Airport Security Accounts
Let’s be honest. Most of us, when we think of “Airport Security Accounts,” are not worrying about terrorists. We’re hoping we make it through the screening process with as little trouble as possible. By “trouble,” what could we mean? Delay, a Hobson’s choice of abandoning either our property or our vacation, or worse. Every country has its own security regulations, but the USA’s Transportation Security Administration has become notorious. The good news is that if you follow the TSA rules, you’ll most likely avoid problems in other countries.
Security rules aren’t the only potential impediment to a smooth transition from check-in to boarding your plane. Airlines have different baggage rules and, on any given day (as a friend recently discovered), those rules can change. Finally, countries have other regulations, like how much cash you can bring in (Recently, an immigration officer asked me if I was carrying “a lot” of money. I said I wasn’t sure exactly how much I had in dollars. “Do you have more than $10,000?” she asked. “Nope.” Not a problem.)
Let me share an example of my friend’s troubles with a number of these systems when she was attempting a quick visit to her boyfriend in Mexico by departing LAX. She drove her own car to the airport and dutifully arrived (as is required) two hours early for her international flight. The first rule she encountered was a checked baggage limit for Leon, Mexico. Because it was the holiday season, she could only check one bag. “What!” she protested. “That only applies to Mexico City!” The worker asked a supervisor. Same result. Fortunately, my friend had her car, so she raced back, dumped out the books and papers in her carry on and unloaded the second planned check bag contents into her carryon. (By the way, she has a tip for travelers. To avoid the weight rules that apply to baggage on all airlines, she carries weight in her carryon. If you can lift it overhead, you’re good.)
Now, in the second bag she couldn’t check, she had a turkey. Yes. It was the centerpiece of the Christmas dinner she planned to cook. No problem getting through security in the U.S. but smack into the agricultural rules on arrival in Mexico. They wanted to know, despite the sticker on the bird, the name of the plant that processed it. My friend sadly confessed she didn’t know. Maybe it was a Christmas gift, but Mexico’s immigration official let her and the bird through. (That probably wouldn’t have happened in the U.S.) My friend wasn’t as lucky with the TSA before she boarded the plane at LAX. Security noticed she had a large tube of Aim toothpaste (the only thing her boyfriend wanted for Christmas. I always thought you could get anything you wanted in Mexico, but apparently, you
can’t get Aim.) Despite my friend’s investigative abilities, she forgot to check the TSA’s carryon rules concerning “liquids, aerosols and gels.” These are the rules that require you to use a clear plastic zip-top one quart-sized bag. If you don’t, any liquid, aerosol or gel could be thrown out. Each individual item in that bag must be 3.4 ounces or less. That’s why your local grocery store sells “travel size” items. There are exceptions for medications, baby formula and breast milk in “reasonable amounts,” but these items must be declared. When in doubt, put the items in your checked bags. The Aim was left at LAX.
I’m always interested (and sometimes bemused) by the items the TSA allows. You can bring knitting needles (metal ones, too) on planes. The last time I went through the screening, I had wooden needles with me. (I find knitting relaxing, even in flight.) The screener asked if I had anything “sharp.” “No.” Also, I could have carried, if I had wanted, scissors provided they had blades shorter than four inches. I might have carried scissors, too, because I had my embroidery, and those scissors are about three inches long. No problem. I always check the TSA website before I go because rules change. The site is easily navigable and searchable. If you don’t know whether to check it or even to pack it, check here.
Now, we’ve pretty well covered the baggage rules. In summary, save your zip top bag for the carryon, and put your mini aerosols, gels and liquids in it. Visit the TSA website to confirm current rules for articles for both checked and carryon baggage. Check your airline rules for baggage. You’ll find how many bags you can check for free, the cost of additional bags and size limits. Remember, rules vary from airline to airline. Some airlines won’t even check bags through if your trip uses more than one carrier. Baggage rules can also become more restrictive during holiday periods. My friend’s carryon turkey got checked at the gate because, due to the crowded condition on the plane, the airline requested volunteers to check their carryon bags. She stepped right up, shaking her head but glad to be able to check two bags. If you’re traveling internationally, assume there are rules about food, plant or animal materials. Check the country of your destination. Likely, it has a website for these rules. Also, there are always rules about pets.
When you dress for travel, keep security in mind. Our goal is to keep you moving and not bogged down in security (or customs) delays. Ladies, leave the underwire bras in your bags. Same for jewelry of any size beyond tiny – no watches, necklaces or the like. Small rings or earrings appear not to set the alarms off. Wear slip on shoes. You hold up the line when you’re tying and untying. Besides, slip-ons are more comfortable. I like Venice sandals. They’re great travel shoes, and they never hold me up at the airport. Take off your jacket and an
y other overcoat. Pack your laptop on top of your carryon so you can quickly get it out. Get the zip-top plastic baggie out. Clear your pockets of your cell phone and any change. Do this at home. Then, you can just double-check while you wait in line to go through the screening process. Your fellow travelers will appreciate your preparation, which doesn’t hold them up.
When you check in, you need an acceptable form of identification. If you are traveling to another country, you need a passport. If you’re traveling within the U.S., most people will use a driver’s license. For a complete list of acceptable IDs, see the TSA website.
Everybody goes through the metal detector. If you have metal from surgery, for example, you may want a note from your doctor. My son carries one for the screws in his leg as a result of a football injury. I had to carry a special card after my thyroid ablation for Grave’s disease. I went to Bermuda about two months after that procedure. Nothing was said on the way down, but, on my return, I was chatting with an agent at the Bermuda airport. He asked if I had had a good trip and made other small talk. Then, he asked, “Have you had any medical procedures lately?” “Yes!” I said. “How did you know?” I couldn’t see any equipment testing me. “Oh,” he smiled. “We have our ways.” He declined to see the doctor’s note and took my word for the procedure, but he knew I had been exposed to a large dose of radiation.
Recently, I also was screened each time I went through security in the machine that looks like “Stick ‘em up!” Some people worry about the radiation effects of this process. The TSA website even addresses the safety issues around this equipment. Yes. They can see your undies, I guess (even what’s under your undies, perhaps). I’
m more concerned about terrorists. If you prefer a body search, the TSA agents will accommodate you in a private room (assuming you request that). If you do request a private room, you are entitled to have a companion accompany you.
Other questions? Check the TSA website through any of the above links. If you follow the tips in this article, you should be well on your way!
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