Friday, April 18, 2014

Top 10 Do's and Don't's of Airport Security

After coming home from a quick trip out to Houston this past weekend I got to thinking about my airport experiences particularly with security. I remember the days when your family could walk you right to the gate without a boarding pass, and you didn't have to take off your shoes or declare your toiletries for the whole airport to see. Tickets were mailed, and you dealt with people instead of kiosks. But alas, now there seem to be new rules and regulations every day determining whether or not you will be able to pluck your eyebrows while traveling and whether or not there will be an additional charge for checking a bag. Can I or can't I bring my tweezers in my carryon bag today?

TSA has a very informative site where you can type in any item and find out whether or not you can carry it on. I am thrilled to report that I can in fact bring my tweezers with me. I can also pack an ice pick or meat cleaver in my checked bags if I choose. And if you decide to buy a gold inlaid sword in Spain, you can safely check it in your suitcase without worrying if it will be confiscated.

All of that aside, there are some tips and tricks that I have learned (sometimes the hard way) over the past couple of years spending countless hours in airports around the world. You need a ticket to get through, so print it at home or check in at the airport kiosk.

1. Have your passport or identification and boarding pass easily accessible at all times. It's frustrating to be standing behind someone fumbling around for their documentation, so I always slide my ticket inside my passport cover and keep it in the same side pocket of my purse. You will have to show it at security and again at the gate. For international flights you may have to show your passport at the gate as well.

2. Choose your shoes wisely. Unless you are over 75 or have a pre check clearance, you will most likely have to take your shoes off. Shoes that slide on and off easily tend to work best. But if you are like me you wear the shoes that take up the most room in your bag. If that is the case, untie and loosen the laces while you are waiting in line.

3. Liquids- TSA still follows the 3-1-1 rule. You are allowed to have 3oz. bottles that fit into a 1 quart ziploc bag, and you can only have 1 bag per person. Factor your travel purchases into this as well. I have lost small bottles of olive oil and scotch that I was planning on giving as gifts because I forgot to take them out of my carryon bag.

4. Electronics- The larger ones like laptops and tablets will have to be taken out and placed in a separate bin, so pack accordingly. You may want to keep them in an outer pocket of your suitcase or somewhere easily accessible.

5. Know what is in your bags and where to find it. This seems like a no brainer, but I was going through security on a couple of occasions where something questionable popped up on the x-ray screen, and I had no idea why. One time was because I was moving and decided to carry all of my jewelry in a shoebox at the bottom of my backpack. All of the metal set off the machine, but I couldn't remember what it was. Another time that same bottle of scotch mentioned above was mixed in with a pile of scarves that I bought for Christmas presents. I had completely forgotten about it. It doesn't go over well with TSA officials when you can't remember what is in your bag.

6. Empty your pockets and leave the jewelry at home. The days are long gone where the airport is a place to dress to impress. You are basically sitting on a flying bus for a bunch of hours. It is best to be comfortable. The less you have going through security, the faster the process will be and the less hassle you will have to go through.

7. Forget the jokes. While it's important to keep things light and not get stressed while going through security, these guys have seen it all. They don't want to hear your jokes especially if they have to do with carrying a concealed knife. Be friendly and keep the line moving. And no, they won't let you bring in your water bottle just this once.

8. Priority Boarding- Yet another of the perks of being a frequent flyer or member of a credit card of an affiliated airline is that you can go through the priority security line. This can save tons of time, and the line tends to go more quickly because you are dealing with people who travel on a regular basis. I have a United card, and I have been able to glide through security at several airports around the world.

9. When in doubt, ask. Like I said before, rules change all the time, so if you aren't sure where your gate is or if you have to take your shoes off, ask someone. There are plenty of people who work there to ensure that things run smoothly. Asking ahead of time can mean the difference between making or missing your flight.

10. Assume that everything is going to take a long time and that you will be stopped and searched. This is a strange one, I know. Many airports institute random checks either at the gate or at the main security check points. I always have it in my head that I am going to get stopped and searched, so then when I don't it's like a great bonus.

Every airport is a little bit different, so be prepared for changes. Like in Honolulu for example, I had all of my liquids, electronics and shoes ready to go, but when I got past the drug sniffing dog they said to put it all back into my bags. They must have had some super scanner. For the most part though, you will have to follow all of the standard regulations.