WASHINGTON – There isn’t a spare seat to be had on any airline. But you booked early, got a good fare, and you are genuinely excited about your trip. Before you get buckled into that middle seat on the aircraft, you and your belongings are going to need to get through the Transportation Security Administration’s security screening process. Below are the top five tips to make your holiday trip through the checkpoint go smoothly.
TSA Tip #1: Get to the airport early.
It’s one of the most popular times of the year for air travel, and there is likely to be more traffic on the roads surrounding the airport, so it will take longer to get to the terminal. It will take longer to park a car and longer to return a rental car. The lines will be longer at airline check-in counters. And of course the lines will be longer at the checkpoints because airplanes are fully booked and more people are looking to get away for the holiday. It’s peak travel season, remember that you aren’t the only one who wants to fly during the holiday. Plan to arrive two hours before a domestic flight and three hours prior to an international flight out of a major airport.
TSA Tip #2: Use your time in the checkpoint line wisely.
While in the checkpoint line, finish your beverage. Consider bringing the empty bottle through the checkpoint to fill at a water fountain or water filling station on the secure side of the terminal. Doing so will save you a few dollars on bottled water once you head toward your departure gate.
While in the checkpoint line, get out your boarding pass and ID. Have them in hand when stepping up to the podium and have each person in your travel group present her/his own boarding pass and ID. When traveling with small children, the parent or guardian should present her/his own boarding pass and ID and afterward present the boarding pass for each child.
While in the checkpoint line, start to empty everything from your pockets and put those items inside your carry-on bag so that when you step up to the conveyor belt to divest your belongings into bins, you will have a head start before stepping into the scanner. The Automated Image Technology scanners detect both metallic and non-metallic items between the clothing and skin. That means the machines can detect non-metallic items tucked inside pockets such as tissues, wallets, mints, driver’s licenses and passports. So be sure to remove everything from your pockets.
Remember, there is a new security checkpoint protocol that is in place. It requires that you remove all personal electronic devices larger than your cell phone to be placed in a checkpoint bin with nothing above it or below it so that TSA can get a clear X-ray image of these items (i.e.: laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras). So while you are in line, please prepare to remove your large personal electronic devices from your carry-on bags.
TSA Tip #3: If you are traveling with gifts, please don’t wrap them with wrapping paper and tape.
It’s holiday time and you want to bring gifts with you to hand out upon your arrival. We understand. What we hope that you understand is that if your wrapped gift triggers an alarm, the gift might need to be unwrapped for TSA officers to resolve the alarm. So instead of wrapping a gift, please consider using a gift bag or a gift box so that resolving the alarm will just mean removing the item from the gift bag or gift box without needing to unwrap it. Or, consider wrapping the gift upon your arrival.
Snow globes are popular holiday gifts at this time of year. If you’re traveling with a snow globe, it needs to contain 3.4 liquid ounces or less to comply with the 3-1-1 liquids bag rule. If it is a larger snow globe, please pack it in your checked bag. If you are unsure if the snow globe contains 3.4 ounces of liquid or more, the rule of thumb is that if it is smaller than a tennis ball, it is probably 3.4 ounces or less.
TSA Tip #4: Traveling with food items during the holiday is okay.
If you’ve spent time baking your favorite Christmas cookies, fruitcake, pie or other holiday treats, you can bring these sweets and other food items with you when you fly. If the food item is a solid (i.e.: ham, turkey, cake, pie, cookies), then you can pack it in your carry-on bag. If the food item is spreadable or pourable, then it must be 3.4 liquid ounces or less to comply with the 3-1-1 liquids bag rule to travel in your carry-on bag. If it has more than 3.4 liquid ounces, then you should pack it in a tightly sealed container in your checked bag. If you’re unsure if your food item should go in a checked bag, consider this: If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, then please pack it in your checked bag.
TSA Tip #5: Pack smart - don’t bring along any prohibited items.
If you are unsure whether an item can be carried through a checkpoint, there are several ways to find out. You can:
- Visit tsa.gov and in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage, click on “What can I bring?” Type in the item and you will find out immediately if it should be packed in a carry-on bag, checked bag, either or neither.
- Download the free myTSA app, which also has the same “What can I bring?” feature.
- Tweet a photo of the item or the name of the item to @AskTSA. TSA’s Twitter team will let you know if the item should go in a carry-on bag, checked bag, either or neither. Live assistance is available from 8 a.m. - 10 p.m. ET weekdays; 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
- Use Facebook Messenger to ask about an item at fb.com/AskTSA. Live assistance is available from 8 a.m. - 10 p.m. ET weekdays; 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
- Call the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673. Automated information is available anytime in several languages. Representatives are available 8 a.m. - 11 p.m. ET weekdays; 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. weekends and holidays.
Bonus TSA Tip #6: If you left something behind at the checkpoint, don’t panic. TSA has a Lost & Found Program.
It is not uncommon for travelers to accidentally leave personal items at checkpoints. If you think you may have left an item at the checkpoint, visit the Lost & Found page on tsa.gov and type in the airport name or code. You will be provided with a telephone number to leave a detailed message to include your name, contact information, the date you traveled, the terminal (if you know it), your flight information and of course a detailed description of the lost item. TSA will contact you to let you know if your item was turned in and if so, how to get it back. Items can be picked up or shipped. If you think you may have left your item in the airport terminal, contact the airport. Or if you think you left it on an airplane, contact the airline.