Here are some things you can do to reduce the time it takes you to get through security:
Bringing something you shouldn't in your hand luggage will definitely slow you down, and you might also be forced to leave behind that prohibited item. TSA's website has a very extensive list of things not to bring. Most of it is pretty self-explanatory. Also make sure your kids haven't stashed anything in the hand luggage that shouldn't be there!
2. Empty or get rid of water bottles or other drink containers
These days, there are usually garbage bags filled with water and juice bottles at any airport security checkpoint. The screeners won't let you through with a big bottle of water, even if it's half full. Drink it or dump it before you get to end of the line.
Liquids that you want to bring on board have to be in containers that hold no more than 3 ounces (100 ml). Those containers have to be put into a 1 quart (1 litre) clear, ziploc bag, and each traveller can bring one of those bags. More information about traveling with liquids here.
You are allowed to bring baby food (formula or pumped breast milk for example) even if it doesn't conform to these rules. Just be prepared for things to maybe take a little longer through security if you do.
Items that you will be asked to remove from your hand luggage at security include:
- your ziploc bag with liquids
- any additional liquids (baby food for example)
- larger electronic devices like iPads and laptops: TSA recommends you put your laptop in a "checkpoint friendly" bag to simplify things. I found a Samsonite sleeve for my laptop that worked well.
5. Empty your pockets ahead of time
At most checkpoints they will ask you to empty your pockets of any items that might set off the metal detector, such as loose change, keys, cellphones, and so on. It's easier and faster to not carry anything in your pockets: put it into your hand luggage ahead of time.
6. Don't wear a lot of metal
If you go through the metal detector and it beeps, you will have to stop and be scanned by a screener, maybe patted down as well. Not a big delay really, but hey, if you don't have to, it's better. So don't wear a belt if you can help it: belt buckles usually set off the metal detector. Also avoid or reduce the number of other metal items on your person, such as big jewellery, studs and buckles on your clothing, and any girdles with metal hooks (my grandmother would set off the detector wearing hers!).
Sometimes nothing at all seems to set the detectors off, so even if you do everything you can, you might still get beeped. My 8 year old son even got beeped on our latest trip to Europe. Not sure what that was all about.
7. Be ready to strip down
No, you probably won't get strip-searched (let's hope!), but you will be asked to remove any outerwear like jackets, sweaters, and scarves and put it on the conveyor. Sometimes, thought not always, you will also be asked to remove your shoes. The shoe-thing seems to happen consistently in the United States but not so consistently elsewhere, at least not where I've traveled. Usually there will be signs advising you to remove your shoes if it is required.
If your kids are small and need assistance with their footwear, this can slow you down a bit, so just be ready for it ahead of time.
When you're done:
Once you and your kids are through security, gather up your stuff and head somewhere away from the immediate bump and grind that is usually happening next to the checkpoint. Take the time make sure you have everything with you, put everything back into your bags, and put every one's shoes and other outerwear on.