Tips for getting through airport screening and passport control

When you’re jetting off on an overseas adventure, two of the procedures you’re going to have to go through are airport screening and passport control.

Airports can be stressful places at the best of times, so ensuring a relatively seamless experience here, sets you off on the right track.

What with all the people rushing about, trying to get to their gate on time; people lost, trying to figure out where to check in, what gate they need to get to, or what they’re actually doing there; and the children high on life, crying in despair, or screaming for no particular reason.

It’s a lot to deal with.

And unfortunately, I can’t do anything about any of that nonsense.

BUT, what I can do is help you to at least get through screening and passport control, relatively unscathed.

Tips for getting through airport screening and passport control

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1. Weigh your luggage before you get to the airport

Seems kind of obvious, right?

But seriously, if you know that your carry-on luggage is under the weight limit and size guidelines of your airline, you already know you’re going to breeze through check-in, no stress.

It also pays to make sure your carry-on is underweight, just in case your checked luggage is overweight and you need to take some items out.

I’m sure we’ve all been there.

2. Get to the airport early

I know hanging around at the airport ages before your flight isn’t the most fun thing you could be doing with your time.

BUT, you never know how long the screening/customs process will take, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

For example, earlier this year we flew from Toronto to Anchorage, and were at the airport three hours before our flight was due to leave.

Without a word of a lie, we spent the entire three hours going through screening and passport control. If we hadn’t given ourselves that extra time, chances are we would have missed our flight, which would have had a major flow-on effect for the rest of our trip.

3. Get yourself prepared while you’re standing in line

Once you actually get through to the airport screening area, start getting your gear in order while you’re waiting in line.

You’ll likely be waiting in line for at least a few minutes, so use this time wisely and get yourself prepared. This saves you having to fumble your way through once it’s your turn to have your items screened.

Usually there are signs around the place that let you know what you need to take off or take out of your bag. This varies from airport to airport – sometimes you have to take your shoes off, where other times it’s not required.

Check the signage, listen to the instructions from the security staff, and you’ll get through this process a lot quicker.

As a general rule of thumb:

  • empty your pockets and put all the items in a spare pocket of your bag
  • take off your belt and any heavy jewellery that is likely to set off the metal detectors
  • untie your shoe laces (bonus points for wearing slip on shoes), or go right ahead and just take them off while you’re waiting
  • take your laptop out of your bag
  • keep all your liquids in a clear, sealed bag at the top of your carry-on so you can easily grab them out
  • if you have one, empty out your water bottle or throw it in the bin
  • and, have your passport and boarding pass in your hand, ready to go.

Doing all this before it’s your turn to go through screening makes it so much easier to just chuck your stuff on the conveyer belt and cruise on through.

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4. Expect to have to go through the full body scanners

I know, I know. No one likes those full-body scanners.

They’re scary looking, there are all these rumours flying about around what the security team can see when you’re in them, and it does feel a bit like an invasion of privacy.

BUT, they’re there to protect us and to make sure no one on your flight is trying to conceal a weapon.

It’s a bitter sweet situation.

You may not even be asked to step into one of the full-body scanners. And, if you are, you do have the right to refuse. Just know that if you do refuse, you will instead get a full-body pat down by one of the staff members.

I’ve gone through so many of these full-body scanners that I don’t even think about it now. The first time I did, I was a little nervous though.

The trick here is to just assume that you will have to do it. If you prepare yourself beforehand and already have it in your mind that will be the case, it makes the whole process less of a big deal.

Because it truly isn’t.

5. Fill out your customs slip early, and keep calm

I always fill out my customs form directly after screening. There’s usually a designated area for this, and it’s so much easier than trying to fill it out in line.

I can’t even tell you how many people I have seen having to jump out of the queue they’ve been waiting in for however long, because they’ve realised they forgot to fill their form out!

And keep calm when you’re in line, or getting your passport checked. It seems like a funny thing to say, but I’ll let you in on a little secret — I generally feel pretty nervous going through this process.

It’s like — how you still feel anxious going through a breath test, when you know you haven’t been drinking.

Some people, when they get nervous, they say the wrong things.

I’ve heard stories of people joking with security about bombs or drugs, or not being honest about where they’re going and why.

So, just keep calm. Be honest. And be polite.

The passport officers are people, just like you and me. And they’re just doing their jobs. They may look stern and scary, but most of the time they are super friendly and are happy to have a quick chat or a joke before you leave the country.

6. Get used to waiting in lines

Airports are full of opportunities to wait in line.

You wait in line to check in or drop your bags off.

You wait in line to go through screening.

And you wait in line to go through passport control.

You get to your gate and you wait some more.

Then, you wait in line to board your plane.

There’s a lot of waiting, a lot of queue etiquette, and a lot of patience required.

You get real good at it.

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Bonus Tip!

If you’re anything like me (read: suffer from the severe condition known as ‘hangry’), then you’re probably going to want to eat something during your flight.

Surprisingly enough, it’s usually much cheaper and easier to buy any snack items or drinks at the airport than on your flight (some airlines no longer accept cash).

So, after you’ve gone through customs, find the nearest takeaway joint/newsagent and stock up!

Have I missed anything?

What tips and tricks do you swear by to make your airport screening process easier?

And if you liked these tips…

Check out my other travel tips here, including: websites to bookmark, how to plan your holiday, budgeting and saving, packing tips, and surviving long haul travel.

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Tips for getting through airport screening and passport control




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Author: Michelle

Michelle Harvey is a kiwi traveller, writer, photographer, list-maker, coffee drinker, and wanderer. Winter holidays are her favourite kind.

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