I’ve got 5 big mistakes at airport security to avoid that could delay you at security, possibly miss your flight, get fined, or even be jailed.
Accidentally touching an agent and not realizing you have prohibited items in your carry-on may be airport security mistakes.
Flying back to the US from Istanbul, a 21-year-old American college student, Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, arrived at Dubai International Airport for a ten-hour layover last July. According to reports, she wore a medical waist trainer suit due to her recent surgery.
At customs in Dubai, she was reportedly instructed to take off the trainer suit. Trainer suits typically require assistance to put on. Ms. De Los Santos asked the female customs agents for help, and they refused.
No matter what, you’ve got to avoid touching an airport security agent anywhere, or you’ll likely have more trouble than you can imagine.
While trying to put it on herself, she accidentally touched the arm of one of the female customs officers. She was immediately detained for touching the female officer while the agent completed a formal complaint against her, stating she assaulted and insulted the agent. According to Ms. De Los Santos, the complaint form was in Arabic. Ms. De Los Santos said she was forced to sign the document, which she couldn’t read. She had little or no idea about what the document said.
She left the airport. When she returned for her flight to New York, she was told that Dubai was denying boarding and that a travel ban was imposed on her because of the complaint. Several weeks later, a U.A.E. court fined her 10,000 Dirhams (~$2,700) and sentenced her to a year in prison. Earlier this month, her sentence was commuted, and she was allowed to return to the US.
Don’t be physically aggressive or touch an airport security official:
Every traveler should take heed of what happened to the young woman, particularly when traveling internationally, where few travelers are fully conscious of local law and culture. Don’t touch anyone when you’re at airport security, customs, or any other government entity while traveling at home or abroad. You better not act aggressively or touch government agents lightly or accidentally. The consequences can be severe. Fines could potentially devastate you, and you could face significant jail time.
Many reading this column think it could never happen to them, but it could. Someone accidentally pushing you from behind or accidentally tripping over your own feet could knock you into a government agent who would then accuse you of assault, despite it not being the case.
Travelers need to follow numerous other rules at airport security everywhere and anytime when dealing with government agents.
Arguing with airport security agents can be time-consuming and is rarely a good thing to do.
Don’t give agents a hard time:
The odds of you winning an argument with government agents anywhere, including airport security, are slim. Even when you’re right, at least pick your fight carefully. Several years ago, I flew home from Heathrow Airport in London. I had my liquids baggie with three containers I’d used for years in a bin. They were marked 3.4oz, the allowable liquid limit for carry-on in the US and elsewhere.
The Agent at Heathrow said, “Your containers are too big.” Incredulous, I respectfully said, “They’re 3.4oz, the legal limit.” He replied, “No, in the U.K. it’s 100ml.” I said they’re equivalent, but he was technically right when he told me, “Nope, 100.55ml. I’m confiscating the bottles.”
Now I thought, “Oh, brother. Darn. I will get into trouble and could miss my flight unless I’m careful. I’ve got to think fast.” So, I replied, “Sir, I need to tell you that my cuticle scissors in my bag is 2.5 inches, and I just realized that’s about 6.3cm.” (The requirement is 6cm there.) “If it’s okay with you, I’ll grab it and give it to you to throw out.”
He replied, “I appreciate that. You know what, here’s your plastic bottles. They’re close enough. Repack them and get out of here.”
While waiting at the gate for my flight, I overheard another passenger say his friend argued with an agent about the size bottles he had in his carry-on. He said it went on for over a minute and got animated. He said the agent called in the police. His friend missed his flight.
You’ve got to be sure that your luggage and bags contain no prohibited items.
Empty your luggage and bags before packing:
It is an airport security mistake when we are unsure when we last used our luggage or travel bags. You should empty your bags fully before packing to discover if any prohibited items are in them. You should check and recheck each pocket and section, even the ones you thought you didn’t use last time, to ensure they’re empty.
I hike through wildlife areas for photography and use one of my travel backpacks. Typically, I carry a knife and a multi-tool. It includes a very sharp blade. I also take other tools that, when assembled, are longer than seven inches. The items are in zippered pockets in my bag. Before packing, I follow my advice and go through every section of my bags and luggage. I open every compartment or pocket, zippered or not, empty each, then start packing. That way, I won’t be surprised at security or elsewhere and can avoid being detained.
Don’t show up at the airport with an expired ID.
Check your ID expiration date:
Domestically in the US, or anywhere, showing up at the airport with an expired ID is an airport security mistake. At the very least, it will get you held up by security everywhere. You may be refused travel. Domestically, in the US, citizens only need to worry about their driver’s licenses not yet expiring.
Internationally, for many — if not most — countries, while your passport may not have expired, you still may be refused entry to your international flight if your passport doesn’t fulfill the country’s requirements. Some countries require your passport expiration date to not expire for six months after your entry there.
Whatever ID you’re using for your journey, make sure it meets all requirements for all of your destinations, particularly its expiration date.
When you pack your carry-on and personal items, do it defensively.
Learn to pack carry-on and personal items defensively:
Pack any items that need to be pulled out of your carry-on and personal bags, such as your liquid baggie, laptop, and other electronics like large cameras, portable hard drives, etc., where they can be quickly and easily removed to put into bins as required.
Pack your belongings in well-organized layers to ensure airport security can easily identify them in their X-ray scanner. Wrap wires in bundles and keep them neat with ties. I use red elastic whip ties to hold my wire bundles neatly. I put my wires together in cable management bags with see-through sides.
If you don’t want to miss your flight and get through TSA airport security or other nations’ airport security, be fully prepared when you arrive at security and follow my commonsense rules above. They can help keep you out of trouble.
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. Before entering the corporate world, Ned worked as a Public Health Engineer for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.