With all of the outrage over the indignities caused by the TSA’s new body scan and pat-down policies, I’ve been thinking a lot about the worst experience I’ve ever had with airport security. I was in Dublin, the weekend right before St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I didn’t die of embarrassment is due to the fact that I had already left most of my dignity behind in Temple Bar the night before….
Now, I’m neurotic and like to arrive at the airport as early as possible. But this time, the early bus I planned to take never came, and the next didn’t show up for another 20 minutes. Usually a 20 minute delay would mean I still got to the terminal a good 30 minutes before anyone else, but let us not forget, this was Dublin, two days before St. Patrick’s Day. When my friend and I finally got to the airport we rushed to print our boarding passes, and ran to the security checkpoint only to join the longest, slowest moving line with just an hour to go before takeoff.
As the line stood still, I started to panic. It was suddenly very warm in the airport and my overnight bag was very heavy. And the two girls traveling with my roommate and me were not-so-suddenly two of the most vapid people we had ever met. I started to poke fun at our two fellow travelers for being so cheap and refusing to pay for a cab, for taking 20 minutes to decide between Subway and Quiznos for dinner (we’re in Ireland–I choose neither), and then chatted up everyone in line about the best methods for converting waiting lounge seats into beds because I was convinced we were stranded.
Finally close to the metal detectors, my roommate and I started to strategize how to organize our things so that we could get through security as quickly as possible. Take off your coat and scarf. Put them into your carry-on bag. That bottle of water? Abandon it. Remove the plastic bag containing your liquids and keep them on hand. Empty your pockets into your carry-on. Remove your shoes.
“Oh my god, I have to take off my shoes!” Not only did I forget about taking off my boots, but on this particular day, I had worn my green and blue argyle socks tube socks. The thing is, my socks were meant to be secretly festive and strictly functional-to hold my jeans in place when I tucked them into my boots–not a fashion statement for all of Dublin airport. I decided I would just have to wait until the last possible second to take off my boots, so that fewer people would see my socks. After all, these people and I went way back to 40 minutes ago when I started chatting them up, and generally making a scene.
We inched closer and closer to the front of the line, and just as the person in front of me went through the metal detector, I placed my bag on the belt, swiped off my boots, and proceeded to rush through the detector. Now when I say, I rushed, it was really more of a skip. In fact, I basically took a running leap through the detector in my haste to get back to my boots. So of course, the metal detector went off. I was then asked to stand still so that the security personnel could wand me, the whole time painfully aware that everyone behind the gates in line was watching, along with my travel companions who laughed at me mercilessly. Even the security woman with the wand was laughing. Luckily, she showed more mercy than my friends and finished the secondary check quickly.
Relieved, I hurried over to the conveyor belt, trying to jump back into my boots in one single motion. Except that I was stopped again by security. In all of my panic, I had left a water bottle in my bag, and was forced to open my carry-on and dig around until I could produce and dispose of it. I’m quite certain the only reason I didn’t get subjected to a strip search after causing this much commotion was because they were convinced that anyone who skipped through security wearing her jeans tucked into her “festive” socks was probably not a threat to anything but her social life.
Here are some tips on how to avoid similar scenes at the security gate:
1. Learn to cherish the quiet hours spent sitting at your gate at the airport. Getting on a flight bored is a sure-fire way to get a nap in, whereas running on, totally wired from the stress of almost missing your flight, pretty much ensures you’ll spend the whole time trying to calm down.
2. Consolidate. Put as many things as possible into your carry on. You can always take them out again once you get to your gate, but gathering everything up from those gray plastic bins can take forever, and holds up the line behind you.
3. Don’t even bother with jewelry. If there are a few pieces you’d like to wear, pack them in a Ziplock bag the night before with the other things in your carry-on. Then put them on once you’re past security. That way when you’re putting your shoes on with one hand, and grabbing your coat and your bag with another, you won’t wish you had a third to put all your accessories back on.
4. The underwire in your bra can set off the metal detector. That’s what did it for me in Dublin. More recently, a friend was even asked to remove her bra at the airport (in a private room) because of the new procedures. I would suggest investing in a good wire-free bra for travel days.
5. When possible, wear slip-on footwear. And always wear understated socks.