10 TSA Line Mistakes To Avoid

One of our least favorite parts of air travel is going through security. However, it’s nothing against the men and doing their job to keep us safe.

It’s not our first rodeo when we get to the security checkpoint. We know what to do and try to prepare for it. Unfortunately, one of us always gets stuck behind the person where it is their first rodeo.

Today, we want to help you avoid being “that” person at the airport. Here are 10 TSA line mistakes you want to avoid making.

Let’s take off!

What Is TSA?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a federal agency under the United States Department of Homeland Security. Its creation was in response to the events that unfolded on September 11, 2001. Their primary focus is ensuring safety and security at airports.

If you’ve traveled anytime in the last 20 years, you likely encountered one of their agents. They used high-tech devices to scan luggage and detect prohibited items. They also manage the no-fly list and constantly evaluate protocols and procedures to minimize potential threats.

What is the TSA 3-1-1 Liquids Rule?

The Transportation Security Administration adopted the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule in 2006. It concerns the amount of liquids, gels, aerosols, creams, and pastes a passenger can pack in their carry-on luggage.

The policies regarding these items are black and white. Individuals caught in violation could have the items confiscated and be subject to further screening.

Under the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule, passengers can bring no more than 3.4 ounces per container. In addition, all of these containers must fit into a single quart-sized bag. Lastly, passengers can only carry one of these bags onboard the plane.

Here is A Ranking Of The Most Stressful Airports in the World.

10 TSA Line Mistakes To Avoid

If you want a smooth trip through TSA, there are several mistakes you’ll want to avoid. Let’s look at some of the most common blunders you might see.

Dressing Incorrectly

A significant mistake you can make when going through the TSA line is to dress incorrectly. Avoid wearing excessive amounts of jewelry, large belt buckles, or other metal items that could trigger alarms. You want things that are simple and easy to remove, including your shoes.

If you’re unaware, most of these checkpoints require removing your shoes. Consider this when choosing your footwear. If removing or putting them on is difficult, you might choose different shoes. Again, you want everything to be as simple as possible. Say what you will about Crocs, but they’re the perfect shoes going through TSA.

Packing Wrong

Did you know you can make a TSA mistake before arriving at the airport? Incorrectly packing your carry-on bag could create a frustrating situation for yourself and the security agents.

Check the prohibited items list on the TSA’s website. Avoid packing any of the items that are on this list. When in doubt, reach out to them and ask about a specific item.

Some common sense things you should leave behind include sharp objects, firearms, and flammable materials. Showing up to the checkpoint with these items will likely land you in hot water with the agents. Don’t be surprised if they do further screening.

We mentioned the 3-1-1 rule for liquids previously. It is your responsibility to ensure you comply with this rule. If not, they could force you to throw items into the trash or return to the airline counter to check the article. This can be frustrating and potentially cause you to miss your flight.

An airport line in the background and a scanner looking at luggage going through security check in the foreground

Having Multiple Bags

Your carry-on bags are the only luggage you bring through the TSA line. In most situations, you get one personal bag and one carry-on bag. Your carry-on bag must fit in the overhead compartment, and your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you.

The least amount of bags you have, the better. Trying to navigate the chaos of TSA with multiple bags can be challenging. When flying, we do our best to pack as much as possible in our checked bags so we aren’t carrying heavy bags through the airport.

Parents with little ones may bring a diaper bag to make it easier to carry essentials onto the plane. However, ensure all your items comply with the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule. Typically, baby formula and food are medically essential items and are unrestricted.

Arriving Late

Most airlines recommend passengers arrive at least two hours before domestic and three hours before international flights. This ensures you have plenty of time to check your bags, navigate security, and find your gate.

If we’ve learned anything from traveling, expect the unexpected. You never know when a situation out of your control will create a problem. You could arrive at the airport and find a massive line at security. Avoid the stress and give yourself time to navigate TSA without worrying about making your flight.

A senior man being inspected by a TSA agent at airport security.

Being Unaware of Your Surroundings

Another mistake you want to avoid at TSA is being unaware of your surroundings. Trust us; we love our phones as much as anyone else. However, we try to keep them in our pockets while going through the security checkpoint.

We’ve seen individuals with their heads buried in their phones, unaware that the line has moved. While some may politely inform you about the line moving, not everyone will be so gentle. If someone is in a hurry, they’ll have less patience for that behavior.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, be aware of how close you’re standing next to people. Don’t be the creepy person standing so close that others can tell what you had for lunch. Be considerate and give everybody their space.

Not having Documents Organized

When it’s your turn to talk with the TSA agent, they’ll request to see your boarding pass and a form of ID. Get them out beforehand and have everything ready to hand to the agent.

They’ll likely not be happy if you wait until you’re standing before them to find your documents.

Keeping your travel documents organized can help ensure you pass through TSA smoothly. Additionally, it can help you avoid losing your passport, driver’s license, or any other essential items.

Close up shot of a passport in a hand with a boarding pass tucked inside.

Having Your Hands Full

Like multiple bags, you want to minimize the items in your hands when passing through the TSA line. You’ll typically get asked to remove your belt, shoes, jewelry, and other metal items. Normally, this requires the use of both hands.

If you don’t have a bag, use the plastic trays to store your stuff. Put everything you can in them and remove your shoes and other effects. You’ll eventually need to place any items in the tray, so do it from the start.

Here are 10 Items Experienced Travelers Don’t Pack

Choosing the Wrong Line

Like at the grocery store, which line you choose can impact your ability to get through the checkpoint smoothly. Some agents and passengers are faster than others. When it’s an option, notice how quickly things move and choose the quickest line.

However, sometimes agents take the decision out of your hands. They’ll direct you where to go. Generally, it’s going to be the fastest option.

Unless there’s a good reason not to, we recommend listening to what these individuals say. Saving yourself a few minutes isn’t worth pushing buttons in these situations. 

A woman with a backpack and a suitcase standing in a long line for airport security.


Don’t make the mistake of trying to rush through the TSA line. Agents generally operate as quickly as possible but have an essential job. They aim for you and the thousands of other passengers to arrive at your final destination safely.

Additionally, rushing increases the chances of leaving items behind when you complete the screening procedure. We’ve heard of individuals leaving sunglasses, laptops, and jewelry behind.

Take your time throughout the entire process, especially when gathering your belongings.

Creating Problems

Remember, you’re dealing with federal agents with a serious job. This isn’t the time to play jokes or create problems. Follow the TSA guidelines and instructions provided by the security personnel.

Some of these workers may not have a sense of humor or be in the mood for your jokes. Address them respectfully and calmly, and you’ll be through eventually.

On the other hand, it won’t end well if you bring several prohibited items and treat them rudely. They may hold you for further screening just long enough that you get to watch your plane leave the gate. Trust us, this is one battle that you’re going to lose every time.

Airport scanner machine with bags coming out of it.

Avoid These Mistakes When Going Through TSA

Going through TSA can be a stressful and frustrating experience. However, it doesn’t have to be. If you avoid making these 10 TSA line mistakes, you’ll set yourself up for success.

We’ve been through many times and have rarely had any significant issues. So, pack your bags and head out for your next adventure!

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