For many people, the idea of dealing with the Travel Safety Administration (or TSA) checkpoints has increased the amount of anxiety associated with air travel and made flying seem more trouble than it’s worth. The horror stories of other traveler’s experiences with TSA are enough to alarm anyone – one involved a mother whose baby was taken away to be searched; another involved a preschooler forced to remove his leg braces. Hey, that’s enough to scare anyone, especially if you’re travelling with children. But the fact is thousands of people can – and do – fly every day and pass through TSA checkpoints without making the news. Here are some tips for getting through TSA checkpoints and onto your flight trouble-free.
This one sounds simple enough. But people tend to approach the TSA checkpoints with tension. Occasionally, travelers will run into TSA Security Officers who are power happy, have had a bad day or are just plain jerks. When you combine those workers with tense travelers and the TSA’s near-unlimited power over travel you have a recipe for disaster. So, control what you can. Be Nice. TSA workers are used to people being defensive and even belligerent. Do exactly what you’re told quickly, don’t make jokes and pack or dress in a way that will make this process easier ahead of time. A smile, “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” might get you a long way, too. It’s not kissing up to a screwed up system – it’s playing it smart and making your flight.
Pack and Dress Smart
How much you know about this strategy will be directly linked to how often you travel. If you don’t travel often, listening to seasoned travelers or reading the TSA website can help. First, organize your carry-on luggage or purse so it can be searched and x-rayed easily. Have your boarding pass and ID readily available. Any liquid toiletries need to be in 3 ounce or smaller containers and all put together in a clear 1-quart plastic bag. You can’t bring drinks through the checkpoint, so don’t even try. Liquid formula or medication is allowed in larger quantities. Bring as few electronics as possible in your carry-on luggage, and check the TSA site for any new regulations before leaving.
When it comes to how you dress, use common sense. Look at your ensemble this way: any bulky, oversized or metallic thing is a potential threat to your travel plans. This includes bulky or oversized clothing (including religious garb), large or decorative zippers and snaps, bulky shoes and any body piercings. If you choose to wear these things, be prepared for additional scrutiny, which can include a hand search, pat down or more. Children and pets have to be removed from strollers or carriers and physically carried through the checkpoint.
Know Your Rights
Though many rights (such as freedom of speech) go flying out the window at a TSA checkpoint, you do have some rights. Being nice doesn’t include allowing yourself to be humiliated or abused. Know your specific rights before you travel. You can even print these rights directly from the TSA website and take a copy with you – some of them are vitally important. When you travel with your infants and children, for instance, they cannot be separated from you for searches or any other reason. In fact, the TSA site specifically says “we will not ask you to do anything that will separate you from your child or children”. Another very important right is your right to ask for a private search of your belongings or person by a member of the same sex. Remember, you have to speak up and ask for this if you’re feeling pressured to allow a pat down or to raise your shirt in public. Those are two of the most important rights you have regarding TSA but there are others concerning religious items and medical equipment or disabilities that are situation-specific. The TSA website will give you details on what you need to do and what you can expect in those situations.
While dealing with the TSA is no one’s idea of fun, airport security is important and the tips above can make the experience easier for all involved. When you act in a polite manner, pack and dress smart and know what to expect, odds are you’ll be through security and on your way in no time.