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How to get through airport security efficiently

The airport. You either hate it or love it.

I love the airport. What I do not like about it is going through security and customs check. The process can be horrendous and exhausting, to say the least. Especially, when you are in an airport with high passenger traffic.

It is here, at the security/customs check, that you get to see passengers’ demeanor. I’ve seen passengers getting all panicky for fear of missing flights because of the long queues (this includes family members getting on each other’s nerves and couples arguing); passengers being asked to redo body check many times because they forget to remove something; passengers being held up because of suspicious items in their luggage, and the list goes on. It can be stressful.

However, all these can be avoided if you come prepared and follow the dos and don’ts. So, here’s what you should do in order to get through airport security smooth and fast.

1. Go to security checkpoint early


This is a no-brainer. If you happen to be at one of the world’s busiest airports and travelling at peak hours, get screened at least two hours prior to boarding time.

Going through airport security can take up almost an hour, especially during rush periods. You also need time to look for boarding gate. If you get to the security checkpoint early, you will have plenty of time to relax after that without worrying about missing a flight.

2. Dress smart and less


If you are going to wear accessories, limit them to watch, rings, and ear stud. Do not wear dangling earrings, statement necklaces, and bangles. They are not the easiest to take off. Ditch the belt too but if need to wear, remove it beforehand and put it in a bag/tray.

Do not wear metal buckle shoes and boots. You will be asked to take them off for screening. Scarf/shawl and jackets will be screened too. So, dress minimal and comfortable.

3. Separate gadgets (laptop, camera, handphone, power bank…)


If you are bringing lots of gadgets, pack them properly. Take gadgets out from luggage/backpack/handbag and place them in a tray. If security officers tell you to “take out any extra battery and electronic devices from bag”, please do yourself – and others – a favour and do as you’re told. This can save time.

A photographer friend was stopped during security check at Brunei International Airport. When an officer asked whether there was any electronic device in his luggage, he said no but the scanner monitor showed otherwise. So, his bag went through a second screening and my friend was asked to open luggage. The officer went through his belongings and found a camera battery charger.

NOTE: Some airport security will not allow powerbank on board. In Beijing airport, I’ve seen security officers confiscating powerbank. So, avoid bringing expensive portable chargers.

4. Prepare documents


Get all necessary documents printed and make sure passport is valid. Some countries require traveller to have six-month or three-month passport validity.

When going through security, passport and printed boarding pass do not need to go through screening along with your other items. Take them out and hold it. The security officer will ask to see a passport and boarding pass when you go for body check.

It is also important to find out the immigration regulations of a country, especially when travelling with minor. If you are travelling with children without their parents (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc), the immigration officer will ask to see letter of consent. You may be asked to pay fee too.

When I was travelling to the Philippines with my two nieces, we got stopped by the Philippine’s airport immigration officers. I wasted an hour or so at the immigration office, being interviewed and filling up forms. I also had to secure a waiver for my nieces. [Read post about travelling with minor to Philippines]

Last year, I brought my nieces to Iceland and I contacted the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration on the requirement. NOTE: If a minor is travelling with one parent or other relative to Iceland, the other parent/parents/legal guardians should give a written authorisation for such travel. The authorisation should be notarized.

5. Take care of your own tray/bags


Often time, passengers will place their trays and bags on the rolling platform of a scanning machine and go for body check straight away. This causes tray/bag congestion.

The rolling platform is not going to move. The one moving is the conveyor belt. So, please make sure your trays and bags are on the moving platform. Do not expect other passengers to push them for you.

6. Pack smart, separate liquids


Liquids regulation is strict, especially for international flights. You may pass through security with big liquid products when flying domestic, but not when taking an international flight. Observe the 3-1-1 rule.

This simply means, 1) each liquid must not be more than 3.4-ounce  (100ml); 2) all liquid containers must be kept in a clear plastic bag; 3) only one plastic bag is allowed per passenger. Take note that gel cream, aerosols, and roll on deodorants are classed as liquids.

So, pack only the necessary. Also no food and drinks.

My luggage got stopped by a security officer at Heathrow Airport. He separated my bag from the rest and instructed me to open it. There were mini toothpaste and a mini Vicks ointment. He took them to conduct swab and another screening. I was only allowed to repack my luggage once the second scanning process completed. This can take more than 30 minutes and imagine if there are many bags being stopped.

At Keflavik Airport, the security stopped my bag because I packed a yogurt. So do not bring food, even though it is liquid and less than 100ml.


Last but not least, be friendly and smile at the airport security and immigration officers. If you are stopped, keep calm and don’t make a scene. Have a safe journey.

[NOTE: Pictures posted do not belong to me. If anyone looking for royalty free images to use for personal and commercial purposes, go to]

1 Comment

  1. Irene says

    There is one more thing to remember, do not ever try to argue or scold the airline check in staff no matter how wrong they could be or you gonna end up like me being “marked” for a more throughly security checks. They will purposely draw a circle on the boarding pass (I believed this is their “secret” language for anyone they think is suspicious) just for the security to know and make sure they do a detailed search on your bags and some weird sticker rubbing on your bags and search on yourself too which will definitely use a longer time. The first was going through first security stop where you are just showing your passport and boarding pass to them to ensure you are a traveler to enter the departure area with all the duty free shops, then I noticed they are giving signal to the security officer behind them which I do not really pay attention at first then I was asked to screen my bags (hand carried bags) they start using some sticker after they can’t find anything when going through the scanning machine. Then I thought that was done, then I walked to the immigration for clearance and the officer stopped me and asked me to walk with him to a counter and they just took my passport and asked me to wait. Then they handed back my passport and so I thought that’s it. I start to feel weird cause I have never experienced this and I’ve been to this airport for many times too. So the only thing I can think of was the thing I did during the check in where the check in staff was being rude to my friend and I kind of ask her to speak properly. Maybe I just shouldn’t talk much cause when we walked into boarding hall for another security screening, the did the same by using the sticker to rub on the surface of our bags in hope to find something I guess after they cannot find anything from the machine and also asked us to take off our sandals where the flight is only an hour flight and only my friend and I were asked to take off ours. This is getting so so weird cause it’s only a sandal not even a covered shoe. Then I checked with the security officer what is going on and I told them about the incident during check in and their replies were “oh, that’s why la”
    I was really angry but I think I might have made stupid mistake too. Just to share my experience:)

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