BALTIMORE – You come to an airport checkpoint hoping to catch your flight on time and arrive at your destination safely. Seems simple enough, but sometimes something you weren’t expecting comes up at the checkpoint and it slows you down and perhaps raises your anxiety.
Meet Christine Johnson, a TSA officer who has been working at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) since 2016. When asked what she wants travelers to know about going through the checkpoint, she was eager to share some tips to guide travelers through the checkpoint process, eliminate confusion and speed things up.
First of all, Johnson recommends travelers “arrive at the airport two hours before their flight.” During summer travel season, all airports are busy. TSA officers will not move travelers to the front of the checkpoint line if they are running late.
“Take everything out of your pockets,” Johnson says next. That means the driver’s license, boarding pass, lip balm, tissues, and the more obvious items like keys, phones and wallets. She stresses again—everything out.
“Liquids, gels and aerosols that are 3.4 ounces or larger are not allowed through the checkpoint, so pack the large suntan lotion, insect repellent spray, toothpaste, shampoo, shaving cream, and other large beauty products in your checked bag,” she explains. Johnson says that one of the most common reasons that carry-on bags require TSA officers to search inside is for the oversize liquid, gel or aerosol. Those items will not be permitted beyond the checkpoint. Avoid the time it takes for a TSA officer to conduct a “bag check” by packing those items in a checked bag. Unsure if an item is defined as a liquid, gel or aerosol? A good rule of thumb is that if the item can be spilled, sprayed, spread, pumped or poured, it’s defined as a liquid, gel or aerosol.
“Fireworks and sparklers are not permitted on airplanes—not in carry-on bags or checked bags. Don’t even bring them to the airport,” Johnson advises.
Have your boarding pass on your mobile device? It’s important to remember that the TSA officer cannot accept a printed version of a mobile boarding pass because the technology doesn’t recognize it. A mobile boarding pass must be on the phone. “It’s a great idea to have your mobile device turned on, in hand, with the boarding pass on the screen when you get to the TSA ticket document checker,” she suggests. Unfortunately, many travelers pull their mobile phones out of their pockets when they get to the podium, often struggling to open the boarding pass, and slowing down the line. Johnson also points out that sometimes Wi-Fi may not be strong enough at a checkpoint to get the mobile boarding pass on the phone, so consider taking a screen shot of it before arriving at the checkpoint. The mobile boarding pass device can read the screen shot.
All personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone need to be removed from carry-on bags to allow for a good clear x-ray image to ensure that nobody has tampered with the device to conceal something inside. This includes laptops, tablets (e.g., iPads), e-readers (e.g., Kindles and Nooks), Bluetooth speakers and camera bodies. Failing to do so “will result in the carry-on bag being pulled for a bag search, thus extending the time travelers spend at the checkpoint,” she says.
If you need specialized assistance due to a medical or health condition or for any other reason, Johnson recommends calling the TSA Cares line 72 hours in advance of your flight at 855-787-2227 so you know what to expect at the checkpoint. Travelers can request assistance from a TSA Passenger Support Specialist who can connect with the individual to guide him/her through the checkpoint.
Johnson emphasizes that travelers should listen to what the TSA officers are saying. Typically, they are providing helpful guidance as to what travelers should do at the checkpoint. “We’re there to help get people through the process. All we want at the end of the day is for people to get to their destination safely.”
She adds one more tip. “Please remind people not to bring their guns to the checkpoint. They need to be packed properly and taken to the airline check-in counter.” TSA has seen an increase in the number of guns that travelers are bringing to BWI checkpoints in carry-on bags. Not only will that slow down the checkpoint process, it will typically result in an arrest.