Airport Security

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Sunday, September 14, 2003

With continuously updated security measures in place at airports, it's hard to keep up with what's required. A few tips and updates:

When to Arrive

While it's difficult to determine how long it might take to get from your car to your gate -- it could be five minutes at Dulles on a Tuesday afternoon, or more than an hour at BWI on a holiday weekend -- in general, the Transportation Security Administration suggests 90 minutes before a domestic flight and two hours before an international one. But lines and logjams vary depending on the day of the week, time of day, etc., so check with your airline before setting out.

Boarding Passes

Boarding passes must now be in hand before you go through security checkpoints. If you don't have luggage to check, save time by obtaining boarding passes at self-check-in kiosks. Otherwise, you must wait in line at the ticket counter to check bags, or use skycap service. Some airlines, such as Continental, Delta and Northwest, allow you to check in and print boarding passes from their Web sites up to 24 hours before your flight.

Going Through Security

Barettes, steel-tipped shoes and underwire bras can set off the metal detector, so dress accordingly. To speed things along, wear slip-on shoes, pack your coat in your luggage and attach a business card or address label to laptops.

Contrary to what many passengers have experienced, the TSA says all passengers are not required to remove their shoes. However, if your shoes set off the alarm, you will be subjected to a secondary screening. If your shoes consistently set off alarms, consider wearing other shoes -- or remove them prior to screening and place them in a bin so they can be X-rayed.

Locked Baggage

You have the right to lock your checked luggage, but the TSA suggests that you don't because screeners will break the lock and open luggage if they feel it's needed -- and the TSA is not liable for damage. If screeners open your bag, they will close it with a special seal and place a notice in the bag alerting you that it was opened. Claims for loss or damage may be filed by calling the TSA (see below).

Packing Tips

Do not put film in your checked bags, because some of the new screening equipment may ruin it. Spread out books and documents within your baggage. Don't pack food items. And consider putting personal belongings in clear plastic bags.

For a constantly updated list of prohibited items, along with additional tips for making the security process smooth: 866-289-9673, www.tsa.gov. -- Elissa Leibowitz


© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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