The Standard TSA Security Check Line Is Broken But I Have An Easy Fix

Illustration for article titled The Standard TSA Security Check Line Is Broken But I Have An Easy Fix

I’m not sure there’s a real, existing human being who is completely pleased with the security experience required to take an airplane trip here in America. If there is someone who really loves it, they’d have to be a fetishist who gets off on people not trusting them or just a liar. The standard TSA security line is a pain in the ass. There’s actually one glaring problem with the process that makes everything much worse, but the good news is I think this is a problem that’s easy to fix.

The basic line does its job of security/security theater reasonably well, I guess, but there’s one part of it that is needlessly difficult, unpleasant, and disruptive, and it simply does not have to be that way.

Before I get to that part, let’s go over how these lines work—there may be exceptions, but for most American airports, the layout and process is something like this:

  1. Your ID/ticket is checked by an agent, and you’re pointed to a security line to enter.
  2. You wait in line to approach the security line; if you’re smart, at this point you’re untying shoes, unbuckling belts, and fishing your laptop out of your bag.
  3. You get to the main line and take your trays. Normally, you’ll need at least two: one for your laptop/larger electronics and one for your shoes, belt, coat, phone, studded metal collar, big brass nose ring, whatever.
  4. You send your tray on the conveyer belt into the x-ray scanner, as you proceed to walk through the full body scanner.
  5. You go through the scanner, an agent probably pats down your thighs, and you go to collect your stuff as it exits the x-ray machine.
  6. You gather your stuff from your trays in your arms, replace the tray on the stack of trays, and, with all your crap in your arms and your shoes dangling from your fingers, you waddle over to wherever the hell the airport decided to put their afterthought repack/redress area, usually just some rows of chairs. Maybe there’s a table there, too, but don’t get your hopes up.

Okay, so, the part I want to focus on is Step 6. Step 6 is a huge problem, and a huge bottleneck to the flow of everything. Step 6 is where chaos is born, and where nobody is happy. Step 6 must change.

I know the trays are usually rectangular, but I wanted to use the lathe tool
I know the trays are usually rectangular, but I wanted to use the lathe tool

For one thing, as I described Step 6 there (labeled as PROBLEM ZONE in the diagram), that’s the best way it can work out. Usually, people, understandably nonplussed with the idea of making a tiny refugee-walk with all their crap to some chairs too far away, will stand there, right at the exit of the x-ray machine, and start to put their shoes back on, re-pack their bags, etc.

And, keep in mind, the TSA is requiring more and more stuff to be unpacked from your carry-on bags, and re-packing them is often not a trivial task.


This causes all kinds of slowdowns in the line, difficulty in moving or being able to get your stuff that’s coming out of the machine right afterwards, and compounds the already non-trivial chaos of trying to get all your crap to go find the proper place to repack, redress, and regroup.

It also doesn’t help that nearly every airport wants you to leave your tray at the end of the belt before you go to re-pack/re-dress/re-shoe, so there’s no easy way to carry your things.


It’s a mess, it causes the whole line to slow down, it stresses people out, causes people to lose belongings, and just sucks.

But we can fix this, easy:

Illustration for article titled The Standard TSA Security Check Line Is Broken But I Have An Easy Fix

Okay, here’s what I’ve done. I’ve completely re-worked Step 6 to eliminate the biggest problems. First, no more dropping off your tray and shuffling around with an armload of your shoes and belt and laptop and crap looking for a place to re-organize everything: here, you just take your trays and make a turn, right into a repack/redress area right there at the end of the conveyor belt. 

When you’re done getting your shoes back on and your belt through all its loops, you just place your trays back on the counter, located conveniently right in the re-dress area, and head off to your gate.


If you’re a traveler with minimal carry-ons and slip-on shoes, you can just head straight out to your gate. That means this setup has a fast exit path and a slow exit path, and there’s no reason for anyone to clog the progress of the line by standing in everyone’s way as they re-lace their Doc Martens.

And please note, all these changes occur after the actual screening portion of the line; the business of security is completed by this point, and this wouldn’t change any detailed bag inspections or anything like that.


This is just a change to the TSA line’s exhaust system, as it were, a way to relieve back pressure and make the whole security engine flow more freely.

These changes would make the security lines move faster and smoother, save travelers from the unpleasant scramble to repack their stuff, reduce the chances of losing belongings, and generally make the security checkpoint experience smoother.


It would require no new special equipment or installation or anything like that, beyond maybe adding a counter or table and moving some chairs.

It’s an easy fix! I’m sure it’ll work out much better for any airport daring enough to give it a try. If there’s any airports reading this that want to try it out, please do, and please let me know how it works for you. I’ll write up a follow-up story about your experience, even.


Come on, you jet-set air-voyagers: look at this and tell me it doesn’t make sense. It’s worth a try.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!:

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How about just no TSA and go back to what it was before with just metal detectors. Why do we need the TSA? What have they done for us?