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Getting Through Security this Holiday Season

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Getting through security this holiday season is going to be trickier than ever before, thanks to the TSA’s new screening procedures. Here are some tips for making your security check as smooth as possible. I’ve broken the tips into three sections: general, which is mostly packing tips; metal detector, which deals with passing through the detectors specifically; and scanners, which offers advice for people selected for the body scanner.


Remember your 3-1-1 rules: Make sure your carry-on liquids are in containers smaller than 3.4 ounces and that those containers are clearly marked. Put all your liquids in a one-quart zip-top bag, and put the bag in an easily accessible part of your carry-on. This minimizes the rummaging you’ll have to do, and make it easier to put things back once you’re through the checkpoint.

Pies and other holiday treats: Most homemade baked goods are permitted, including pies. If a TSA screener tells you otherwise, it’s probably because your pie looks really good. However, liquid foods such as gravy, cranberry sauce, dips or spreads, and jams or jellies are not permitted in excess of 3.4 ounces.

Gifts: Don’t wrap any gifts. TSA may decide it needs to unwrap them, so really, there’s no point. If you want your gifts to arrive wrapped, you’re better off shipping them. And no snow globes!

Laptops: If you’re bringing a laptop, remember that you’ll need to remove it and place it in a bin for the X-ray. Netbooks and some small laptops can remain in luggage, but standard laptops must come out.

Shoes: Wear shoes you can easily slip on and off.

Belts: You may be asked to remove your belt, even if it’s non-metallic. Belts supposedly interfere with the body scanners in some way, and many travelers report having to remove them.

Metal Detector

Empty your pockets: Better to carry nothing in your pockets if you can. If that’s not possible, empty them beforehand. Many people seem to think a quarter or two won’t set off the alarm. Think again, and save yourself an extra trip through.

Set off the alarm, receive a pat down: Passengers who set off the alarm will receive a pat down. TSA says children who trigger the alarm may get a “modified pat down.”

Speak up: If you have an artificial joint or a metal plate that always sets off the alarm, tell someone. You’re going to end up with a pat-down either way, and again, you save yourself an extra trip and keep the line moving.

Scanner and Pat Down

You’re either in, or out: If you’re selected for a scanner, you have two options: The scanner, or a pat down. The scanner produces a black-and-white image of your body beneath your clothing. Pat downs involve a TSA screener running his or her hands pretty much all over your body. Opt out of the scanner and you’ll get a pat down; there is no way to switch to a metal detector.

Pat down options: With the pat down, you can request a private space out of public view. You can also have a traveling companion accompany you as a witness. You should automatically be paired with a same-gender screener, but if you’re not, it’s your right to insist on one.

Children: Children under 12 are not supposed to get the full-blown pat down.

Readers, what tips do you have for getting through security this year?

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