WASHINGTON - The head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today encouraged air travelers to become partners over the holiday season in ensuring security and minimizing passenger wait-times at screening checkpoints.
Rear Adm. David M. Stone, the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for TSA, said it is important that travelers be prepared for checkpoints during the Thanksgiving to New Year's holidays when enhanced screening and heavy air traffic will combine with the time-consuming challenge of X-raying bulky winter clothing and added carry-ons.
"Partnership is the key to success," said Admiral Stone. "We're asking all travelers to take a few minutes to check the travel tips on our Web site so prohibited items are left at home and everyone is ready for screening. If people are prepared, it helps our screeners focus on ensuring security and maintaining low passenger wait times."
TSA in September announced it was increasing the use of explosives trace detectors, expanding the use of manual pat-down searches, and referring more passengers for additional screening based on visual observations by screeners, even if an alarm has not gone off. As always, passengers have the right to a private screening.
"A vigilant America may well have discouraged terrorist acts tied to high-profile events like the recent political conventions and the election," Admiral Stone said. "The holidays also are a period when increased vigilance is especially appropriate."
Thanksgiving has the most concentrated travel of the year. To ensure checkpoints are fully staffed, leave will be restricted for TSA employees, managers will be working alongside screeners, and checkpoints may open earlier or close later, depending on the airport. Also, many TSA Headquarters employees and management will be volunteering to work at airports in non-security roles, such as handling baggage and helping passengers prepare for screening.
TSA's checkpoint protocols now require all passengers to remove outer coats and jackets for X-ray before proceeding through the metal detectors. That includes suit and sport coats, athletic warm-up jackets and blazers. If a sports coat or blazer is being worn as the outermost garment – not over a blouse or sweater, for example – it does not have to come off.
Passengers who attempt to take firearms and ammunition through the checkpoint in their carry-on luggage continue to be a problem. Through October, more than 2,200 firearms had been intercepted since TSA assumed responsibility for security at the nation's 450 airports in February 2002. Nationally in recent months, ammunition has been intercepted more than 2,000 times a month. All firearms and ammunition must be declared to airline ticket agents and properly stored in checked baggage.
Air travelers can make a significant contribution to security by checking out "Prepare for Takeoff" at www.tsa.gov. The website has good advice for packing smart and not wearing jewelry, shoes or clothing that may set off metal detector alarms, as well as lists of Permitted and Prohibited Items.
When traveling with children, a discussion in advance of airport security may be helpful. At the checkpoint, children will need to temporarily part with such things as blankets and stuffed animals, and older children need to know that any comment suggesting a threat to an aircraft or its passengers is taken seriously by TSA screeners.
Other important TSA travel tips include:
- As you wait in line at the security checkpoint, place all metal items in a carry-on bag and take laptops and video cameras out of their cases.
- Travel with unwrapped gifts. If a wrapped gift sets off an alarm, TSA screeners will need to unwrap the gift to resolve the alarm.
- To minimize the risk of damage or loss, don't pack fragile or valuable items in checked baggage. Take them with you in carry-on baggage, or ship them to your destination instead.
- Put undeveloped film in carry-on baggage because equipment used to screen checked baggage will damage film. Also, high-speed and specialty film should not be put through X-ray machines, so passengers may ask screeners at the checkpoint to physically inspect film.
- You are NOT REQUIRED to remove your shoes before you enter the walk-through metal detector. However, TSA screeners encourage you to remove them because many types of footwear – including boots, platform shoes, and footwear containing metal or having a thick sole or heel – will require additional screening even if the metal detector DOES NOT alarm.
- Screeners request certain shoes that match a terrorist profile to be removed for additional checks. This is one of the lessons of the "Richard Reid" incident.
- Get to the airport in plenty of time.
- Remember to put identification tags in and on all baggage including laptops.
- Everyone, even frequent fliers, should double check the contents of their pockets and bags, particularly carry-on luggage, to ensure no prohibited items were inadvertently packed.
- Passengers selected for additional screening have the right to request it be done in a private location.
- Don't overpack bags. If screeners have to open them, closing overstuffed bags can be difficult and may result in that checked bag being delayed until a later flight.
- If TSA screeners need to open a locked bag for inspection, they may have to break the lock. There are now products on the market that have uniform locking systems that enable screeners to open and relock a bag. Passengers without such devices may still want to consider leaving bags unlocked.