You’ve made all your reservations, packed your bags, and arrived at the airport well ahead of your scheduled departure time. One major hurdle remains: the dreaded security line.

I think it’s safe to say that no traveler hopes to encounter a long line at airport security. Waiting patiently until you finally make it to the front, where you suddenly must hurry up and unpack and strip down, then repack and dress in seconds while the person behind you grumbles about the possibility of missing his or her flight—now that’s a recipe for stress!

Those of us who travel frequently have the rhythm down pat: take off shoes, belt, and jacket; remove laptop from carry-on bag and place it in bin; put clear plastic bag with containers of liquids into bin. If I’m by myself, the experience is usually quick and painless. However, when I travel with mom (or my 26-month-old nieces!) it’s a completely different story.

Read on for some tips on how to get through airport security as quickly and painlessly as possible.

 

Arrive Early

It is possible to make it through the security line with your aging parent—and without losing your mind. I do it all the time with my mom in her wheelchair. My first piece of advice is this: get to the airport early.

Arrive at the airport a good two hours (or at least 90 minutes) before your flight to give yourself plenty of time to get through that line. Arriving shortly before your scheduled departure guarantees an extremely stressful wait at security and the possibility of missing your flight, neither of which is a good way to start a journey!

 

Follow the TSA Rules

Read up on the latest travel rules and regulations on the Transportation Security Administration’s website. (Note that the TSA has special screening policies for passengers 75 and older.) As of mid-January 2014, travelers must do the following when going through airport security:

  • Have your boarding pass and identification handy and ready for inspection.
  • Remove your shoes and place them on the x-ray machine belt. (Travelers 75 or older are exempt from this.)
  • If you’re wearing a sweater or jacket, take it off and put it through the x-ray machine. (Travelers 75 or older are exempt from this, too.)
  • Empty your pockets. Place your wallet, belt, keys, change, cell phone, and bulky jewelry in a bin.
  • Place your plastic zip-top bag of liquids in a bin.
  • Take your laptop out of its bag and place it in a separate bin.
  • Don’t put wrapped gifts in your carry-on. If a security officer has to check that item, he or she won’t hesitate to unwrap it.

 

Pack Your Liquids Correctly

The TSA has very specific rules about how to pack liquids, gels, and aerosols. In your carry-on bag, you’re allowed only one quart-sized, clear plastic zip-top bag of containers with those items—and each container may hold only a maximum of 3.4 ounces. (Don’t worry, you can still pack liquids in containers of greater volume. But you must put them in your checked baggage. I suggest placing them in plastic bags in case of a spill.) When you go through the security screening, you’ll have to remove this bag from your carry-on and place it in a separate bin to go through the x-ray machine.

If you have liquid medications that you must carry on the plane, they don’t need to go in the zip-top bag, and their containers may exceed 3.4 ounces. Pack them in an easily accessible spot, though, in case security needs to inspect them. As I mentioned in an earlier post about packing medical supplies, it’s also a good idea to bring a printed list of medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), prescription forms, and doctor contact information.

 

If You Have Disabilities or Medical Issues

If you or your traveling companions have any disabilities or medical conditions, be sure to request any services that may help you get through security (and the rest of the airport) more smoothly. The TSA doesn’t provide these services, but airlines often do. Before Mom and I go on a trip, for example, I always call our airline in advance to request a wheelchair for her.

Take a look at the TSA web page “Travelers with Disabilities or Medical Conditions,” which has plenty of helpful information. If you have questions about screening policies and procedures, or about what to expect from the security check, call the TSA Cares help line at 1-855-787-2227. If you need assistance going through security checkpoints, be sure to call the TSA at least 72 hours before your flight to allow time for planning the needed support.

 

TSA PreCheck

The fairly new TSA PreCheck program lets pre-approved travelers apply for expedited screening at participating U.S. airports. Approved travelers are issued a Known Traveler Number (KTN), which lets them enjoy shorter lines at security—and they don’t have to remove their jacket, shoes, laptop, and bag of liquids. If you’re a frequent traveler, it may be worth the extra time (which includes visiting an enrollment center) and money ($85) it takes to apply for PreCheck approval.

 

And No Joking!

I know I don’t need to say this to most of you, but if you or your traveling companions have a rebellious sense of humor, remember not to make any inappropriate travel-security–related jokes while in line at a security checkpoint (or anywhere in an airport or airplane, for that matter). The TSA takes that stuff seriously! So keep a lid on those jokes until you’re at your destination or home. Otherwise you may spend a lot more time at the airport than you originally planned . . .

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Getting through airport security efficiently and easily may seem a daunting prospect. But the process can be made more bearable as long as you give yourself plenty of time and are aware of the general rules. If you find yourself feeling stressed out, take some deep breaths and remind yourself that you’ll soon be through the checkpoint and on your way. Hope this helps!