With today’s heightened security and rules that seem to change on an almost daily basis, dealing with airport security when you fly can be stressful, confusing and time consuming. Before you fly, you can prepare yourself by contacting not only your airline, but also by visiting the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) web site for the most up to date information and regulations.
One of the most important things you can do is to arrive on time for your flight. Generally, allow yourself ninety minutes for a domestic flight and two hours if you are traveling overseas, although realistically you may need more time than that. Airlines also have a minimum check-in time which varies by airport, and if you check in too late to get through security, you may miss your flight. Most airlines also allow you to check in luggage earlier in the day, so if you wish, you can check in your bags that same morning for a late afternoon or evening flight.
Of course, you cannot fly anywhere without having a photo ID. All passengers aged eighteen and over must have a government issued ID that includes not only the name and date of birth, but also a tamper resistant feature. If you do not have the right documents, you may not necessarily be denied boarding, but it can certainly slow you down and you could miss your flight. A driving license, passport or alien registration card are all acceptable forms of ID.
All your checked bags should be clearly labeled and it is a good idea to put your name, address and a copy of your flight itinerary inside your bags. Label your bags ahead of time to avoid having to do it while waiting in line. Make sure there are no old labels on your bag, which have someone else’s name and address. This can hold you up at the airport as it is considered a possible security issue.
When you approach the security checkpoint, have your boarding pass and photo ID out and ready for inspection. You may also have to remove any bulky clothing items as well as your shoes to pass them separately through the x-ray machine. Slip-on shoes are a good idea and do not forget to take your keys, loose change and any other metal items out of your pocket before you walk through the metal detector.
Try to pack your carry on bag efficiently and ideally in layers so you can easily remove items and put them back. Any large electronic items should also be removed from your carry on bag. Many travelers are held up because they do not have their liquids packed properly. Any carry on liquids, lotions, creams, gels and shampoo, etc should be in containers no larger than three ounces and packed in a clear quart size zip top plastic bag.
The TSA screens all checked bags and may occasionally open them. To avoid delays at security, make sure your luggage is kept unlocked unless you use one of the few TSA approved locks (check the list on their website). A TSA approved lock is clearly indicated as such and it means that the security staff is able to open the bag with a master key to avoid having to cut the lock. In addition, if you are traveling with gifts, do not wrap them; wait until you are at your destination.
If you are traveling with a laptop computer, be aware that new guidelines came into effect during the summer of 2008. Certain types of laptop bags are now considered “checkpoint friendly” and you do not need to remove your laptop at security. Other types of laptop bags, those that double as a backpack, still require the laptop to be removed and screened separately. It is unlikely, but you may be asked to turn the laptop on or remove the battery.
If you happen to use one of several airports that participate in the Registered Traveler program, your time spent going through security can be significantly reduced. The program was introduced in 2005 as an effort to pre-screen certain passengers who are not considered a security risk. Currently, about twenty of the largest airports in the United States participate in the program, including JFK, Orlando and Washington Reagan. If you fly regularly, you can apply for membership in the program.
Check in early, pack lightly and try to be familiar with any new procedures. This can lead to a good experience going through airport security and a good start to your trip. The most important aspect of going through airport security is to check your bags for anything that is not allowed. With proper preparation and knowledge of what is allowed at the airport, you can be on your way to a stress free vacation after spending minimal time going through airport security.
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