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Hate Getting Pat Down by Security? Wear This to the Airport

 I absolutely hate getting delayed by an airport security patdown, so for the last few years, I’ve been testing a wardrobe and packing style that lets me sail through security checks. 

Airport body searches, or “pat downs” involve being physically pat down by a security officer to confirm that you aren’t carrying prohibited items under your clothing. Airport pat downs happen for two reasons: by random chance or because something about your clothing, appearance, or luggage seems suspicious. Getting physically searched is stressful, time consuming, and mildly traumatic for many of us. 

In this article, I share based on my experience

  1. How to dress for airport security to minimize your chance of being flagged for a patdown
  2. Why I NEVER go to an airport wearing clothes with pockets
  3. And 1 easy, no-cost change you can make to your appearance to sail through security checks.
  4. Plus, why getting Global Entry / TSA Precheck should be on the to-do list of everyone who hates security pat-downs

Perhaps one of the most stressful and time-consuming parts of air travel is the security checks. Whether you hit a long security line at the hectic start of your journey or get flagged for a patdown during a tight layover, getting through security checks can be chaotic. 

As a frequent solo traveler, I find myself flagged for a pat down too often, and I’ve learned some key tips for what to wear to make the process as smooth as possible.

Here are my top tips for packing comfy yet stylish clothes to wear at the airport that will help you avoid getting a security pat down.

Wear slip-on shoes 

Even if, don’t get flagged for a TSA body search, you’ll probably be required to take off your shoes at the airport security checkpoint. Instead of wearing complicated sandals, sneakers, or boots that take a long time to put on and lace up, opt for flats, pull-on-boots, or step-in sneakers that you can take off and put on quickly.

Slip on shoes help save time and effort- especially if you’re already on a tight layover or loaded with heavy carryons. Just don’t forget to pack a pair of cozy socks for the flight!

Avoid Pockets

If you don’t have pockets, you won’t forget to take anything out of them. Instead, carry a fanny pack or a small shoulder bag with all the essentials: passport, wallet, phone, and boarding pass. Then, when you get to the security checkpoint, just slip it off and send it through.

Going pocket-less saves you the hassle of rummaging around in your pockets. Plus, you’ll never be “that person” who left $4.58 in change in their pocket and held up the line going through the metal detector several times!

Personally, I discovered something magical about flying without pockets. After this switch, suddenly, I never seemed to get “randomly” flagged for additional security patdowns. My theory is that getting rid of those extra layers of clothing helped make my security scans look boring and unworthy of being flagged.

Wear Clothes that Fit

While oversized t-shirts and sweatshirts are cozy to fly in, they may get you flagged for TSA pat downs. Usually, the security agents will need to see the waistband of your pants in order to clear you to enter the gate area of the airport. If you’re wearing something oversized, you can expect to be asked to lift up your oversized top.

To avoid this kind of awkward situation, try to either:

  • 1. wear something fitted that falls just to your waistline or
  • 2. Wear an underlayer so you can place your oversized top in a bin as you pass through airport security.

Similarly, try not to wear anything too tight, especially if it includes zippers or buttons. If your waistline looks “irregular” to the scanning machine – that is, if your tight pants are squeezing your tummy too much – then you’re likely to be flagged for a pat down.

Travelers passing through a security checkpoint in an airport.

Avoid Belts in General

At most airport security checks, everyone is required to remove their belts. You can skip this step by wearing pants with a soft, knit waistband when you fly. Tons of options are available for mens and women’s pans, in casual, athlesiure, and even business styles. These options are especially comfy for long flights.

If you need a professional look for your flight, women might consider a skirt or dress without a belt. For men, travel pants that dont’ require a belt can be dressed to fit business casual. Or, if your outfit absolutely needs a belt, just keep it in your carry-on until you get to the gate.

Don’t Wear Metal

Even though this one seems obvious, some clothing may contain metal that you didn’t even consider. 

Some decorative elements also include some sneaky metal pieces, such as thick metal wires in garments that are beaded or sequined. Appliques, studded shirts or pants, and clothes with chain embellishment may set you up for a manual pat-down.

While both security personnel and computer algorithms recognize and dismiss metal underwires in bras, it’s best to avoid a metal-underwire bra on flight days if your goal is getting through security checks without a body search.

A Smile for the Journey

A positive attitude can help us stay pleasant and calm, even through the chaos of security. Swapping out that RBF for a warm smile can help disarm tense situations- even in airport security. 

Even if you end up getting an physically pat down by a TSA agent or benign asked to open your bag, it’s important to keep a calm and pleasant attitude. Some empathy and a grin can make the whole security process move more smoothly and efficiently- after all, they have a job to do and that job is keeping all of us safe. 

Airport security – especially if you’ve been selected for an extra pat down – it can stressful. Instead of giving into the spiral of negative thinking, just breathe and be present: you’ll get through it!

Consider Pre-Screening

For survivors of previous assault and people with anxiety disorders, getting pat down by security is more than stressful- it can be really triggering. If, like me, your discomfort with airport security patdowns is more than a casual dislike, consider pre-check.

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, there’s an invasive questionnaire and background check. You’ll have to go to an in-person interview, wait in lines in a government office, and it probably won’t be finalized before the big vacation you’re planning. But if potential security searches trigger trauma responses for you, jump through the hoops and do it.

By getting TSA Pre-check (https://www.tsa.gov/precheck) or the border-crossing equivalent, Global Entry (https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry) you’ll know that you’ve been checked, verified, and cleared- and you can fly with confidence that the chances of being pat down searched drop from “unlikely” to virtually nonexistant.

Want more tips on clearing airport security fast or finding things to do with your layover? Check out my guides for more pro traveler advice.