Airport Security Screening for Passengers


You and your carry-on luggage will be expected to pass through airport security screening for passengers. This applies whether you are traveling domestically or on an international flight. The job of the security screening team is to ensure the aircraft is safe, They are interested in metal detection, nitrogen detection and contraband detection. The goods which are not allowed on the flight, are limited and/or need to be presented in a particular way are nominated on the airline websites. Your travel agent will also be able to advise you.

Sharp objects are not allowed to be taken on the airplane so leave them out or pack them in your suitcase. Depending on where you are flying to and from a number of other objects and container types will be considered contraband. Further, the quantities of some products you are allowed in your carry on luggage is limited, As is the quantity of luggage pieces, weight of the luggage. Even the way some products are carried is stipulated – for example, liquids, gels, creams and similar substances on international flights are limited to up to 100ml per item and no more than 10 items (total one litre). If you have, for example, a half empty unit, it will be counted as 100ml. Containers which hold more than 100ml liquids are not allowed. This is the international standard and it is deployed in most airports globally. These liquids need to be presented in a clear plastic ziplock bag of a specified size. Some immigration departments provide these at the airport, some do not. Many people think it is a good idea to transfer liquids from the large supermarket container to a small clear bottle. This is ok for product you put in your luggage but not for carry-on luggage. Remember for carry-on luggage, the bottle or container that you use should be the original branded bottle. The immigration official will have no idea what you are carrying if you transfer the product to a small, clear container so most likely it will be confiscated.

You will be expected to pass your bags and other goods and chattels through a metal detection machine via a conveyor belt. Put your bags on the belt. Empty your pockets of wallet, coins, phone, keys and pager. Place them in the plastic tubs provided and put them on the belt. Also take your coat or jacket off and put it in a tub and pass it through security on the belt. You will also be expected to pass any steel capped boots or shoes through this machine. In some countries, all shoes are required to be removed and transferred through the security scanning. In most countries you will be asked to take your computer/tablet out of its case and pass it through the metal detection machine separately to your bags. A plastic tub will also be provided to put this in. The ziplock bag of liquids will also need to be passed through separately. Finally, lithium batteries greater than specified grams have special requirements. Some airlines do not allow them, some only allow them in carry on luggage and some only allow them in regular luggage – check the airline website for details. Most personal devices (telephones, computers, tablets, cameras, personal game devices) do not pass the threshold so they are ok. External batteries for recharging your telephone or computer often do surpass the limit so take care with those and check before you travel.

You will then be asked to walk through a metal detection screen. If the alarm sounds, you will be called aside to have a metal detection wand passed over your body (by a security official). If the wand beeps, they will have found the offending item which you will be asked to put through the baggage metal detection device or show it to the official. Then you will have to pass through the detector again to make sure you are “clean”. Increasingly at international airports, body scanners are used instead of or as well as metal detectors. The instructions are simple and the attendant will assist you. In some countries, a pat down is required. Male security officials will do this for men and female security officials will do this for women. It is not comfortable but it is necessary. In some countries where the culture is more sensitive, females who are asked to complete a pat down are taken behind a curtain (like a fitting room in a clothing store) for modesty.

You will get used to other items that may trigger the screening device. For example, a large faced titanium watch will trigger the alarm and perhaps a pair of stiletto shoes which have a metal shaft in the heel may trigger it. In this case, you will soon learn which extra items to put in the tub and pass along the metal detection machine’s conveyor belt prior to going through the personal screening device.

On the other side of the personal screening device you can collect your computer, bags, coat and shoes from the conveyor belt. You may also be asked to turn your computer on (this will show the security person that it is a computer and not a bomb or similar). This is the point where any contraband items like nail files, scissors, etc will be taken from you or worse. The immigration department at the airport has the right to ask you to go back to check in to put items in regular luggage, confiscate anything which does not meet the standards or worse prosecute you for trying to take more dangerous items through security check points (eg knives). Any confiscated item will not be returned as they are placed in a secure box and then destroyed. Make sure that you do not have any of these items in your carry on items.

You may also be called aside randomly for extra screening of yourself and/or your bags. Nitrogen detection of computer bags, clothing and shoes is a random test which is done in most airports these days. The reason they are screening for nitrogen is that it is a key component in bomb making. A wand with a piece of cotton is wiped on your bag and computer and the piece of cotton is then but into a screening machine. A few seconds later, the machine will tell the security official if your computer and bag pass or fail the nitrogen traces test.

You may be asked questions at the security check point. Be prepared to respond appropriately to officials and be co-operative. This is not a time for cynicism or telling inappropriate jokes.

There will be security officials everywhere in this area so just ask if you are not sure what to do or what is going on.

The US, not surprisingly, has much more challenging airport screening. Firstly it takes longer so make sure you allow extra time at US airports for this. If you travel globally, you will notice that it is much slower in the US with re-checking taking place more often. Here are some tips on what to expect in US. Also, there is a list of the options for subscribing to services that will fast-track you through airport security. TSA pre-check and Clear are two examples. click here for a recent article on US airport security

Depending on where you are traveling to and where you are traveling from, there are heightened rules around what you can and cannot take on board. You need to check with your travel agent or airline at the time of flying on this matter. Airline websites have all the latest information about what you can and cannot carry as carry on luggage. Transit passengers through specific destination are also bound by these rules Check the Useful Websites quick finder. Terrorism has impacted the world we live in and the way we fly so make sure you are not carrying items and products which are not accepted between certain destinations. This will ensure minimization of the lines at airports and that you do not lose your products to the security trash can. Take a look at for UK airport security, for US airport security and for Australia.

Hot Tip: There is always a line at at the security check point at airports so it is a good idea to get ready while you are in the line. There is nothing more frustrating than the person in front of you who has not even emptied their pockets of small change and holds up the line as a result.

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