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Don’t pack fruitcake (and 10 other ways to avoid holiday security hassles)

With an estimated 8.6 million Americans traveling by air this holiday season, you can expect to find huge lines (and delays) at the airport. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the most common travel headaches, even during the busiest time of the year.

In a previous article, we outlined ways to avoid hassles while checking in for your flight. Now we’ll share our tips for a smooth and stress-free path through airport security.


  • Before you pack, familiarize yourself with your airline?s luggage size, weight, and quantity limits. Having too many bags&#151or bags that are too heavy&#151could result in a fine. And, don?t over-pack your bags. If your overstuffed bag is chosen to undergo additional inspection, screeners will have a difficult time closing it (which could result in it not being closed properly at all). If you lock your luggage, use a lock approved by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
  • Pack all valuables (for example, important documents, jewelry, laptops, and money), film, medications, and fragile items in your carry-on luggage.
  • The TSA advises travelers to forgo packing heavy food items such as fruitcake, because these items can cause screening machines to alarm.
  • Don?t wrap gifts before you reach your destination. If airport security screeners need to inspect wrapped packages, they will unwrap them to do so. If it?s too late to ship your gifts, leave them unwrapped.
  • If you?re traveling to a snowy ski destination, skis and poles must be checked; however, ski boots may be carried on. Most sporting equipment (including baseball bats, golf clubs, and pool cues) should be checked as well.
  • Do not pack firearms, parts of firearms, or ammunition in your carry-on luggage. Unloaded firearms packed in a locked, hard-sided case may be transported in checked luggage, however, after being declared to the airline first.

At the airport

  • Due to heightened security measures, you may be subjected to additional screenings even if you do not set off the metal detector. Additional screenings may include pat-downs of the upper and/or lower body. While pat-downs have been in the news lately, these searches are intended to ensure the safety of everyone who travels&#151including you. Cooperation will help keep the line moving.
  • When approaching the security line, be sure you have your boarding pass and the appropriate government-issued identification (driver?s license, passport, etc.).
  • Remove your jacket before going through the metal detectors, and remove metal from your pockets as well. The TSA does not require travelers to remove their shoes unless asked to do so, although it is strongly recommended. Belt buckles, body piercings, hair barrettes, and underwire bras could also set off metal detectors, so avoid wearing such items while traveling.
  • Remove your laptop computer from its case before putting it through the screening machine.
  • Finally, watch what you say while in the security line. Jokes or statements about bombs and/or threats during the screening process are taken very seriously. Inappropriate comments&#151even ones made in jest&#151can be grounds for both civil and criminal penalties (and at the very least, could create one big headache for you and your fellow travelers).

When traveling during the holidays, the most important thing to pack is your common sense. If you’re a frequent traveler, remember that many people travel only during the holidays, and may not be as familiar with new security regulations. Remaining calm and cooperative will help things run smoothly.

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