Do's and Don'ts in Airport Security

Airport security refers to the methods used in order to keep the passengers, crew and aircraft safe. At the same time, it serves to protect the country and their people from any potentially dangerous situations. Several incidents of hijacking or terrorist attacks that occurred throughout history have led to stricter security measures for those travelling by plane.

The authority that is responsible for the airport security is different from country to country and most of the times the primary personnel includes a police force that is dedicated to the airport. For instance, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the authority that protects the traveling public in the United States, whereas the restrictions involving airport security in Hong Kong is determined by the Hong Kong Police Force and Aviation Security Company (AVSECO).


Security Measures

Security Measures

At every airport, the authority in charge incorporates various measures in order to accomplish their security mission. These measures include screening techniques, and once the screening process has begun, you are obliged by law to undergo the procedure. The screening methods are:

 Carry-on Baggage Screening: Your carry-on baggage will be screened for explosives or other dangerous items and you will be asked to remove personal electronic devices (laptops, tablets, e-readers and game consoles) from your carry-on bag and place them into a bin with nothing placed on or under them for X-ray screening. You may need to do the same for any kind of food or snacks that are in your carry-on baggage.

 Checked Baggage Screening: Your checked bag will be screened before it is transported by your airline on your respective flight. The majority of checked baggage is screened without the need for a physical bag search. In case of a physical inspection of your property, the officer will place a notice inside your bag, so that you know that it was physically searched.

 Pat-down Screening: Pat-down screening is part of unpredictable security measures and only a few passengers are selected to undergo this procedure. It may include inspection of the head, neck, arms, torso, legs, feet as well as sensitive areas, such as breasts, groin, and the buttocks. You may be asked to adjust clothing during the pat-down. The officers are obliged to use the back of their hands for pat-downs over the sensitive areas of the body and they are trained to tell you where they are about to touch you. Of course, the screening will be conducted by an officer of the same gender. Keep in mind that you have the right to request private screening accompanied by a friend or a family member. A second officer of the same gender will always be present during private screening.  

  Full-body Screening: This procedure applies to all passengers and includes walk-through metal detectors and advanced imaging technology. You will be screened without physical contact for metallic and non-metallic threats that may be concealed under clothing. Some people do not like to be touched; some others have fears concerning the radiation exposure of the metal detectors and do not like the idea of scanners looking through their clothes. The best advice is to get informed about your options and decide which one is the best for you.  

Can I choose a pat-down instead of a full-body screening?

full-body screening

The truth is that you can opt out of the full-body screening but, of course, you cannot avoid the screening procedures in general. If you decide to opt out, you will be subject to a pat-down inspection, which means that an agent will touch parts of your body with a gloved hand. Pat-downs were used for passengers who set off an alarm of the metal detector, but now they are mainly used for anyone who refuses to go through a full-body scanner.

Although it is said that the scanners used today are less harmful than previous versions, there are travelers who refuse to use them. No one knows for sure if they’re dangerous or not, so it is advisable – at least – for certain groups of people to be cautious. Specifically, pregnant women, young kids, and people who have already been exposed to a lot of radiation (or are medically treated with radiation) should choose a pat-down screening.  

There is also a privacy issue raised concerning this method. Some people cannot stand the thought that a machine can see under their clothes. Despite the fact that the software claims to indicate a generic outline of a person, which is identical for all passengers, and not passenger-specific images, many refuse to get through this type of screening.

So, if you decide to get through a pat-down, politely tell the screener that you would rather not use the full-body screener. You have the right to refuse the scan, so if the agent insists, remain calm and polite, and try to show him that you are aware of your rights.

How do I get through a pat-down screening?

pat-down screening

Here are some tips that will help you undergo this procedure with your dignity intact:

 Ask the agent’s name. It is suggested to introduce yourself to the agent who is going to search your body parts and politely ask his name, in case you need it later.

 Chose a public or private screening. The chances for misunderstanding are higher in a private screening area; however, you have the right to ask for a companion of your choice to accompany you. Keep in mind that a second officer of the same gender will also be present during the private screening. If you feel that being searched in a public area would be safer, then ask for it. Honestly, it is clearly based on your preferences.

  Notify the agent about any medical conditions you might have. If you have an injury or a health problem, no matter how insignificant, do not hesitate to mention it. Tell the agent about your sensitivities and he or she will treat you carefully.

 Don’t be afraid to talk.Do not hesitate do give the agent constant feedback. And, of course, if you are feeling uncomfortable you should say something immediately. If the agent is touching your genital area or in a way that makes you uncomfortable, step back and ask for a supervisor. Also keep in mind that the officer is not supposed to remove or lift any part of your clothing to reveal sensitive body areas.

How do I get through the screening faster?

How do I get through the screening faster

Passing through airport security can be one of the most frustrating aspects of travelling. Here are some tips that will help you get through the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

 Enroll in services. Programs like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR can help you get through the line faster. All you have to do is pay a fee and verify your identity in person at the airport before you travel and you are allowed to bypass the crowds in the security line. The non-refundable application fee for TSA PreCheck is $85 (for five years) and $100 (for five years) for Global Entry.

 Fly in a premium class. Premium-class passengers move much faster through the system than the rest of us.

 Avoid flying during peak times. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should change your plans. But if you have this flexibility, avoid travel peaks like national holidays or go to smaller nearby airports which are usually less crowded.

 Pack light. Carry on only what you need to access while you’re traveling. Bring a small carry-on if possible, and do not fill it with unnecessary stuff.

 Be prepared. Stow everything except your ID/passport and boarding pass that you will be asked to show before the screening. This way, you will not be looking for them when you reach the security line.

 Place the bag of liquids on top. By packing the bag of liquids last, it can be easily removed while you are waiting in line and you won’t waste time digging through your bag to take them out.

 Dress strategically. Wear shoes that you can easily take on and off, so that it will not slow down the process. Also, if you can avoid wearing a jacket, do it. Taking it off and on is another factor that can slow down the screening.

 Avoid wearing metal accessories. Do not wear anything that would make the metal detector beep. This includes belt buckles, watches and jewelry, which you will be asked to place into a bin for a separate screening. You could avoid this time-consuming process by not wearing such accessories.

 Know the rules. There are specific rules that must be followed if you want to carry liquids. You should also be aware of the prohibited articles in your carry-on bag.

 Be friendly and relaxed. Be friendly, for obvious reasons. And don’t be nervous; you might look suspicious and you could get a secondary screening.

While being checked, an agent might conduct a brief interview with you. This chat might include basic questions like “Where are you going? Why and for how long?”. You are not obliged to answer the questions if you find them too personal, but, keep in mind that you may face a scan or a pat-down screening because of that.

What are the items NOT allowed on the airplane?

the items NOT allowed on the airplane

Here is a list of the prohibited articles in your hand luggage:

 guns, weapons, knives,

 firearms of all types, such as pistols, revolvers, shotguns,

 toy guns and imitation firearms,

 fireworks and fire extinguishers,

 aerosols that might be flammable,

 devices for shocking, such as stun guns,

 animal stunners and animal killers,

 razor blades, knives with blades of more than 6 cm,

 disabling chemical, gases and sprays,

 martial arts equipment and self-defense items,

 any kind of explosives.

This is a list of the items that are not allowed in the majority of the airports. In general, items capable, or appearing capable, of being used to cause injuries or pose a threat to the safety of the aircraft, are strictly prohibited.

What is the liquid allowance for hand luggage?

the liquid allowance for hand luggage

At most international airports, there are restrictions concerning the liquids that passengers can pack in their carry-on luggage. Liquids are included in the category of LAGs (Liquids Aerosols and Gels), and the rules are the same for all of them. LAGs can be water and other drinks, creams, cosmetics, oils, shower gels, sprays, perfumes, shaving foam, toothpaste, deodorants, lip gloss and any other item of similar consistency.  The general rules that apply to LAGs are:

 LAGs must be carried in containers with a capacity no greater than 100 ml each and,

 these containers must be places in a transparent re-sealable plastic bag of a capacity not exceeding 1 liter.

Essential medicines, as well as baby food and milk are permitted in quantities larger than 100 ml, but only if it is important to be used during the trip. You may also be asked to prove their authenticity. The restrictions for LAGs are the same at all the airports worldwide but each airline has slightly different procedures. If you feel uncertain about the items you want to carry, it is advisable to contact with your airline before your travel.

What about electronic devices?

electronic devices

One you reach the airport security, you have to remove your laptop and other large electronic devices from your carry-on bag and place them into a bin for separate screening. This applies to portable electronic devices such as watches, calculating machines, cameras, cellular phones, laptop computers, etc., containing lithium metal or lithium ion cells or batteries.

Spare (uninstalled) lithium ion and lithium metal batteries should be individually protected in the original retail packaging or by taping over exposed terminals or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag. All spare lithium batteries are prohibited in checked baggage and must be placed in carry-on. If you carry any devices in your checked bag, make sure that they are completely turned off.

Be careful before buying a smart bag that you plan to carry on the plane. Smart bags are suitcases outfitted with USB charging stations, GPS tracking, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other high tech features. More and more airlines are starting to ban these bags if the lithium batteries are non-removable. Only certain bags with removable batteries will be allowed on flights, as long as passengers take the batteries out and keep them in the cabin.

What about other dangerous goods?

dangerous goods

Dangerous goods are solids, liquids or gases with hazardous properties which, if not controlled correctly, can be dangerous for human health, other living organisms, property, or the environment. The prohibited items that have been mentioned above, like guns and weapons, are dangerous goods for obvious reasons. There are also other items, like the electronic devices which, when transported by aircraft, are a risk to health and safety if not controlled properly. To eliminate the chances of being harmful, the airlines have specific restrictions for these goods. The most frequently asked questions refer to:

  • Safety Matches or Cigarette Lighter: You are allowed to carry only one small packet of safety matches or a small cigarette lighter in your checked or carry-on bag. However, lighter fuel, lighter refills, “strike anywhere” matches and cigar lighters are prohibited.

  • Alcoholic Beverages: Each traveler can take up to 5 liters of alcohol, with alcohol content between 24% and 70%, as checked luggage if it is packaged in a sealable bottle or flask. In your carry-on baggage, you can pack as many 100 ml bottles of liquids sealed in a plastic bag. Only one bag is permitted per passenger. Keep in mind that it is not allowed to drink an alcoholic beverage on board, unless it is served by the aircraft.

  • Food: You can carry food in your hand luggage, as long as they do not contain sauces or other liquids, such as soups and stews. Also, the size of the container must not be over 100ml, no matter of the amount contained inside.

  • Hair curlers, hair straighteners, or flat iron: You may carry these items on a plane but, obviously, they cannot be used on-board. Gas refills for such curlers are not allowed in checked or carry-on baggage.

Travel restrictions are different from country to country and from airport to airport. Before flying, it is advisable to check the safety regulations in your destination. What goes in one country might not fly in other countries. Just because you have an item on the plane at your departure doesn’t mean that you will be allowed to have it at another country. 

Can I put duty free in carry-on baggage?

tax and duty free

Yes, you can. Even if you buy alcohol, perfume or any other liquids at the airport that exceeds 100 ml, you are allowed to carry them on board. However, the duty free must be unopened and sealed in an airport security bag and the receipt must remain inside the bag as a proof of the purchase time. Again you need to check the duty free allowance that applies in the destination you want to travel. It is advisable to get informed about what you can import in a country before buying anything at the duty free.

How do I file a claim?

travel security

If you have a problem with travel security, report it immediately. Do not wait until you get home, as you may never get a fix. If your luggage is delayed, goes missing, gets damaged on a flight, act straightaway. In all cases, file your claim within 24 hours of landing for domestic flights and within 7 days for international flights.

In case your luggage is delayed, you need to fill out a form which you will be given at the airline desk, whereas if the bag is damaged you have to write to the airline within seven days of receiving your luggage. If your baggage is missing, you’ll need to describe it accurately, and it would be even more helpful if you have a photo of your bag. In most cases, the airline will track down your back and return it to you within a short period of time.

If you do not receive an answer from your airline within three days after you file your claim, do not hesitate to call the airline’s claims office. If you are still not satisfied with their response, ask politely to speak with a supervisor. 

Keep in mind that...

Planning the trip

Planning your trip ahead and knowing what to expect is always the best solution. Be aware of the restrictions that apply to each airport and country and you’ll certainly have a smooth and painless flight. All the information mentioned above is relevant to the majority of the airports; however, for more detailed information you should visit your airline’s website or the website of the national authority responsible for airport security.

Edited  by Eleni Gkovedarou

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