Why is airport security so annoyingly inconsistent?

You'll need to remove your laptop, iPad, camera equipment, liquids and now your carry-on food

At Short Motivation, we’ve travelled across Europe and the United States, fairly extensively. One thing that bugs us is the way airport security inconsistently handles your carry-on luggage.

Some examples off the top of our head. Once we took a TRX RIP Trainer device through Gatwick when travelling to Alicante. At Gatwick, we were allowed to keep the device (effectively a metal pole) in our hand luggage and it wasn’t flagged up or mentioned through security. On the return trip, got to security and were told we couldn’t take the same device in our hand luggage. Had to reverse out of security, check the device manually at a cost of over £40 – just for a small metal pole. Why the inconsistency? You don’t know where you stand, in advance.

We’ve also found that travelling with camera kit can cause your bag to separated for additional personal screening. But not always. That’s why it can be frustrating. We travelled through London City Airport recently and took our camera, batteries and other components out of our carry-on bag, along with laptop and other devices. The bag was still flagged for further scanning, which took so long that we had to then rush to the gate.

But, we also noted how many carry-on bags now fail the x-ray scanning and have to be sent for further personal screening. Frankly more bags than those which now clear x-ray successfully. That can’t be right? What’s the point of having an x-ray device which can’t scan your carry-on bag and you have to then take everything out and for everything to be scanned individually, by hand, for ‘explosives’ (and, have they ever found explosives post x-ray?).

Flying across the States is no less variable. Last year we flew out of Orlando airport. We noticed a dog would sniff everyone’s carry-on bag before security. As a result, we didn’t have to take anything out our bags. Even laptops. We kept our shoes, laptop, camera, equipment, batteries, the lot, within the bag. We were told by TSA if it clears the dog then there’s no immediate danger.

Again, this is far from consistent. We flew out of Palm Springs airport, a tiny airport in a small city, and they were super-strict and the security process incredibly slow. Shoes off, every device out of your bag, bag scanned, your entire body scanned and still the carry-on bag was highlighted for additional personal scrutiny. Why the huge difference between Orlando and Palm Springs? Why can’t this be consistent?

Well, since May 2018 the TSA has gone even further. If you want to save money by prepping sandwiches at home and taking them on to the plane, now may be required to remove them from your carry-on bag and even remove the foil wrapping so the food can be scanned effectively. The problem is due to ‘x-ray clutter’ where bags are sent through the machines but are so packed it’s hard for the TSA guys to determine the items stored in your bag.

There’s some good news on the horizon. Larger airports such as JFK and Heathrow are installing brand new powerful x-ray machines which will avoid ‘x-ray clutter’ by creating a 3D representation of your bag and its contents. You might not have to remove any items from your bag, including liquid. You’ll still be limited to 100ml, but you won’t need to remove the liquid and make sure it’s within a clear plastic sealed bag.

Check the TSA website for further information on what you can take on your flight and what may or may not need to be removed from your bag through security.


About Author

The co-founder of Short Motivation, Chris originates from a technology background, initially developing software and then migrating to the international magazine industry for the last 15 years. The idea for Short Motivation came from travelling through 2011 and eventually became reality six years later, in 2017.