Holiday Travel Tips

by Jan Davies McDermott on November 20th, 2012

Know The 3-1-1 Rule
Unless you've never seen the inside of an airport or haven't flown since before 9/11, you likely know the TSA fundamentals and have some understanding of the 3-1-1 rule: Liquids and gels must be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less, and these containers must be in a single quart-size zip-top bag.  But the gel part is where things get tricky. What, exactly, constitutes a gel? According to the TSA, gravy, jam, jelly, lotion, salsa, peanut butter, spreadable cheese, and cranberry sauce are all gels, and therefore must be in those little containers or bust. Cakes and pies are okay (though most pie fillings seem pretty gel-like, if you ask me). And cheese viscosity is highly variable. A good rule of thumb: If you could squeeze it through a pastry bag, don't bring it through security.

Wrap When You Get There
Especially around the holidays, it's important to remember that wrapped gifts, while not officially prohibited, could get torn open at the checkpoint. According to the TSA, "If a bag alarms our security officers, [they] may have to unwrap a gift to take a closer look inside." An agent tearing opening your presents like a kid on Christmas morning is sure to slow your progress through the checkpoint, not to mention undo all your hard work

Pack Well
Don't pack so much in your bag that you have to sit on it to get it closed. If the TSA elects to open your bag, you'll waste time (and hold up the security line) gathering the overflowing contents and trying to get that zipper closed as a crowd of impatient passengers looks on.
An organized bag will cause less confusion when going through the X-ray scanner, too. A mess of wires and bundled clothes is more likely to get flagged for extra screening than a bag with folded, neatly stacked items. The TSA recommends that travelers pack items in layers and place "shoes, boots, sneakers, and other footwear on top of other contents in your luggage." The agency also advises, "Don't stack piles of books or documents on top of each other; spread them out within your baggage" to facilitate X-ray scanning.

Dress for Success
First off, empty your pockets (coat and pants). Spare change, keys, and any metal frippery that may be jangling around in your pockets will set off the metal detector and invite extra screening. If you can, don't wear any body piercings through the metal detector. Jewelry that sets off the alarm is cause for additional screening—in private if necessary. Belts with metal clasps also set off the alarm (and must be taken off at the checkpoint), so wearing an outfit without a belt could make things a little easier.  Since shoes must be kicked off during screening at U.S. airports, remember to wear easily removable ones if possible

There's An App For That
The TSA has an excellent app; with it, you can type the name of an item in a "Can I Bring?" field for instant answers. It also features security wait times, plus a guide to TSA rules for travelers. The free app is available for iPhone and Android. Get more information at

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