Holiday Travel Tips from CHHS, Part 2: the Security Line & Trip Home

December 21st, 2010

So you are all packed and ready to go – but just because you packed smart (i.e., didn’t pack prohibited items, and packed in an organized way that allows the TSA scanners to determine what is actually in your bag), you’re not necessarily in the clear.

No matter what, you still have to go through security. At the checkpoint, make sure you have your boarding pass and identification ready. Having your ID on you is actually really serious business. If the TSA cannot verify your identity, they do not have to let you enter the screening area or board the plane, so just keep your boarding pass and ID with you until you are all the way through security. Once you are through the checkpoint, it is time to pass through the metal detector and X-ray machine gauntlet.

What to wear

Now that it’s cold outside there’s a good chance you’ll have multiple layers of clothing to take off before you are down to the appropriate security screening attire. The TSA suggests that you pack your coats if possible, which can be problematic for someone like me who is leaving from Baltimore (where it’s freezing) and landing in Denver (where it’s snowing). A coat, hat, and gloves do me no good in my checked baggage. If you are in my same boat, you need to begin your preparation for the security line a.s.a.p.

Just about everything needs to go through the X-ray machine. First, you need to deal with your person. All those winter layers need to go through the machine, your shoes need to come off, your pockets need to be emptied of keys, loose change, and your phone, and then you need to remove your watch, belt buckle, heavy jewelry, and anything else you think might set off the machine. Ladies, even the under-wire of your bra could be the culprit when the machine detects metal on you. If you do your best to put these items through the X-ray machine, you will minimize the possibility of your needing to be scanned, wanded, or patted down. After you get yourself squared away, you need to pull out some of the contents of your carry-on, like your 3-1-1 liquids baggie and your laptop, and place them in the bin to be scanned. Have them readily accessible.

About those body scanners …

Hopefully, you will be able to collect your items at the end of the conveyor belt, get dressed and repacked, and go on your way, but there is always a chance that you could be pulled out of line for additional screenings. Also, if you do set off the metal detector, you may be given the option of going through the advanced imaging technology (AIT) screening, or receiving a pat-down. For those of you concerned with your health and privacy, AIT was evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and it meets national health and safety standards. Also, the TSA has worked to ensure privacy by having an officer at a remote location observe your image, privacy algorithms blur your facial features to keep your identity private, and once it has been viewed, the image is immediately deleted.

If you are still uncomfortable (note that AIT screenings are voluntary), you may opt-out and request a pat-down instead. Pat-downs occur when you set off the metal detector or trigger the AIT unit. If you are subjected to a pat-down, you are well within your rights to request it be done in a private room with a witness. Lest you think you are being singled out, know that no man, woman, or child is immune from this procedure. Just remember, it will all be over in two to four minutes.

The voyage home

So you survived the screening process (hopefully with dignity intact), found your gate, and boarded your plane. Several hours and several thousand miles later, you safely arrived at your destination (with all your gifts in tow), you ate, drank, and partied your way through the holidays with family and friends, made your resolutions, and now it is time to go home.

Problem number one: the leftovers, which can be both a blessing and a curse when traveling. Now that airlines are charging gourmet restaurant prices for a boxed lunch of canned goods and freeze-dried foods, tasty holiday snacks seem like a pretty good way to keep your holiday spirits and calories up while waiting at the gate or relaxing mid-flight. However, if mom’s signature dish is a liquid or other amorphous, liquidy substance (e.g., cranberry sauce, creamy spreadable or dipable substance, jam or jelly, salsa, sauce, condiment, or alcohol) you are better off checking it – if not, you will be scarfing it down in the security line.

Problem number two: gifts. That new snow globe (according to the TSA, they hold an “undetermined amount of liquid”), lacrosse stick, or tactical pen will go directly into the trash if you try take it through security. Pack all of that stuff in your checked luggage, or, if you really want to be on the safe side, have your haul shipped to your house.

Once you are all repacked and ready, it’s back to the airport, back through security, and back on a plane destined for home.

The process of going through airport security might not be the highlight of your trip, but if you plan ahead and pack smart, you can at least avoid some stress this holiday season. Happy Holidays, and bon voyage!

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