Friday, March 28, 2008

Travel Advice Part Three: Security

Travel Advice Part Three: Security

This is serious, folks. Traveling can be stressful, but don’t be tempted to ease the tension by an innocent action which may actually violate the law.

If you’re thinking about cracking a joke or taking pictures in the security screening area, resist the impulse. While a picture of your friend being “wanded” might be priceless to show the folks back home, don’t even think about it. It’s against the law, in fact, to take photos in the security screening area.

If you are someone who thinks humor is welcome in any situation, resist the urge to make a wisecrack, too. Innocent jokes (“Darn it, Hazel, I forgot to pack the Uzzi!”) aren’t considered funny and can be interpreted as threats. If your carry-on bag is searched in your presence, you are not allowed to touch anything. Don’t even reach over to open a container, etc. It’s simply not allowed. Put yourself in the place of the Homeland Security Employees who must do the searching, and make their job easier by using your best manners. Do offer to explain what an item is, though, and answer any questions truthfully.

As soon as you reach the security checkpoint, inform the TSA agent if you are carrying items which may be exceptions to the rules, such as medical supplies, liquids exceeding three ounces such as baby formulas, etc. They will assist you in getting these items cleared and approved.

Some travelers with artificial joints carry cards identifying the device and showing a small image of the x-ray. Most metal detectors won’t be set off by other materials in your body such as titanium or screws inserted in bones during surgery. If it happens, though, simply explain to the screener what you think may be setting off the metal detector, and they’ll wand that area specifically and clear you.

I’m a fairly savvy traveler, but on one occasion I just wasn’t thinking ahead. We live two hours away from the airport, so I had my cell phone in my pocket. I walked through the metal detector at security. Beep! I took my cell phone out of my pocket, embarrassed, and walked through the arch again. Beep! This time it was my earrings. I grabbed my necklace and watch and took them off, too. Beep! The foil wrapper of a piece of gum in my pocket had set off the metal detector. By this time my face was red and I was flustered. A patient and tactful security agent took me aside, ran the wand around my body, and told me to have a good flight.

Before you reach the security screening area, it’s a good idea to put all small items which might set off the metal detector such as camera, cell phone, watch, rings, jewelry, coins, foil gum wrappers, keys, etc. in safely zipped compartments of your personal carry-on bags, or in a zipper-lock plastic bag in your carry-on. By doing this you’ll pass through the metal detector easily.

How many times have you heard announcements about cell phones or other personal items left at security? Taking this simple precaution can prevent personal loss and missed planes. Then, as you wait by the gate to board your plane, you can open your secure pouch, put on your watch and jewelry, and stow your cell phone or IPod in a convenient pocket. After you pass through security, you can redistribute your cosmetics, too, if you want to put your lotion in your purse and the other items in your larger bag.

Take off your shoes and put them in the plastic bins.

Remove hats, jackets or sweaters and put them in the bins, too. A jacket tied around the waist must be removed and screened.

Take laptops and other larger electronic devices such as DVD players and medical devices out of their cases. Lay them in the bins on top of their cases.

Place your one-quart plastic bag of cosmetics (liquids)in the bin.

Walk through the metal detector as directed, carrying only your boarding pass.

By thinking ahead and following these instructions and any posted at the security checkpoint, you’ll pass through efficiently without delaying yourself or others behind you.

You may be pulled aside for a random screening, even if you haven’t set off the metal detector. It’s just part of the security routine and nothing serious. The agent simply will ask you to stand with your arms out and quickly run a wand around your body.

After you’ve passed through the metal detector and your carry-on items have been cleared, carry everything to the nearby chairs so you can put your shoes on and re-pack other items.

(The above photo has no direct relation to airport security. It's how our #3 son celebrated the conclusion of his first semester at University of California at Berkeley. He has more guts than Mom.)

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