I recently followed Transportation Security Administration agent Marcelino Puente as he went about his duties at MSP. If there was one thing the 13-year veteran wants the flying public to know, it’s this: Be prepared. The speed of checkpoints is directly connected to our compliance with the rules.

When he took me through his rotation, I saw firsthand why he’d made the plea.

First up, travel document checking. When people need to click buttons on their phone or dig through pockets to access a boarding pass, the line slows. “Seconds add up,” Puente says.

The next task fell to the divesting officer, who directs bags through the X-ray and people through the advanced imaging technology machine. Lesson learned here: Don’t put every little thing in a bin. Anything that is self-contained — shoes and computers, for instance — can go straight onto the conveyor belt. Managing all those bins bogs down the checkpoint.

Speaking of every little thing: Keep on all but the bulkiest jewelry; Puente has seen diamond rings left behind.

At the next station, screening officer, I watched as a cellphone and multi-pocketed cargo pants triggered the imaging machine. Officers are required to manually check the area of the body noted by the machine. My takeaway: Skip bulky clothing and bling (including bedazzled Christmas sweaters), empty your pockets, leave your boarding pass with your bags and keep still in the machine. Movement can alter the machine’s read.

At the baggage X-ray machine, I saw why crammed bags pose a challenge and can require manual checks. Keep your charger and other electronics together. If you do so, you’re less likely to spend time with the back officer, the final stop in my rotation with Puente, the person who goes through bags by hand.

The TSA works with airlines far ahead of important dates to get a sense of busy times. Their intel suggests that the busiest days this holiday season will be Dec. 22, 23, 26 and 27.

After sharing this tidbit, some of my TSA hosts dashed off for a meeting about the Super Bowl — the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.


Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.