On Friday, the TSA announced that more than 17 million passengers and crew members were screened in late June, an record. The volume screened from June 25 to July 1 broke a record set just a week earlier, when nearly 16.6 million went through checkpoints. The agency expects the pace to remain brisk all summer, and hopefully without a repeat of the long lines that occurred at some airports last year.
“When people are coming to the checkpoint, we want to make sure the experience goes smoothly,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. Of course, the best way to avoid getting stuck is to take simple steps to prepare for screening and follow agency guidelines for packing. Many of those guidelines have become standard procedure in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks altered plane travel. Others have changed.
Not long ago, for example, the TSA began asking passengers to remove books from their carry-on luggage as part of a pilot program at two airports — a move that generated controversy when some people complained that the procedure amounted to an invasion of privacy. TSA officials said the measure had nothing to do with scrutinizing people’s reading material. The measure was tested because books have been used to hide weapons and contraband and can hinder X-ray views of other items in carry-on bags. But the agency has ended the pilot program and officials said there are no plans to implement such procedures elsewhere.
If you plan to join the estimated 2.5 million people who go through TSA checkpoints every day, the agency has the following tips for you:
- You can carry small amounts of liquids or gels by following the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. That means carrying liquid containers with no more than 3.4 ounces of capacity (or about 100 milliliters); collecting those small bottles in a single one-quart, clear plastic bag; and only one such bag per traveler. When you get to the checkpoint, place the bag in the bin for screening. If you’re traveling with large quantities of breast milk or infant formula, let a TSA agent know.
- Keep larger bottles of liquids, gels, creams and aerosols, such as shampoo or suntan lotion, in checked luggage. Given the fees airlines charge for checked luggage — and additional charges for exceeding the specified weight — it may be cheaper to buy the sunscreen at your destination.
- Don’t bring prohibited items, such as fireworks and sparklers. They won’t fly, regardless of whether they’re inside carry-on or checked luggage.
- Pack knives in checked luggage. Blades of any size — even that little bitty one on a corkscrew — cannot accompany a passenger into the cabin.
- Consider wearing accessories that are easy to remove and leave the bulky jewelry and large belts in your checked bags. Be ready with your ID and boarding pass when you reach the checkpoint. Remove laptops and other large electronic devices. If just discovered that your driver’s license has expired or you lost your ID and lack a passport or other documentation, you can still fly. You just have to go through the TSA’s identity verification process.
- Apply for TSA Pre-Check or other programs such as Global Entry that are designed to expedite the screening process. Travelers in TSA Pre-check do not have to remove shoes, belts, laptops and liquids. For more information, you can go to the Department of Homeland Security trusted traveler comparison tool to figure out which prescreening program is best for you.
- People with disabilities or their families who have questions about screening can call the TSA Cares helpline toll-free at 855-787-2227. For assistance going through security, call at least 72 hours before the flight.
- If you have questions, you can check the TSA website’s feature “When I fly, can I bring my _____?” Type in the item and it’ll let you know if you’re good to go. You can also get real-time assistance by tweeting to @AskTSA or contacting the agency through Facebook Messenger from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays. You can also call the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673, which provides staff and automated service. Staff are available from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
Here’s a short iPhone video — featuring TSA agents Rafael Gonzalez and Charles McFarlin, along with Farbstein — that will walk you through the process:
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