airport security

Last updated: January 10, 2016

An American friend asked me how airport security in the countries we’re visiting compares to in America. She used to work for the TSA, she said, and is curious. So I wrote this blog post, and I’ve been trying to keep it updated as best as possible as we travel. Sometimes I forget for a few weeks at a time, though.

First off, these are just my observations as a traveler. Presumably, what you or I can see is just the tip of the iceberg, and our governments are doing tons of “behind the scenes” work to keep flying safe. I hope.

Let me start off with how things work in America, as my baseline.

  • International flights are treated the same as domestic flights
  • Aerosols, liquids, and gels in your carry-on bags must be in containers of no more than 100 mL, and they all must fit in a “one quart” clear Ziplock bag. This bag must be removed from your carry-on and sent through the scanner separately.
  • Usually you must take off your shoes and have those scanned with your carry-on luggage. But sometimes you can leave your shoes on. I have no idea how and when they decide to make everyone go barefoot.
  • Hats, coats, and most metal items that aren’t simple jewelry go into a bin to be scanned separately, too.
  • Checked bags can’t contain dangerous stuff like fuel, chainsaws, etc.
  • Rechargeable batteries that aren’t inside the device they power must be carried on, not in your checked bag. And there are limits to the size of rechargeable battery so that consumer type stuff is fine (AA batteries, for instance). But big professional rechargeable batteries can’t go into checked bags.


Flying from Los Angeles (USA) to Sydney (Australia), the rules were all baseline rules I mentioned above. I guess that’s because it’s the US security system covering outbound flights from that country.

Flying from Sydney (Australia) to Cairns (Australia) — a domestic Australian flight from one state to another — used a different set of rules, though. First, nobody cared about liquids and gels. People brought on their own water bottles, for instance, and nobody had to send their shampoo through the x-ray machine separately. Second, everyone left their shoes on. I guess the Australians aren’t scared of Copycat Shoe Bomber like the Americans are.

New Zealand

Flying from Cairns (Australia) to Auckland (New Zealand), we were under international Australian rules, which were the same as the American baseline rules above, except that, again, everyone left their shoes on.

A quick side note about terrorism. My personal belief is 90% of the hoops the American government makes travelers jump through is security theater, not real security. Post-9/11, everyone wants to look “tough on terror” even if it means doing things that don’t really improve traveler security.

Flying from Hamilton (New Zealand) to Wellington (New Zealand) was so weird. It’s like Kiwis just trust people or something. We showed our passports to the ticket agent in order to receive our boarding passes and check in our luggage. But that was it. There no security screening at all. We were bewildered by this, and you might not believe what you just read, so I’ll repeat it: for domestic flights in New Zealand, there is no security screening. When it came time to board the plane, we just passed the boarding pass by a bar code scanner and then walked out to the tarmac to get on the plane. Our carry-on bags didn’t go through a scanner, and we didn’t even walk through a metal detector. It was like boarding a bus. Shoes stayed on, nobody nagged us about our nail files or water bottles or shampoo. We just got on the plane and took off.

Flying from Christchurch (New Zealand) to Jakarta (Indonesia) was via Singapore on Singapore Air, which is consistently ranked either the first or second best airline in the world. But I’m catching up this blog article several weeks later, and I can’t find any notes that I took about security. So I don’t have anything to say.


Jakarta (Indonesia) to Pangkalan Bun (Indonesia) was on board Trigana, which is renowned for having a terrible safety record. They crash a lot of the time. They also have a terrible record of timeliness. On arrival at the airport, we got in line at the Trigana counter outside, and then once I showed the agent my phone with the e-ticket number, he looked it up, printed out a copy of our itinerary (not the boarding passes), wrote today’s date and his initials on it, and sent us to the line to get into the airport.

To get into the airport, we then had to show the signed/dated itinerary, and then pass through a metal detector. We put our bags through an x-ray machine. Once through that, we were allowed to go to the actual Trigana counter, where we showed them the signed/dated itinerary and our passports. They took our bags, gave us boarding passes, and then sent us to the final security stage.

This last step was to go through another security screening where we showed our boarding passes, put our carry-on bags through an x-ray machine, and walked through a metal detector. I set it off, as I’d been doing for a while, and through process of elimination determined that if I took my cell phone, my wallet, and my passport out and sent them all through the x-ray, then I wouldn’t set off the metal detector any more. I think the anti-RFID sleeve I have for my passport and credit card keep setting the thing off. Since I started doing this, I haven’t set off a metal detector again.

Pangkalan Bun (Indonesia) to Surabaya (Indonesia) was supposed to only be the first leg of a two-leg journey, but our flight was so late we missed the second segment. Regardless, the security process here was essentially the same as the Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun flight: get printed itinerary at desk #1, pass through security #1, check in with desk #2, pass through security #2.

I guess this is standard Indonesian domestic flight protocol, because it also applied to the next segment.

Surabaya (Indonesia) to Denpasar (Indonesia) was the same as above. Nothing new to add, except that the Denpasar airport (Bali) is awesome compared to the other airports in Indonesia we saw.

The Philippines

Denpasar (Indonesia) to Manila (Philippines) was out of Bali’s international terminal and the security process was more like we’re used to in the USA. We didn’t have to go through security to get into the airport. We just walked in and went to the check in counter. They checked our passports, scrutinized our itinerary to make sure we had solid plans for leaving The Philippines, and then issued our boarding passes. We handed off our checked luggage there, and then went through the security checkpoint.

Security was pretty standard. Our water bottles were already empty, because we didn’t know what the rules on that would be. Our carry on bags went through an x-ray and we went through a metal detector.

Something in Beth’s backpack caused extra scrutiny, and they asked to search it. They found her pocket multi-tool, that she had accidentally left in her backpack instead of putting in our suitcase. So they confiscated that, and she apologized to security and to me.


I can’t remember all the details, but I do remember that for a domestic flight I left my shoes on and couldn’t take water through security.


We took two domestic flights in India, plus one international flight inbound (from the USA via Germany) and one international flight outbound (to Thailand).

In India, every security line is actually two lines. They split men from women and the two sexes go through separate security screenings. It appeared that everybody goes through a metal detector, which then beeps, and then they they get wanded with a hand-held metal detector. The security agent will pat down anything that seems fishy or causes the wand to make a noise. Men are wanded and patted down in public view, while women go through a little area with cloth sides and roof to shield them from public view as they are wanded and patted down (by other women, of course). At first, I thought this was in case the security officer had to lift a woman’s shirt or dress or something in order to do the inspection. But Beth thinks it is because the actual act of being groped, even by another woman, is shameful to be seen in public. In other words, it’s OK for the public to see a man patting another man’s butt, but not OK for the public to see a woman patting another woman’s butt.

I can’t remember the entire sequence of the security checks in India now. I’m writing this weeks later. I know we didn’t take any water through security, but I don’t know if that’s because it wasn’t allowed or just because we didn’t know whether it was allowed and wanted to be on the safe side.

In Dehradun, a small domestic airport, our luggage was scanned before check-in, as we entered the terminal. Then we got it back and checked in, and turned over our bags. Then we went through the personal (and carry-on) security process.

Leaving India for Thailand, I remember that laptops had to be taken out of the case. However, they could be in a tray with other things going through the x-ray machine.


As I write this on January 10, 2015, I’ve now done just about all the combos possible:

  • departed on one domestic Thailand flight from the mostly-domestic Bangkok airport (DMK)
  • departed on one international flight (to Cambodia) from DMK
  • departed on one international flight from the mostly-international Bangkok airport (BKK)
  • arrived on two international flights at BKK
  • arrived on one international flight at DMK

For domestic departures, the security process is to:

  1. show e-ticket to security officer to gain entrance to airport
  2. proceed to check-in counter, check in luggage
  3. wait for luggage to be scanned
  4. if there’s a problem, they call your name; otherwise proceed to main security screening line
  5. take laptop out of bag, send through in separate tray
  6. put anything else that might trigger the metal detector into the tray
  7. step through metal detector


For international departures, the security process is to:

  1. show e-ticket to security officer to gain entrance to airport
  2. have checked bags x-rayed and tagged and then returned
  3. proceed to check-in counter, check in luggage
  4. proceed to main security screening line
  5. take laptop out of bag, send through in separate tray
  6. put anything else that might trigger the metal detector into the tray
  7. step through metal detector

No liquids over 100 ml are allowed on departing domestic or international flights. I know because I forgot to take a can of Coca-Cola out of my carry-on bag, and they found it. Oops.

Shoes can stay on through the whole process.

Also, there was one strange thing that happened on our domestic departure from Bangkok DMK to Phuket. The airline agent at the check-in counter told me that it’s not allowed to put cameras in the checked luggage. So I had to open up my suitcase, fish out my camera, and carry it on with me. I don’t know if this is an airline regulation or a Thai government regulation. I never heard that on any departing international flight from Bangkok, though.

I was also reminded on our domestic departure from Bangkok DMK to Phuket that power banks (like this one, which I’ve been carrying around on all our travels) must be carried in cabin baggage, and not checked baggage.


2 thoughts on “airport security

  1. sbwinter2

    The barefoot thing started after the shoe bomber, remember? One failed small explosive attempt in the heel of a shoe and no one was allowed to wear them again.

    1. todd Post author

      Oh, I remember. But it makes me wonder why the Americans are the only people who think that taking your shoes off helps reduce crime.


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