Every day travelers run into problems at the airport. Some are caused by not knowing what the proper protocol is and others are just a part of the travel process. The airlines, airports, and TSA all have their own set of regulations. By not being prepared, you can face delays, miss your flight, or feel the effects financially.
As a writer with Chris Elliott travel consumer advocacy, I have seen the countless challenges many travelers face. Oftentimes it is simply because they are not aware of what is required.
If you do not fly on a regular basis, it can be especially difficult to keep up with all of the changes. Even the most seasoned travelers run into problems while traveling.
When to Arrive at the Airport:
The airlines, as well as the airports, have a set time for how far in advance you need to check in, check your baggage, and arrive at the boarding gate. If you miss any one of those deadlines, you may be classified as a no-show and denied boarding.
For domestic flights, plan on arriving about 90 minutes in advance. Allow more time during holiday travel or spring break. Typically, plan on being checked in and have your baggage checked no later than 30 minutes prior to departure. Boarding begins 30 minutes before the flight is set to depart.
For international flights, arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance. The check in deadline is usually 60 minutes before departure, and you will need to be at the boarding gate 45 minutes before your flight takes off.
Avoid the Lines
TSA Pre√® Program
If you are a regular traveler, becoming a TSA Pre✓® member has its benefits. You will receive expedited screenings with shorter lines, and you will be able to leave your shoes, jacket, hat, and belt on and can keep your laptop and 3-1-1 liquids in your bags.
Currently there are 180 airports and 30 participating airlines in the program, and the list is growing. In order to be eligible, you must fly on a participating airline out of an airport that offers TSA Pre√®. There is an $85 membership fee for five years, and the application time may take anywhere from two to four weeks.
Complete Your Flight Check in Online
You can complete your flight check in online from 2 to 24 hours before departure and prepay your checked baggage. Some airlines will allow you to scan in your passport for international travel using the airline’s app. If not, you can use the self-serve kiosk at the airport.
Check the status of your flight before departing for the airport. Be aware that even though you may receive a message that your flight is delayed, the airlines still recommend that you arrive in advance of your original departure time in case the problem is resolved quicker than anticipated. If you are not there, and the flight is ready to take off, you will be considered a no-show and denied boarding.
Map of the Airport
If you are unfamiliar with the airport you are departing from or landing at, check it out online. Find out if it offers transportation from one gate to another (such as a tram service or moving sidewalks). Have the map available on your phone. When you are totally exhausted from hours of flying, you will welcome any inside transportation offered by the airport.
If you have a physical limitation and need to be transported to your gate, set this up with the airline in advance.
Connecting flights can cause a problem for travelers when their schedule is too tight between flights. Find out how far apart your arrival and departure gates are. If your connection is on a different airline, your gate may be at the opposite end of the airport. When booking your flight, factor in flight delays and allow enough time to get to your gate.
To help your luggage stand out from the crowd, add brightly colored tags or ribbons and secure it with a TSA lock. Don’t pack fragile items in your checked baggage — it will get tossed around quite a bit.
Find out what the size restrictions are and be sure to weigh your bag. If it is over the size or weight limit, you will pay a hefty fee.
Carry-on Bags/Personal Items
Lugging a heavy bag around will get tiresome. Bring only the necessities you will need on the plane and in case your luggage gets lost or delayed. The overhead bins on planes get packed. If traveling from a wintery climate to a warm one, pack your winter gear in your checked baggage.
When traveling with children, try to limit your carry-on bags to one or two, rather than bringing one for each child. They will get tired of dragging it around.
Check with the airline on the number of personal items you are allowed and the size restrictions for your carry-on. If you are bringing your laptop, use a TSA approved bag so you won’t have to remove it at security. No other items can be stored with the laptop.
Pack your medications in your carry-on.
This should go without saying, but do not pack a gun or ammunition in any of your carry-ons. On a daily basis, the TSA is finding loaded guns in purses and carry-ons. These travelers are then delayed, possibly arrested, and charged a hefty fine (could be as high as $7500). Guns must be packed in checked baggage, unloaded, and packed in a hard-sided case, and they must be declared to the airline at the ticket counter.
Be Prepared for Airport Security:
Check your purse and pockets and remove all lotions, hand soap, knives (many get confiscated), pepper spray, scissors, or any other items that will set off the security alarm.
Avoid wearing shoes that are hard to get off — you’ll have to remove them while standing up.
Jewelry (even piercing jewelry has set off alarms) and belts must be removed at security checkpoints and any change in your pockets will need to be emptied out. Anything you can remove in advance will save time.
Avoid wearing clothing with any metal, since these could trigger the alarm.
For more information on what is allowed on the plane or questions on security requirements, contact the Transportation Security Administration at 1-866-289-9673 or email them at: TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov.
Have your boarding pass and state issued ID or passport in hand before entering the line for security. The name on your ticket must match the exact name on your passport or identification. Travelers have been denied boarding when their identification does not match the name on their ticket or if their name was accidentally misspelled. For example, if your ticket has Michael Smith, but your identification has John M. Smith, you may run into a problem.
The airlines may require a birth certificate as proof of age for infants and toddlers, and children ages 15-17 who are traveling alone may need a state issued ID.
Keep Your Cool — Alcoholic beverages, anyone?
Traveling can be stressful. If you prepare ahead of time for the inevitable delays, your trip will be more enjoyable. Bring your own snacks, drinks and things to amuse or music to relax. For those of you who like to kick back and cool down with an alcoholic drink, you can pack your own.
Here are the facts on traveling with alcohol. Alcohol is allowed in carry-on bags if it meets the 3-1-1 rule. Larger bottles can be transported in checked baggage. Travelers can drink their own alcohol while waiting at the airport, but airline regulations prohibit passengers from serving their own drinks on the plane.
Buying an alcoholic drink at the airport lounge is not cheap (can run as high as $15 per drink). As one traveler humorously puts it, “Get a Cinnabon, and besides cleaning out your wallet, you’ll have a gut-ache on the plane. Buy a drink and a magazine at the corner kiosk, and you’ll need a second mortgage on the house.”
There is a TSA-Kit™ designed specifically for transporting your own alcohol. One that comes highly recommended is from Whineware. It consists of five glass bottles (2 or 3.38 oz.) in a quart size bag with a funnel and towel (referred to as their Travel Sufficient Alcohol kit). These can be used for toiletries as well (just not at the same time!)
Security Screening Process:
Many travelers experience added stress when it comes to security checkpoints. The long lines, the anxiety that you might miss your flight, and the hassle involved in it all. It also feels like an invasion of privacy. If you know what to expect, it can be a simple transition without the worry.
3-1-1 Rule: Packing Liquids, Gels, Pastes, Semi-solids:
TSA’s 3-1-1 rule means you are allowed only 3.4 oz. (100 ml) of liquids, aerosols, gels, or sticks, and they must all fit in a quart size clear bag and only one bag is allowed per traveler. This includes toothpaste, make-up, creams, lipstick, chap stick, hand lotion, soaps, etc. Avoid using opaque, ceramic, or metallic bottles, or other containers that cannot be effectively scanned.
Bottled water is not allowed, because of the size. There is usually a mountain of confiscated bottled water in the trash bins at security.
When you arrive at security:
- Remove your shoes, jewelry, jacket, hat, belt (or spare change or metal objects in pockets), and your 3-1-1 liquid bag. Put these in the bin on the conveyor belt with your purse and cell phone. All food must be fully wrapped.
- Prescription medications that are liquids or gels are allowed in reasonable quantities over 3.4 oz. and are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule. Declare these at security checkpoints.
- Put your laptop, camera, and other electronics in a second bin and have the batteries fully charged in case security asks you to turn them on.
- Close down the handle on your carry-on bag and put it on the conveyor belt behind your bins.
- Many airports have a full body scanner where you’ll need to step inside and hold your hands above your head. Wait until security tells you to enter or exit. Smaller airports may still have the metal detectors that you walk through.
- Security officers will perform random tests, and if you happen to be the one chosen, you will undergo additional screening. It is all done very quickly, so you can move on without much delay.
Screening Process for Infants and Children
- When traveling with an infant, you are allowed to carry food items that are over the 3.4 oz. limit (breast milk, formula, juice, or baby food). Declare these at the security checkpoint.
- Remove items in pockets and pouches of the diaper bag, carrier, and stroller prior to inspection.
- Children 12 and under can leave their shoes on. Babies must be carried through security and will not be allowed to stay in their stroller or carrier.
- Since toys need to be screened, prepare your child ahead of time. This can be hard on kids, because they think their toys are being taken away from them.
By being prepared for the unexpected delays and knowing the endless list of requirements, traveling can be less worrisome and maybe even enjoyable!
For more travel insight, check out my book,
Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad
and wherever books are sold
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