There’s only one thing standing between you and your holiday trip: the airport, complete with long lines and complicated screening procedures. But a little advance preparation can go a long way in helping you get through all that pre-flight rigmarole with minimum fuss. A walk in the park it’s not, but with these 10 tips, you can at least make it confidently through security and get to the gate on time.
On Your Way
Check in online: Even if you’ve got bags to check, it’s still a good idea to check in online whenever you can, since bag-drop lines tend to be shorter than the check-in lines. And if you’re going all-carry-on, you’ll get to skip the ticket counter entirely.
Get to the airport early: Especially around the holidays, it’s worth risking a little extra time at the gate in order to avoid missing a flight. There are all sorts of things that can slow down a security line—unprepared travelers ahead of you, understaffed checkpoints, people that need rescreening—and besides, passengers who are early to the gate get the best spots (those closest to the boarding door and the electrical outlets).
At Airport Security
Don’t pack prohibited items: Sharp objects, some sports equipment (including baseball bats and spear guns), firearms, explosives, and flammable items are not allowed to be carried onto planes, though many of these items (with the exception of chemicals, explosives, and flammables) are allowed in checked baggage.
Abide by 3-1-1: Yes, the 3-1-1 rule for carry-on liquids—the one that limits all passengers to one quart-sized zip-top bag of liquid toiletries of no more than 3.4 ounces each—is still in effect. To speed things along, make sure to stash your zip-top plastic bag in an accessible place so you can easily take it out of your baggage and put it in a bin during screening.
Know the 3-1-1 exceptions: Traveling with more than three ounces of liquid medications, baby formula, or breast milk? Lucky for you, these items are exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule: Declare them at the checkpoint and you’ll be allowed to carry them on, though additional screening may be required.
Flash the right credentials: Have your boarding pass and identification ready as you enter the security line. You’ll be asked for it immediately.
Perfect your outfit: For maximum efficiency—and to spend less time awkwardly half-dressed on the other side of the screening stations—skip the jewelry, keep your pockets empty, wear a jacket that’s easy to remove and put back on, and avoid shoes that require a lot of lacing or yanking. To spare yourself unwanted bacteria exposure, wear a pair of socks during your promenade through the screening machines. And while you’re waiting for your shoes to come rolling down the conveyor belt, console yourself with this news: The TSA may soon allow passengers to pass through security with their shoes on again.
Ready your electronics: Traveling with a laptop? Make sure it’s placed in a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag that allows for easy scanning, or remove it from its case and put it in a bin. You’ll also have to remove full-sized video game consoles, DVD players, and some video cameras from your baggage for separate screening.
Choose the right line: At 51 airports in the U.S., security checkpoints allow travelers to choose lines based on their traveler type. Expert, casual, and family/medical liquids lanes help divide travelers by their familiarity with the process and by the amount of assistance they’re likely to need getting through the screening.
Remember other restrictions: If you’re traveling with gifts, keep them unwrapped until you reach your destination. You can bring through pies and cakes, though cranberry sauce, jams, gravy, and other liquid or jellied foods are restricted to 3.4 ounces.
What other tips do you have for a painless trip through the airport?
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