Fly Through the Airport This Holiday Season
Even without bad weather and baggage fees, holiday flying is especially tough. But airports and the TSA are working hard (really!) for your safe and smooth travel this season. The TSA website (TSA.gov) and its mobile app (MyTSA) are great resources for your questions; meanwhile, here are some important rules and updates you should know, as well as a few ways to avoid an airport meltdown.
Should Old Safety Rules Be Forgot …
Remember the last time you watched your flight attendant explain the seatbelt? Neither do we. But a quick review of these longstanding travel policies can help reduce stress when you are distracted or tired. Liquids The 3-1-1 rule for liquids, gels and the like (3 ounces, 1-quart bag, 1 bag per person) remains in effect for carry-on bags. The bag must be removed from your luggage and placed in a bin. Higher quantities of breast milk and medicines are permitted but may require further inspection. You can also pack excess liquids in your checked bag without worry -- like, for example, popular holiday items: cranberry sauce, creamy dips and jellies. If in doubt, check them through or ship ahead of time.
Nearly anything today from a pen to a wristwatch can be a computer or phone. What goes into the bin? According to TSA.gov’s “Can I Bring?” search tool: “Laptops, video game consoles, CPAP machines, DVD players and video cameras that use cassettes require inspection.” Smaller items like iPads, iPhones, cameras and cell phones do not need to be separated, but if in doubt go ahead and put them in.
Must be removed and scanned, except for certain passengers (see below). The security line isn’t a Milan catwalk -- wear slip-on shoes if possible, and don’t forget your socks! Also remove or pack all jewelry, belts, hats, and jackets, keys, and any items -- even paper tickets and money -- from your pockets as these can inhibit the walk-through scanner image.
Now available at some 2 dozen domestic airports, the TSA Pre Check program rewards qualified passengers who volunteer information about themselves prior to travel. Perks include separate lanes, retaining shoes and keeping laptops inside carry-ons. (Click here for enrollment information.) Travelers 12 and under now benefit from new procedures that reduce (though not eliminate) patdowns, and also may keep shoes on. Special “Family Lanes” are also available to assist passengers with children, medical equipment or other special needs.
With more crowded flights, overhead bin space is at a premium. Though you may pass through TSA scanners, that roll-around you’ve carried for 10 years might not meet airline size requirements anymore (such as fitting lengthwise, wheels-out). Size restrictions vary, but be prepared to demonstrate your bag will indeed fit in that little test-cage. If your bag is denied, it will be checked -- but on the bright side, for no fee.
Behavior Detection Officers
At the Boston and Detroit airports, agents in this pilot program may approach you for a casual conversation and recommend (or not) additional screening. Be cooperative and patient, and most of all give yourself enough time.
Double Your Time
For holiday travel, we recommend doubling your normal time allowance. This will cushion you against delays, crowds and that guy who wears a rodeo buckle through the security scanner. And with today’s many airport perks -- playgrounds, gyms, Wi-Fi hotspots and wine bars -- you can actually have some fun with the time left over.
Tidings of Great Joy
Believe it or not, wrapped gifts are allowed in carry-on bags (but not recommended). You can bring those pumpkin pies through security, but not snowglobes (indeterminate amounts of liquid).
Relax, You’re Covered
TSA “Advanced Imaging Technology” has repeatedly been found safe and efficient. Now better privacy measures are being implemented as well. All units have been upgraded to display an anonymous, generic outline of a person, rather than specific body parts, and passengers are able to view the same image the officer sees.
Stuck on a Layover? Keep Calm and Carry On With These Perks:
Airport gyms and wellness retailers are numerous—and affordable—relaxation spots. :10 Minute Manicure services start at only $15; Xpress Spa offers nearly 40 full-service locations from Orlando to Amsterdam. “Sun salute” in San Francisco-Oakland's yoga room or boost airborne blood circulation with Chicago O'Hare's $15 gym day pass (AirportGyms.com has others). Peace and quiet Airport chapels are quiet retreats for anyone (just leave the cell phone off). See our picks for the best airport perks.
Dine Without the Whine
Skip the food court for finer dining at Seattle's Ivar's or Raleigh-Durham’s 42nd Street Oyster Bar. You won't be scraping Styrofoam, and think about it: would cranky toddlers enjoy raw oysters for lunch? Exactly. Check out GateGuru's Top 25 Restaurants for the best places to get a real meal at the airport.