Ned’s TSA holiday tips: before leaving for the airport

TSA full body scanner by By Steven Perez,

During the holiday season, many who don’t fly at other times of the year are off to the airport to visit family and to vacation while their children are “off” from school for the Christmas/New Year’s break.

Especially if you’re traveling with youngsters, getting through TSA (Transportation Security Administration) security at the airport should begin with careful planning at home. Packing smart prevents holdups and problems at the airport. Preparing young children for the airport experience is important to their well-being and your ability to get the whole family through TSA quickly and without incident.

I have some tips for air travelers to help you get through TSA security at the airport quickly and without problems during the busy holiday season. This week I’ll discuss what you can do at home before leaving for the airport.

Getting through airport security starts with smart packing. You need to know what’s permitted to be packed in your carry-on, and what you’ll have to pack in your checked luggage to pass through security. For example, most sharp objects, many sporting goods, typical bottles of shampoo and other liquids, and some tools may not be packed in your carry-on but can be packed in your checked luggage, with special requirements for some items.

Check the TSA website, “Prohibited Items” page to learn what you can and can’t pack in both carry-on and checked luggage. This information is available via TSA’s smartphone app, “My TSA,” too.

To take liquids and gels, shampoo and toothpaste, for example, in your carry-on, make sure you understand the TSA 3-1-1 Rule, and follow it carefully. Put your “liquids baggie” in an easily accessible location in your carry-on so it’s easily removed to place it in a TSA screening bin.

Some liquids, such as medications, baby formula and food, and breast milk are allowed in larger “reasonable” quantities and don’t have to be in your baggie, but you must declare such items to a TSA officer at the security checkpoint. If you don’t declare the items, when they’re found, you’ll be delayed at security for extra scrutiny, and you might not be able to bring them with you.

Pack both your carry-ons and checked luggage in layers. Keep items with wires, including electronic gear, hair driers, electric shavers, etc., separate from each other, with the wires wrapped and secured. That permits TSA officers to more easily view your gear during their x-ray inspection, so you’ll hopefully avoid having your bags opened and hand screened.

At this time of year, many air travelers are bearing gifts. While bringing “wrapped” gifts on airplanes is permitted, I’d wait until you get to your destination before wrapping them. TSA may decide to hand inspect one or more of the gifts you’re carrying, and the wrapping will likely be ruined.

TSA allows small (tennis ball size) snow globes in carry-on luggage, but they must be packed in your “liquids baggie,” with your other carry-on liquids. Larger snow globes must be packed in your checked luggage.

While it may be the holiday season, you still can’t bring more than a carry-on and a personal item into your airplane’s cabin when you fly. Bringing along a shopping bag or two with presents, in addition to your carry-on and personal item, won’t be permitted.

Don’t forget, the airlines assume no liability for broken, missing or stolen breakables and valuables packed in your checked luggage, including breakable and valuable holiday gifts.

Personally, I ship my holiday gifts via a package delivery service, even when I’m flying to visit their recipients. I want them to get to family and friends intact and on time. Plus, I want to get through TSA security and on to my flights with a minimum of hassle.

If you’re traveling with young children, prepare them for what will happen at TSA security, which you can read about at the TSA website’s “Traveling with Children” page. This is especially true of explaining about patdowns which, despite what you may have heard to the contrary, are still being performed on children when TSA deems it necessary.

In fact, many children are patted down. Parents carrying infants or children can’t be screened by advanced imaging technology units (AIT), i.e. full body scanners. In addition, as parents accompanying children, you may want to opt out of being screened by AIT to prevent you from being separated from your children.

Personally, for health and safety reasons, I always opt out of AIT screening and would do the same for my children. I’ve found that when passengers cooperate with TSA officers doing patdowns, while we’d all rather skip them, they are generally done professionally.

At the airport you’ll be required to empty your pockets of everything at TSA security, prior to screening. While theft at TSA checkpoints is rare, it does happen. Plan to put your cash, wallet, cell phone, mp3 player, headphones, and other valuables, in something to keep them unseen. I wear a photographer’s vest when I travel, and put my valuables in its zippered pockets before leaving home.

Next week, I’ll discuss TSA holiday tips to follow once you’re at the airport.

  • Susan Liberantowski

    do non prescription medications count – like cough syrup? Once I needed to bring mine but I did wrap it up and packed it in my checked bag because I wasn’t certain. I ended up buying a bottle in the airport too when I needed to use it in the airport.

  • Jeff Linder

    Yes, they do count as liquids. That said, it TSA agents are ever going to wave something through, those are high on the list, but you don’t want to depend on it.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Jeff. They do count.

  • Anonymous

    Never had a problem. I always make a point to show the TSA my separate baggie of meds (including liquids), and have never had a problem.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Ned, for some very good pointers (and for eschewing an anti-TSA rant). I doubt that many in your target audience read this blog (or any other travel blog), but hopefully your followers will pass these tips along to their less-travel-savvy friends and family.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Paul. Thanks for your readership. I hope travelers will pass along these tips too.

    As to no anti-TSA rant, I’ve done my share of rants (LOL), and in the future will likely rail at TSA at some time in the future, but that’s outside the scope of this column. Right now, as air travelers, we all have to deal with TSA, regardless of what we think of them.

    Travel isn’t easy these days. I’m just hoping that during this busy holiday and vacation season readers who haven’t thought of some of these tips themselves will take advantage of them to get through the airport as easily and hassle free as possible.

    Stay tuned for next week’s column which discusses tips for getting through security once you get to the airport.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the advice, unfortunately TSA screeners have a well deserved reputation for ignoring their own rules thereby making these tips pretty much useless.

    Maybe you could ask TSA some relevant questions and post their response.

    Can TSA can explain how any of this is keeping us safe when TSA screeners haven’t caught or even identified one terrorist after 11 years and over $80 billion in funding.

    Maybe TSA can explain how stealing our property is going to prevent another 9/11.

    Or how humiliating and exposing a dying woman’s feeding tube at the checkpoint despite her request for a private screening is preventing a terrorist attack.

    Maybe TSA can explain how keeping a known pedophile, Thomas Harkin, working at Philadelphia airport six months after he was exposed is keeping our skies safe.

    Can TSA explain how pulling the dress off of a 17 year old on a church trip and exposing her breasts to her classmates and everyone at the checkpoint is protecting her?

    Can TSA explain how having over a dozen screeners smuggling drugs and guns through our airports in the past 24 months is essential to airport security?

    We would like to know how having 103 TSA workers arrested in the last 24 months including 15 arrested for child sex crimes, 29 for theft, 12 for smuggling and one for murder is acceptable.

    Maybe TSA will answer why the agency hasn’t obeyed the court order to take public comment on the scanners and is now moving the dangerous x-ray units to small airports.

    No planes were hijacked between October 2001 and November 2010 without groping children, strip searching women and stealing our property. No malls have been bombed or attacks made on sports events and TSA is nowhere near those venues so they can’t be credited with protecting airports either These abusive procedures weren’t necessary then and aren’t necessary now.

  • AKFlyer

    Advice to women who opt out of AIT, as I always have: recently my pat downs have become more aggressive, with the TSA staffer’s hand karate-chopping into my groin as it travels up my inner thigh. The “point of resistance” is now apparently my pubis bone, not soft tissue in a sensitive area, both neurologically and psychologically. So, try wearing a maxi-pad to give yourself a buffer between the government’s fingers and your lady parts.

    Also, snip out any spare buttons your trousers manufacturer has sewn into the lining in or near your pocket. My DH, who was not in uniform but was wearing his major airline ID (noting his “airline crew” status as a pilot), was interrogated by TSA when the agent felt such a button during a pat down. She demanded to know why he hadn’t removed “everything” from his pockets. The button was the size of a baby aspirin, and my husband not only has access to the fire/crash axe mounted on the rear wall of his cockpit, but flies a wide-body loaded with tens of thousands of pounds of Jet A fuel, but that button obviously represented a major threat to our nation’s security, to the blue-shirts, anyway.

  • Anonymous

    The Maxi idea is so great! Thanks! I’ve had the “karate chop” treatment, and almost wet myself from the harsh, unexpected pressure.

  • Lisa Simeone

    How sad. Tips for making your assault easier.