Security Tips For Air Travel

Air travel is alternately a hassle and a bore. But the more boring it stays, the better it is for you.

One thing that’s not boring — unfortunately — is losing your personal items. In 2012, according to the Daily Mail, more than 200 items were stolen per day from checked luggage at JFK International Airport in NYC, according to one law enforcement official. In 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported that a “ring” of 25 baggage handlers was stealing from luggage at LAX.

And if you decide the airport’s a great place to take a nap, while you rest your valuables around you, that’s probably a huge mistake. Here are some ways to stay as mind-numbingly bored as possible in the wake of some serious potential hassle.

It Starts In the Parking Lot

It pays to take an Uber or a Lyft to the terminal if you can’t cajole a family member into dropping you off at 5 am. If you’re still intent on driving — and leaving your car for the duration of your trip? Empty it. Take out the navigation system (which, claims AIG, thieves have been known to use to navigate back to your empty, empty house for nefarious purposes. Barring that cleverness, it can just get stolen). Leave literally nothing of value in your vehicle, including visible loose change you keep around for parking meters.

[Make sure you stay safe from the parking lot to the terminal — check out our Security Tips For Parking Lots And Parking Garages.]

Don’t Linger In Large Crowds

Yeah, yeah, sometimes you can’t help it — like when there’s something up with your ticket, or the pre-check machines are screwing up. But check-in, TSA security, and baggage claim are the three unsecured areas of the airport, and sadly, they’re the most susceptible targets for would-be attackers. Don’t linger. Most airlines now offer precheck-in. You can walk in, hit some buttons, stand in a line behind a few people instead of a horde, and walk on over to TSA. You can even precheck your bag, as long as it’s not overweight. But you’re not checking a bag if you can possibly help it. We’ll get to that.

Consider The TSA Pre-Check

Frequent travelert? Consider the TSA Pre-Check, which will entail a background check, an in-person interview, and $85, but will speed you through security. It also lasts for five years. You won’t need to let go of your expensive electronics, and while you are still subject to a pat-down, you aren’t waiting and waiting.

If you don’t have any interest in the Pre-Check, store all your metal items and cell phone in your light jacket, have your shoes off beforehand, with liquids and laptop ready. Don’t wear shoes that tie if you don’t have to — wear something that slips on and off quickly.

Carry What You Can

We could rant about checked baggage fees all day and into the night. But that’s not the reason you want to keep it all in your carry-on. Checked luggage is subject to TSA search. TSA search is subject to TSA theft (A former agent convicted of theft told RT News in 2012 that such theft is “commonplace”).

Oh, and if something’s stolen, or goes missing? You need excessive documentation to get reimbursement. That includes, according to Forbes, airline ticket receipts, baggage claim tickets, original receipts for excess value claimed (TSA will cover up to $3500), and original receipts for items valued at over $150. Do you have the original receipts for the expensive electronics/perfume/Scotch/priceless souvenir/deluxe electric razor you packed? No? You’re  probably out of luck for reimbursement, then. Don’t be like Rita Lamberg, who the Daily Mail reports had $160,000 worth of jewelry stolen out of her checked luggage. She called it her “lifetime of savings, my savings.” You do not want that on a plane.

Be Wary At Baggage Claim

Baggage claim is one of the three unsecured areas in an airport. It’s also a great place for someone to walk off with your luggage. All they have to say is, “Oh, I thought that was my bag! My bad!” and disappear into the crowd. Everyone knows that no one’s examining claim checks before people walk out the door. Even if you were good, even if you packed only the essentials in your checked luggage, and not your best things, you can still lose them — and that’s a massive hassle. If you have to check bags, arrive to baggage claim as quickly as possible, and find a spot near the front of the belt, close to where the bags “appear.”

Seriously: Don’t Fall Asleep

Because when you’re asleep, all someone has to do is come take that shiny new cell phone off the seat next to you and walk away. It’ll fetch a mint on eBay, bro. And while you’re drooling, said thief is surfing to see if you saved your PayPal password. Not cool.

Mostly, though: just stay alert. Know your surroundings. Know that there aren’t really emergency exits, since airlines are supposed to be secure, so if something does happen, find a safe and quiet place to hunker down, like behind the counter of a food court eatery. Wear comfortable clothes you can move quickly in. Don’t wear flashy clothes or flashy jewelry, or carry expensive, flashy luggage. You’re not a Kardashian. Don’t fly looking like one. And don’t forget to lock your car.


Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on

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