How To Get Through X-Ray or TSA PreCheck As Quickly & Easily As Possible

by SharonKurheg

We all know the process of getting through X-ray has become something of a time consuming organized chaos in the past several years. In fact, I’d put it up towards the top of the more stressful parts of air travel, up there with delays and the actual flight. Getting approved for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or CLEAR does help tremendously, but even then, there are people who are not super familiar with the modern-day process of going through the checkpoint, with or without those ways to get through the line faster, simply because they don’t fly very often, and sometimes that unfamiliarity can cause the line to snag even more.

For those of you who don’t fly often, or who knows anyone who doesn’t, here’s a list that might help:

Be prepared. Educate yourself. Know what to expect, both from what’s on this list, as well as what’s on TSA’s website. Oh, and before you get to the airport, make sure to give yourself plenty of extra time before your plane is scheduled to leave (here’s how to figure out how much time), especially if you’re going through a particularly busy airport.

If you’re planning on using the REGULAR line, just go to any line (or follow directions to any line) that is labeled X-ray. Be aware of signs for TSA Pre✓®, Global Entry, CLEAR, Airport/Airline/TSA Employees and avoid those lines because the TSA agent will not let you continue through them and you’ll have to go to the end of another line and start all over again.

If your boarding pass says you’re approved for TSA Pre✓®, follow the signs to get there (children age 12 and under can also go to TSA PreCheck if their adult companions are approved to go there). Depending on the airport, it may not be super easy to find those signs because you sometimes have to go 3/4 of the way around the queue of people in the regular line to see it. The signage seems to be getting better, though.

The first thing that will happen when you get on line for the TSA checkpoint is a TSA screener will check your boarding pass and your government-issued ID (sometimes it’s just your ID. Here’s why). It will save everyone time if you have those two things already in your hand before you get to the TSA screener.

REGULAR LINE and TSA Pre✓®: Once you’re ready for you and your stuff to go through X-ray, everything needs to come out of the pockets of what you’re wearing. Coins, keys, your phone, your wallet, even pieces of paper. Everything. Your pockets need to be empty. It will save everyone time if you remove everything from your pockets and put them into your carry on before you are on line (you can put them into a bin too, but you’re going to take up extra time waiting for the bin to come through and organizing everything in all your bins and carry-ons).

REGULAR LINE: Your computer will have to be removed from its bag and put into a bin before it goes through X-ray. It will save everyone time if you can carry the bin-with-computer to the “reorganizing/repacking” area set up post-X-ray to put it back into its bag.

TSA Pre✓®: Your computer can stay in its bag.

REGULAR X-RAY and TSA Pre✓®: As per the website, “You are allowed to bring a quart-sized (ETA: zip locking) bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. Placing these items in the small bag and separating them from your carry-on baggage facilitates the screening process (read: “Makes it go faster” Why can’t they write in normal layman’s terms?). Pack items that are in containers larger than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in checked baggage.” Keep in mind that containers that are larger than 3.4 ounces, regardless of the amount inside must be in checked baggage (so you may only have 1 ounce of mouthwash left but if it’s in a 24-ounce bottle, it can’t go in your carry on). Exemptions include medications and infant/child nourishment. Since the pandemic, you’re also allowed to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in your carry-on bag.

If you are going through the REGULAR line, you will have to remove your quart-sized bag of liquids from your carry-on and place it in a bin to go through X-ray. It will save everyone time if you pack that quart bag so it’s easily accessible so you can quickly grab it to put it into a bin.

If you are going through X-ray via the TSA Pre✓® line, you do not need to remove your bag o’ liquids from your carry on.

REGULAR X-RAY and TSA Pre✓®: As long as your food/candy is not a liquid or gel over 3.4 ounces (if it’s a liquid or gel under 3.4 ounces, it must be in your 1 quart ziplocked bag), you can bring it in your carry-on. However as per this page of the website, “TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine.” So be prepared to possibly be asked to remove your food/candy from your carry-on.

REGULAR line: As per this page of the website, “Powder-like substances greater than 12 oz. / 350 mL must be placed in a separate bin for X-ray screening. They may require additional screening and containers may need to be opened. For your convenience, we encourage you to place non-essential powders greater than 12 oz. in checked bags.”

TSA Pre✓®: As of this writing, it has not been documented on the website if passengers with TSA Pre-Check status are required to remove powder larger than 12oz/350ml  from their carry-on bags. I would say put it in your checked luggage, just in case.

REGULAR LINE and TSA Pre✓®: We’ve said it a thousand times and will say it a thousand more times – ALWAYS travel with your medication in your carry-on luggage, NEVER your checked luggage, because if your luggage is delayed or lost, you’re still going to need your meds. This page has more information about traveling with medication.

REGULAR LINE: Your shoes and jacket must be removed and put into a bin before you get to X-ray (travelers over the age of 75 are exempt and travelers age 12 and under are exempt from removing their shoes) and more often than not, men have to remove their belt, as well. To save everyone some time, wear shoes that are easy to remove and to put back on. To save on the gross factor, wear socks or hose under your shoes – you have NO IDEA what’s been on that floor.

TSA Pre✓®: You can keep your shoes, light jacket and belt on.

According to the TSA blog, you don’t have to remove your jewelry, but if it’s so bulky that it sets off the X-ray, you may have to remove it at that time, possibly have it get a pat down, etc. It looks as if it varies with circumstance.

This page of the TSA’s website has lots of information for people with disabilities and medical conditions who require special assistance and procedures.

This page has a good guide to the process for getting through X-ray with children and their “stuff” (strollers, toys, blankets, special food/drink, etc.)

I wish I didn’t even have to cover this, but we all know the kind of person I’m talking about. In fact, my great uncle was one of those people. Uncle J has passed on now, but in the early 1990s he was “only” in his late 80s and still healthy enough to travel by plane to visit his daughter in California. And one day Uncle J jokingly said to the guys at X-ray that he had a bomb in his bag. Well, he and his bag were quickly escorted somewhere, where he was detained and questioned and they went through all of his stuff, and they finally let him go with, “We take comments like that very seriously, sir. Don’t ever do that again.” He didn’t. And that was BEFORE 9/11. Nowadays they’re even more stringent and careful. So really – don’t say anything stupid or inappropriate that will get you into trouble.

So now that I’ve written all that…what did I miss? Let me know and I’ll add it. Thanks!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Can You Fly If You Don't Have Your I.D.? - Your Mileage May Vary July 26, 2018 - 2:01 pm

[…] get to the airport for your cross country trip and have done everything you can to prepare to go through X-ray as  quickly and easily as possible. You’re all ready to go up to the TSA agent so you reach for your wallet to get your ID […]

Brian August 7, 2018 - 12:17 pm

Quite clearly the TSA Employees at Orlando MCO who seem to think they are Gods and answerable to nobody, don’t know their own rules. We were a party of six adults and 3 kids. All the adults were pre approved for Security on our boarding passes, all the kids were under 12 and their boarding passes were not marked pre approved. I would assume because they did not need to be because they were with adults that were pre approved. Did we get thru, no, one of their plonkers would not allow the kids thru forcing us to rejoin the main Queue for security. really these idiots should know thyeir own rules. Again one of the many reasons there are large lines at security, they don’t know their own rules.

SharonKurheg August 7, 2018 - 12:33 pm

I agree there are some TSA employees who could be more efficient and friendly. And, as you said, the lines would go faster if everyone (my edit: including passengers) knew the rules before getting on line.

That being said, with more space, more X-ray machines, etc., the lines at MCO should go faster once the construction is done.

marie August 24, 2018 - 9:52 am

i asked before getting on a line . we wetre told children under 13 cant go through pre tsa. staff were friendly thpugh and we got through stress free

StAugustine November 18, 2020 - 11:05 am

I had a hip replacement at about the time this post originally came out. I have Pre-Check and ask for a full-body scan. Usually through in 5 minutes or less, often faster than my wife who goes through the regular X-ray process. You do have to empty pockets completely and take off belt even with Pre-Check, but if you know that in advance it’s no problem.

Michael November 11, 2021 - 7:28 pm

Just want to point out there are some new machines where you don’t have to remove anything from your bags, including the regular line. LAS, LAX, ORD all have these (not at every line, but at least one line).

Tamara Rossiter February 3, 2022 - 11:05 am

Every single time I travel, I have to be patted down across my shoulders and one arm. I have absolutely no idea why but i always trigger the xray. So annoying.

Martha June 1, 2022 - 9:33 pm

@ Tamara Rossiter, I always get a pat-down post x-ray. I have congenital hip dysplasia that gives me a swayback. They always pat down my lower back, I guess to make sure I’m not smuggling anything back there. And I often have to wait because a female agent is required to do it (even if I say I am ok with a male agent patting me down). It makes me sad because it reminds me that I’m abnormal, but on the bright side, hey I have hip dysplasia and I’m still walking through the airport. 🙂


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