TSA Pre Reminds You Just How Painful Airport Security Usually Is

TSA Pre Reminds You Just How Painful Airport Security Usually Is

Normally, making your way through an airport in the United States is the most painful part of any overseas business trip. Off comes the belt! Off comes the shoes! Out comes the laptop! There is a less painful process — but normally Australians don’t get to use it. Last week, I got lucky.

Picture: Getty Images

TSA Pre is a scheme that the US government offers to frequent flyers that speeds you through airports. The initial registration is fiddly and painful, since you have to register your fingerprints at a specified airport (a process similar to scoring a visa to visit the US if you need it). But the benefit is potentially large: you can go through a separate queue at TSA Pre-equipped airports, and you don’t have to remove your shoes or take your laptop out of the bag while it’s scanned.

I’ve known about TSA Pre ever since it was established, but never paid it too much attention, since Australians aren’t eligible to sign up for it. However, when I was returning from San Francisco last week, the security dude who was initially checking boarding passes told me I could use the TSA Pre line anyway. There were only half-a-dozen passengers around, and we all got to use that queue.

One of my fellow fliers commented that the same thing had happened to him the last time he flew from SFO. “I think they’re trying to persuade us it would be a good time to sign up.” Maybe. Maybe it’s a way to train staff to do the slightly different scanning that’s required. But I wasn’t about to pass the option up.

I travel so often that I have my security queue behaviour finely tuned. Normally when I reach the actual queue, I already have my laptop (or laptops) in hand, my pockets empty and my shoes off. And I didn’t think I minded.

But there is something really pleasing about not going through all those extra levels of security theatre . My bag went on the conveyer belt. It was scanned. I walked through the scanner. Nothing went off. The whole process was fast, easy, painless.

I’d love to see this introduced in Australia. I’d love to be able to sign up for it in the US. No, it will never happen. But a man can dream, can’t he?

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is still making sure he flies with easily removable shoes. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • The best tip for flying in the US is to freeze a bottle of water before flying, and you can take it on the plane as long as you drink any melted water out of the bottle before going through screening.

    • Yeah, this doesn’t work. I met a TSA agent (off duty) who mentioned that people try that *all* the time and it’s getting pretty old.

      • Frozen gels/liquids are permitted if required to cool medical and infant/child exemptions.

        So, no. Water is not allowed even if frozen unless its to keep medicine cold.

        Why would you want frozen water anyway? It will take hours to thaw and become drinkable. By which time you’ll be on the plane and be able to get water there.

        • Actually did this three times while in the US in March, was specifically told by the TSA agent not to through out the frozen water the first time so kept doing it for the rest of our trip. My partner doesn’t like the taste of the water on the plane, it thaws out in no time while waiting to board and all that.

  • I have never had any issues with Security in Australia. a lot of the time they just ferry you through the screening.

    and coming back is even easier. stand in front of a camera for a second. walk through the gate. and then just walk right through security.

    • You’ve obviously never experienced the wrath of Asshole Australians on arrival, then. It’s like they try to be all macho and copy American TSA, or something. 🙁

      • Honestly i have not experienced that. Ive landed in sydney from LAX about 10 times now. Each time i just go through to auto check in gates with the camera then wander through security. they dont even have the detectors or scanners running.

  • The best tip is to put a label on the bottle and label is saline and say it’s for medical purposes. They are not allowed to ask what your medical condition is by law.

    I heard of one guy who took 2 bottles and said he had it for contacts. When they asked why he had two he said he had two eyes. lol.

    Not explaining is best though.

    • “can’t have liquids unless for medical condition”
      *Someone brings in 10L of random liquid*

      I’m pretty sure they can ask for proof, if required ..

      • No they can’t. They have very strict medical laws over there. Huge lawsuits etc.

        They are allowed to put it in the spectrometer though. They did that with boiled water we took on board for our kid (to mix with formula when needed).

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