I haven't flown yet, but I may need to, hence the question.

When you go through security, you have to empty out your pockets, shoes, watch, laptop, phone etc and place them in trays. I understand that this is to simplify the body scan, that happens soon after, but why can't we just leave our body-baggage temporarily, in hand luggage (small carry on), instead of sticking them in trays?

Airlines allow one bag in the overhead bin and the other under a seat, so the under-seat-bag can also temporarily hold your, on-body items? That way, you don't need to waste time, with trays?

I understand why laptops need to be separated from hand luggage - to make the x-ray of them clear and easy, but when the millimeter body scan is being done, the laptop's just in a tray.

Does the TSA separate you from your items, and then check both simultaneously? Is the purpose of the trays to provide an orderly presentation of items, for the TSA?

Should I, then, EMPTY OUT ALL my hand luggage electronics/metal-bits into the tray, and keep the clothes in hand luggage?

  • 1
    I've never been required to put personal electronics other than a laptop computer in a tray. I remove them all and put them in my carry-on well before reaching the checkpoint, including watch, smartphone, and tablet, and I have never been asked to remove them to be scanned separately.
    – choster
    Aug 31, 2017 at 3:48
  • I always put my wallet and phone in my carry on bag. And then only put my tablet or laptop in the plastic bin when not enjoying TSAPre.
    – user13044
    Aug 31, 2017 at 4:06
  • 1
    There's a minimum mass of bad stuff required to cause a serious issue on an aircraft. I believe the idea is to present relatively large closed boxes in as clear a way as practical under the circumstances. Notebook computers, and below that might be largish tablets and such like, as well as certain other things that look "a certain way" to the X-rays. Where such things are uncommon they'll not make a general rule, but will shunt you off at the end to take a gander at whatever it is that appears to be of interest. Aug 31, 2017 at 4:07
  • 1
    In Asia and Europe we have to put laptops, phones and tablets on trays. I pass through security checks with Arduino equipment in the bag, and there was never any issue. Sometimes my USB charger, which is quite bulky, is visually inspected, but that's about it.
    – user67108
    Aug 31, 2017 at 4:10

2 Answers 2


The purpose is to simplify things but it also slows down scanning. In cases where there is a huge line of people accumulating at security, you may even be asked to put everything in your carry on. This has happened to me at LGA (New York) last year.

You are free to put everything in any of your bags or even in pockets of a jacket, although I would only recommend that if your jacket has zippered pockets. Then all your stuff goes into the jacket and into the X-ray machine as one item. This year I have been travelling with a vest and find it life-changing!

As you said something need to be separated in order to allow the X-ray be easier to recognize. This is required for laptops at least. Depending on the airport, they may ask it for tablets, ultrabooks and even netbooks.

The two pieces of luggage are a carry-on and a personal item. Most but not all airlines allow both but check before traveling. You can put pretty much anything that is not required to be on the tray in either of them. From the point-of-view of security, there is no difference between them.

Usually you and your items pass more-or-less at the same time. You are asked to stay with your bag until it enters into the X-ray machine and wait for it to come out once you are done your scan. This is to make sure someone is responsible for the luggage and keeping an eye on it at all times.

  • 1
    Going through is not always at the same time. Last time through security (Bristol Airport, UK) the guy wanted to put my bag and laptop already through when I still had to remove coat, jacket and shoes. He did wait when asked and only put all through after I passed through the metal detector.
    – Willeke
    Jan 6, 2018 at 17:09

Very few items are to be removed from your carry on and put into the trays. At the moment it's laptops and tablets. At some screening points it's the little bag of liquids. Everything else, they don't care where you put it but they care about time. If you have, despite all the signs, video screens, and behaviours of the people in front of you in line, reached the front of the line with your pockets full of keys, coins, a phone, a wallet, and so on, the quickest thing for you to do with those is toss them into the tray. But if you move all those into your carry on before you get to the front of the line, nobody is going to care.

And yes, a carry on bag can become temporarily overweight or overstuffed because you put things into it before security, and nobody will care as long as it's back within limits when you actually board the plane, having put that stuff back into your pockets. It's all ok.

  • 1
    You can also have a third and fourth bag in security, if you put your things out of your pockets in a separate bag. They mostly do not mind, rather have a bag than a load of small items.
    – Willeke
    Jun 1, 2019 at 20:28
  • Nobody will care even if your carryon is still outside the weight/volume limits when you board the plane. They never ever check the weight or size of your carryons.
    – Vikki
    Feb 9, 2021 at 2:21
  • @Vikki-formerlySean unless you're flying a VLC like Spirit or RyanAir, in which case expect to have your carryon weighed and measured and if it's overweight or oversize, a $50-75 charge to check it late.
    – A. R.
    Feb 26, 2021 at 20:03

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