TSA Offers Tips and Tricks for Smooth Holiday Travel

by  Maryrose Mullen | Nov 28, 2012
Plane in sky
Plane in sky / AlexeyPetrov/iStock

With the holiday travel season underway, expect airports to be flush with harried families and short-fused fliers. In these merry and maddening days, members of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are often seen as the nemesis of stress-free travel. But the TSA understands your pain and has even released a helpful guide of how they plan to accommodate the high-volume of customers, and what customers can do to make their experience manageable. Some of the agency’s tips include:

Take Advantage of Streamlined Security Screenings

Waiting is the hardest part. Ask a flier to list their travel annoyances, and security screenings will often appear near the top of the list. Frequent passengers can benefit from a more efficient security process, which may cause even the most veteran travelers to fantasize about hopping the line and making a break for their terminal. The TSA PreCheck program allows eligible passengers to enjoy a streamlined experience, by-passing some of the more vexing aspects of the screening process. Such perks may include keeping shoes, jackets, and belts on, as well as being able to hold standard-compliant liquids and gels in a carry-on bag.

Before you waltz past security, know that TSA PreCheck requires certain qualifications from its participants. Those eligible must be frequent flyers with American, Delta, United and US Airways, and must be flying domestically. Members of the U.S. Customs and Border Control Trusted Traveler programs are also eligible. TSA PreCheck is available in 32 airports – including Chicago O’Hare, Newark, and Orlando – and will be installed in 35 airports by year’s end.

Stay Plugged In

You can’t get help without asking, and the TSA provides a handful of services for passengers seeking specific assistance. The TSA Contact Center, which fields passenger questions and concerns about agency procedures, recently extended its hours. Representatives can be reached Monday through Friday, 8am-11pm Eastern time, as well as 9am-8pm on weekends and holidays. Travelers and families of travelers with disabilities may also reach out to the TSA Cares Helpline for flight and security particulars.

Need to get some information but don’t feel like listening to hold music? Fear not! TSA now offers the MyTSA app for most mobile platforms. Users can check if their airport of choice is suffering delays, what the weather is like, and other handy tips for a more congenial travel experience. One of the app’s big draws is the “Can I Bring?’ feature. If you’re unsure whether a certain item – from a meticulously selected gift to a smattering of holiday leftovers – will get the green light from airport security, type it into the app to find whether or not it is prohibited. Speaking of holiday gifts …

Be Mindful of Packages and Carry-Ons

Pretty packages, wrapped with care and sealed with a bow, are allowed on flights, but not encouraged. TSA officials recommend waiting until touchdown to break out the colored foil and ribbon. If the agency suspects the gift must be inspected, they will open it. Sure, your sister will appreciate the cashmere sweater even with a mangled wrap job, but why take that risk?

Storing liquids in your checked bags will also simplify the screening process. Doing so avoids the 3-1-1 liquid rules; each passenger may bring as many as 3.4 ounce or less containers that will fit in one quart-sized, clear plastic bag, and one bag per passenger. Liquid make-up, gel inserts for shoes, and food are among items that must be baggied. The TSA recently began allowing snowglobes of a certain size, perfect for when you need a mid-flight reminder of the only moment in your childhood you were truly happy.

Don’t Bring a Gun

No, seriously, please, don’t bring a gun.

What other tips did TSA miss? Tell us in the comments!

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