Initiation codon selection in eukaryotes involves base-by-base inspection of the 5'-untranslated region of mRNA by scanning ribosomal 43S preinitiation complexes. We employed in vitro reconstitution to investigate factor requirements for this process and report that in the absence of eIF1 and DHX29, eIFs 4A, 4B and 4G promote efficient bypassing of stable stems by scanning 43S complexes and formation of 48S initiation complexes on AUG codons immediately upstream and downstream of such stems, without their unwinding. However, intact stems are not threaded through the entire mRNA Exit channel of the 40S subunit, resulting in incorrect positioning of mRNA upstream of the ribosomal P site in 48S complexes formed on AUG codons following intact stems, which renders them susceptible to dissociation by eIF1. In 48S complexes formed on AUG codons preceding intact stems, the stems are accommodated in the A site. Such aberrant complexes are destabilized by DHX29, which also ensures that mRNA enters the mRNA-binding cleft in a single-stranded form and therefore undergoes base-by-base inspection during scanning.