As a person who travels for a living, I have experienced more than my fair share of airport security screenings. While it is certainly not one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel, it is necessary for our safety and something we must learn to accept and embrace. Since the 9/11 attacks, much has changed for travelers and it has become more difficult and often confusing for infrequent travelers to deal with all of the new and changing security rules. However, if you are prepared for the screening, it will go smoothly for you and will eliminate any irritation of those in the line behind you awaiting their turn. I’d like to offer some tips to help you make this a more, if not pleasant, at least manageable experience.
First of all you should know the most basic rules. Before travel always check your airline’s website to find out the current luggage allowances. This will tell you the number of bags you are allowed to check and carry-on as well as the size and weight allowance for those bags. If your checked bag is too large or overweight, you must be prepared to pay a fee. Fees vary widely by airline. If your carry-on bag is too large or heavy, you may be required to check it as well and any applicable fees will apply.
Some travelers prefer to pack so that they do not need to check a bag. I am not one of those people. Once you have checked in and given up your bag, you will be armed with baggage claim receipts and boarding passes. You are now ready to go through the security check-point.
Liquid and gel-based items are not allowed to be carried on-board the aircraft. The exception to this is if the liquid or gel (toothpaste is an example of a gel) is in a 3 oz. or smaller container, which must then be placed in a quart sized Ziploc-style bag. You are only allowed one quart-sized bag of items.
You will have to remove your shoes, belt, watch, hat, jacket, scarf, and any metal jewelry and empty the contents of your pockets before walking through the metal detector. These items will be placed in a plastic bin and sent through the X-ray screening machine. With this in mind, it is best to wear shoes that are easy to remove and I suggest you remove the other items and place those that will fit into your carry-on luggage before getting to the security checkpoint to make the process quicker for you and those behind you.
You will also have to remove the quart-sized bag of 3 oz. liquids from your hand luggage and place it in one of the plastic bins before sending it through the machine. Laptop computers must be removed from your carry-on luggage and placed in a plastic bin separately. The laptop requires its own bin, so don’t place any other items with it.
Once all of your items are placed in the proper bins and are on the conveyor belt going into the screening machine, you are ready to proceed through the metal detector. A TSA official will motion for you to proceed through the detector and if you get the all-clear, you will reclaim your items from the other side of the screening machine and proceed to the waiting area for your flight. If you set off the metal detector, you will be passed over with a hand held metal detection wand and/or patted down by a TSA official of your same gender. You will be asked to remove the offending item (perhaps you forgot to remove your watch), and go through the detector again.
Baby formula and liquid medications are two possible exceptions to the liquids rule. Reasonable sized containers of these items may be allowed. For medications, I recommend that you have them in the original container with the prescription label visible and if possible, a letter from you doctor stating your need for this medication.
It is also important to note that lithium batteries are not allowed in the cargo-hold of the aircraft. If you have extra lithium batteries for your cell phone or camera, you will need to put them in your carry-on luggage.
For a complete list of prohibited items and up-to-date information you may visit the TSA website at www.tsa.dhs.gov.