Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: May 2011
I have already written quite a bit about vacations and travel: May 2006, August 2006, and May 2010. But let’s talk about going through security, the least secure part of travel. (Food may come second, now that there’s none served on coach, but I suspect you can manage that better with a little forethought.) I travel quite a bit more than I should or like, so I have learned a few things about this rite of passage for reaching the jetway.
First rule above all is: ARRIVE EARLY!
As I approach the demon, I think about the people doing the security jobs. It must be so unpleasant. People are often mad at them. They are around all those machines. Be warm to them, even if they are not warm back. They are there to protect you, not to hassle you. Thinking of their plight can help minimize your own.
Smile if you can. Smile and be friendly to everybody. You are dealing with a lot of tense, rushed, sleep-deprived people. Smiling will keep you and them relaxed and human.
I like to approach the whole thing slowly. Everyone’s rushing and that’s contagious. We do NOT like to be rushed. So let people go past you if necessary. Glance ahead. Usually everyone’s waiting for their stuff to go through anyway.
Think ahead of time (of course you will) about the steps involved. Take off shoes (easy slip-ons if you have them) and coat, jacket, sweater (they search you if you have any lumps). Empty pockets and put metal stuff out, including cell phone, belts, coins, and watches. Set out your see-through bag of liquids if you did not check baggage (if so, put all of your liquids in it). (Or eliminate carrying liquids: Buy tooth powder in a health food store, shave with soap, carry roll on sunscreen, etc.) Take out your computer, if you have it, and put it alone in one tray.
If you make a mistake, such as having a bottle of water with you, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Just grin and accept the role of “novice traveler,” even if you aren’t one.
About those new x-ray scanners, I suggest that you just relax and go through it once. Then if you want, read up on the risks of the type of scanner at your airport for next time. Once won’t hurt you. Or protest like I did and ask for a pat down, which, unless things have changed, they have to give as an alternative. Every airport does things differently, however. By the way, so many of us did ask for a pat down instead of being x-rayed (such solidarity!) that the nasty early versions were pulled off-line in many places. I personally thought the pat down by a warm and funny woman was nicer than being looked at naked by some dude.
When you are done, put everything into one little tray-bin and find a quiet corner to regroup and put stuff away or on. Take time to see if you have everything, and to notice what you really feel before going on.
Oh yes, and drink lots of water. If you have some at security time, empty it and keep the bottle to refill on the other side. Bon voyage. And smile.