With the start of the holiday season a week away, it’s time to review Transportation Security Administration rules and general tips for making 2011 holiday air travel as painless as possible.
Following are 10 best-traveler practices and TSA tips for holiday ticket-holders—particularly for those traveling in coach and who don’t have elite status with any carrier, which is a majority of the flying public. Come to think of it, most of these travel tips are good year-round.
Smartphone users can also get more information by scanning the QR code in the accompanying image. (Additionally noteworthy: While TSA agents at the gate are not always a jolly crew, the administration’s blog writer has a much better sense of humor, and the site’s worth a read for additional info, links and laughs.)
And now for those tips:
1. Shoes stay on! (at least for kids). Children ages 12 and younger no longer need to remove their shoes. Plus, kids are no longer subject to enhanced pat-downs. These new allowances from the TSA may not help a vast majority of the traveling public, but it’s a boon for parents—and passengers standing in line behind them.
2. Wear easy-to-get-on shoes; minimize metal on your body. For the rest of us over the age of 12, please, no boots with 50 buckles or ones that lace all the way above the knee, unless you’re willing to remove them before you get in line and move out of the way after you’ve made it through screening. Causing people to wait while you struggle in and out of difficult footwear is just plain unacceptable, especially after we’re coming up on close to a decade of having to endure this rule. As for the metal element, keep jewelry to a minimum, and if you carry coins, remember to remove them from your pockets before going through the scanner.
3. Double-check your bag for guns and knives. No, we’re not kidding. So far in 2011, more than 1,000 guns have been found in passengers’ bags, according to the TSA. Don’t believe it? Read Joe Sharkey’s spot-on column about it in this week’s New York Times.
4. Do not wrap gifts that might set off security alarms. While wrapped packages get screened like regular baggage, if there is an item inside that TSA finds suspicious, it gets unwrapped. But why risk it? Best to not test the system (and potentially delay those behind in line) and just wrap gifts after arrival.
5. Know before you arrive at the airport whether your tasty treat for the holiday dinner table is allowed through security. Pies, cakes, bread, donuts and even turkeys (raw or cooked) are permitted on board. Sauces, dips, spreads—basically anything that is in liquid or gel form—needs to be put in checked luggage, at least if you have them in containers larger than 3.4 ounces and they can’t all fit into a quart-size plastic bag. Don’t know/remember the 3-1-1 rule? Read here for clarification.
6. Bring snacks. Sure, you can purchase food on board, but lately I’ve noticed planes running out of some supplies even before we’re halfway through a flight. Add potential delays on the tarmac or even at the gate (airport stores often close before late or over-night flights depart), and having snack bars or a bag of almonds or chocolates in your carry-on are great for tempering hunger pains and appeasing cranky travelers with low blood-sugar levels.
7. Bring proper ID, but don’t panic if you forget it. If you have lost or forgotten your ID, you may still be permitted to fly as long as you can help TSA agents verify you are who you say you are by answering a few questions. It happens. Remain calm, provide the information needed, and odds are you’ll likely be able to board. Also, for those who may have missed the change five years ago, passports now are required for all international travel, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
8. Choose your seats beforehand. If you’re particular about where you sit on a plane, as soon as you have a reservation, go online and select your seats for each segment of travel. The earlier you do this, the better chance you have of getting that aisle, window or front-of-plane seat you desire, and of sitting with your travel partners.
9. Check-in online. I know this may seem like a no-brainer to regular travelers, but the holidays bring out the occasional flyer, who may not realize that checking-in before arriving at the airport has advantages beyond skipping the line at the counter, particularly if not checking bags. It’s especially helpful in saving precious minutes should you arrive late, such as when your driver takes you to the wrong airport (as happened to this writer recently).
10. Arrive early, both to the airport and your gate. Plan to arrive even earlier than you think necessary. The airline suggests 90 minutes? Make it 120. Adding at least 30 minutes to your usual routine can help mitigate unexpected delays. If you don’t travel that often, you may not be aware that at many airports you now have to take your checked luggage to a separate baggage handler after you check-in, which during busy times means another long line in which to wait before even getting to security. Planes are boarding earlier too, so if you need to snag precious overhead bin space, get to the gate at least 45 minutes before departure.
Tip No. 10 could be the most important, as it can set the tone for the rest of your journey. Any other suggestions? Share them in comments. And, of course, enjoy the holidays!
Photo: TSA Blog
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