. I know it sounds a bit paranoid but I’ve heard stories so an ounce of prevention….

  6. CreepingJennie says

    The most thorough airport screening I consistently experience is RAP, Rapid City Regional Airport, in Rapid City, South Dakota. Fortunately the staff is also very kind and friendly.

    RAP beats out any international airport I have ever been in any place in the world for thoroughness in scanning. I’m guessing because it’s a very small airport, and they don’t have a lot to do.

    • Ronna Chapman says

      Do handheld video games need to have battery charged if in carry on luggage lthey are gifts still in original boxes

  7. Tara says

    Thank you for this 🙂 It’s certainly not my first time going through an airport, but I get so strangely nervous every time I do that I forget all over again what it is that I need to do haha This was a perfect refresher 🙂

  8. Tish says

    Beware of bath salts!!! I was delayed 45 minutes on my return flight due to bath salts I bought at CVS during my trip. They didn’t PASS their security test so don’t even bother traveling with them. Not worth the trouble at all!!!

  9. Kim says

    I understand about liquids but what about prescription medications? Do I need to pack my medications together and put those on another ziplock bag? They are pills, not liquids.

  10. The German says

    I always have a jutebag with me in which I put all the small items from my pockets like money, mobile phone, sun glasses, ear buds, belt etc. I can just grab my backpack and that jutebag from the bins and be out of the way – this might be helpful for guys who don’t have a purse with them.
    Also be aware with your local laws regarding sharp objects (like pocket knifes). It’s legal in the EU to carry a small pocket knife with a blade up to 6cm. I always carry a small Swiss Army Knife with no saw next to my spork. Never had any trouble in the EU.

  11. SAYED says

    Do I need to put my money bag in the plastic box if I carry more than 4,000-5,000 dollars or I can keep it with me with my passport while I go through the scanner?

    • Ali says

      You can’t keep your passport or anything in your pockets, and you can’t wear a money belt while going through the scanner. I highly recommend putting your money belt inside your luggage to go through security. That’s a LOT of cash to be traveling with (are you sure you need to be carrying that much cash around?) and if you just have it sitting in a bin in your money belt, it’s too easy for someone to grab while you’re not looking.

    • Brooke says

      Is that a tube of cream/gel? If so, you will most likely have to put it in your liquids bag and make sure the tube is less than 3.4 ounces (100ml). I just did a quick search and there are travel sized tubes of this product. Bring one or several depending on how long the trip will be and your needs.

    • Chelsea says

      Medical items (denture cream, diaper rash cream, contact solution, cold medicine, etc.) are actually exempt from the “3-1-1” rule. They just need to undergo additional screening if they are larger than travel size (100ml or 3.4 fl oz).

        • Ali says

          I’ve seen it both ways, and I think it just depends on the airport. Watch what other people in front of you do. Some airports don’t have big enough bins for your backpack, while others want literally everything that goes through to be in a bin.

      • Ali says

        Yes, you really do need to put your carry-on liquids in a bag. It must be a 1 quart (1 liter) clear zip top bag, and each thing you put in that bag can be 3.4 ounces (100ml) or smaller. So even a 5 ounce bottle that’s almost empty is unacceptable.

        • Mepragoo says

          Can you wear clothes with metal zippers through the scanner? Or jeans with metal buttons and embellishments?

  12. Taylor says

    I heard that I can put liquids over 3.4 ounces in my checked bag and they wouldn’t have a problem, is this true? I have a buuunch of beauty products that I always carry with me when I am staying somewhere and this is the first time I am traveling on my own and internationally on top of that. Would I be able to put my skincare products over 3.4 ounces in my checked bag instead of my carry-on? Also how do I search for the right luggage to buy that would be approved? I am going on Korean Air on a economy flight, I am allowed one carry-on and two checked bags up to 23kg, it says the maximum size of the bags is 65 inches, does that mean I count the bag’s height, width and length to see if it is under 65 inches?

    • Brooke says

      Hi Taylor – Yes, you can put as many liquids as you need in your checked bag. I believe they calculate the 65 inches by adding the height + width + length of the bag. Remember to take only what you need, especially if you’ll be on the move while in Korea. It’s no fun to lug around 2 giant suitcases and a carry-on suitcase, and when alone on top of that 🙂

  13. Barbara says

    This was perfect for me to read. I am flying for the first time and all of what you wrote about will help me have a great flight.

  14. brian says

    do I need my prescribed tablets in their original packaging or are they ok in the blister packs, I am only away for a few days so it seems a lot of hassle to take them all in the original boxes ??

  15. Ana says

    Do I have to keep my birth control pills in their original packaging in a clear bag or just the blisters will do? I am traveling by Air Canada

  16. Kathy says

    What about powder make up all of my make up is bareMinerals and it’s all powder is that allowed ?

  17. Sarah says

    I agree with wearing socks as well! And easy-on shoes. I have a pair of Minnetonka slippers I have designated JUST for traveling. They’re navy blue and have a hard sole like a shoe, but are flexible, lightweight, and cost for long flights (especially in the winter). It takes me less than 5 seconds to take them off and put them back on (Maybe a few more if my clumsy butt falls over but that’s on me!)

    Things I learned flying in 2018:

    ALL snacks require additional screening now—it used to just be “exempt” foods such as baby food & formula—and I had to dump my ENTIRE backpack out to find 2 granola bars and a few pieces of hard candy that had (inevitably) sifted to the bottom. So keep all snacks contained in their own zipper bag, pocket, etc. (if you’re traveling as a family, designate one “personal item”, like a smaller kid’s backpack, JUST for snacks!).

    Don’t expect to be fed on ANY flight, regardless of length. I know many airlines offer paid meals, but not all. I was on a 4.5 hour flight at Christmas, and with short layovers, ended up not being able to eat a meal for over 12 hours! (It made the hassle of the snack screening worth it!!)

    If you’re a Build-a-Bear family, and your kiddo likes those annoyingly sweet-smelling scent packs? They *might* set off the scanners. It’s something hard and foreign inside a stuffed animal. After 3 passes on the belt, TSA asked me what was inside. A 4th scan after explaining the little hard plastic scent packs at BAB, they finally let us have Sonic the Hedgehog back, but it was touch&go for a good 15 minutes. That could have ruined my son’s trip, too, bc Sonic is his absolute FAVORITE BAB (and we own a lot)

    Also a very awesome tip for traveling families: if you have a kiddo young enough for a stroller, but who can also sit up on their own, opt for a folding wagon! Seriously. They’re as easy to set up as a stroller but 1000 times better! I managed to lug 2 backpacks, 2 roller bags, a 5yo, and a car seat through the airport with minimal issues! Mostly because 1 roller, 1 backpack, the car seat, and the kid could ALL fit inside the wagon! It was admittedly, a tight squeeze, but it worked.

    Lastly for family travel: LONG LAY-OVERS. I mentioned short layovers above? Yeah. Nightmare! Less than 20 minutes between flights alone is rough. With a kid in the mix, we were both in tears by the time we got to our gate, as the very last people to board the flight (seriously….I was RUNNING to the gate as they were doing final checks before closing it down! From now on, I want a minimum of 2 hours between flights….my layover started out at about 45 minutes but delays dropped it to less than 20!!)

  18. Finlee says

    I am not flying for the first time, but it is the first time flying while on daily medication pills. I’m not totally sure what to do with it, some say just leave it in bag, some say put it in clear bag. I’m flying through Alaska Airlines. I am also wondering about the ID. i am 14 and dont have an ID. previous times i used school ID cards but now it is summer and i dont have one. what do i do?

  19. Hazel says

    We’re going to Bolivia South America, from the UK, and I want to take freeze dried food which I believe is okay in hand luggage. I also have wet army ration packs too so do I just put those in my luggage for the hold? The latter can be heated with little things in a bag you add water to and they self heat, are these allowed in hold luggage? Is my pen knife okay in my hold luggage. We’ll need a machete for the jungle am I allowed to take that in my hold luggage? Or a large knife? Can you take a container of coffee in hand luggage? Thanks.

    • Brooke says

      Wow this is a unique set of questions! First thing – no weapons in cabin baggage. As for hold luggage, I’m not sure about the larger items. You will need to check with your airline to make sure what you can carry (and how) in luggage. There are some articles floating around the web saying that a machete can be in hold luggage if it’s sheathed, but I am not an official source and would not want to give misguided info. Have a great trip!

  20. esther says

    Hi there I’m just checking I have 4 kids I’m just checking 2 are the same father and the other 2 are not the same father I’m traveling on December to Dubai I’m just checking if I would need a court order to travel with them

    • Brooke says

      Hi Esther, you will need to check with a consulate for official travel regulations. It sounds like you may need an authorization from the father, but I have no real experience there.

  21. Kat says

    Airports vary and you have to adjust. Keep things simple enough that you can watch fellow passengers and read all the signs for clues. Some weird things: I have had a bungee cord confiscated in Argentina (who knew it could be a weapon) and had to spend 45 minutes extra with seven agents of varying responsibility in a domestic airport unwrapping and receiving permission to carry on a sculpture that incorporated 2 tiny empty compressed CO2 cartridges. We actually had to look up the sculptor and the piece online on an award site because their only suggestion was to disassemble those parts and discard the “contraband”, which also could not be shipped in the hold though I had baggage allowance remaining. Thank goodness we were able to find someone high up enough to issue me a waiver! Sculptures or anything made of dense material can be carried on only if you allow a lot of time before your flight to check it out and a sense of humor and good will go a long way. If valuable, never ever put them in your checked baggage to be stolen or damaged. Budget either time or money for shipping before you get to the airport. If I didn’t have a habit of traveling to art conventions and collecting, I would have saved myself countless hours.

  22. JoAnn Reid says

    I am flying this tuesday, june 9th. When going thru TSA security are they using bins? I would like to put everything that goes into bins in clear plastic bags. I don’t think they spray these bins? Someone told me they are now using bags for your stuff. I checked with a SW representative and he didn’t know? 🙁 Also I have to be scanned since I have three devices in my knee, wrist and neck. I’m always nervous when being scanned because my luggage goes way ahead of when they are finished scanning and I am worried about loosing my stuff. thank you, Joann R

    • Brooke says

      Hi Joann – sorry about not getting to you before the 9th! I’m actually not sure what is happening at the airport at the moment – are they spraying the bins?

  23. Don says

    Only in the USA are passengers told to handle the bins/baskets and to put them back in the stack while countless TSA agents just stand around watching and enjoying the site.

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