Speed Through Airport Security Checkpoints, One Way Or Another

airport security

As airport security checkpoints get more crowded and lines get longer, travelers are arriving earlier than ever to make that flight on time. Arrive late; miss the flight. Once at the gate, passengers may wait longer than normal as airlines juggle the start of boarding with actual anticipated takeoff time. Keeping passengers in the aircraft or on the ground too long may result in a hefty fine. While the aircraft may be ready and the flight crew willing, passengers may face delays beyond their control caused by budget cutbacks.

Frequently flying out of Orlando International Airport (MCO), I see crowds on most days at just about any time as vacationers come in town to visit Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or any one of a number of central Florida attractions. Frankly, the thought of the process being slowed down by budget cuts is terrifying to those who work out of that airport.

How terrifying? Enough to make frequent fliers re-think their game plans and look for new ways to expedite the boarding process.

Take The Express Lane
airport securityI recently re-joined CLEAR, the biometric fast pass through security at MCO. I had been a member in 2005 when the service had over 200,000 members. But shortly after a laptop with the names and detailed information of 33,000 CLEAR customers was reported stolen in 2008, the service shut down. Starting back up in 2010, I had thought about joining again but was a bit apprehensive about the whole program and lines seemed to move along pretty well at MCO anyway.

Then came talk of sequestering, budget cuts and TSA downsizing, which quickly reminded me just how much I hate lines, slow people and inefficiency. Example: On a rolling sidewalk at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport, clearly marked stand to the right, walk to the left, I made a point of educating our children that “there is no ‘mosey’ lane kids.”

Primed to take the bait of a LivingSocial CLEAR trial offer ($18 for three months, spouse included), we stopped by the CLEAR kiosk not long ago to complete registration. I answered a variety of security questions and gave prints of fingers and thumbs, along with a retina scan and a copy of my passport and driver’s license. The process took about five minutes. From what I could see, that was far longer than those observed going through the CLEAR security checkpoint.

Stopping briefly to verify their identity then right on through the normal x-ray scan without any wait has the potential to save passengers time. One TSA officer told me, without hesitation, that amount of time could be “hours if staffing is reduced.”

The main drawback with CLEAR is that it is only offered in a few airports. Besides Orlando International Airport (MCO), CLEAR service is available at Denver International Airport (DEN), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Westchester NY Airport (HPN).

Will I keep CLEAR after the three-month trial? Hard to say; at an annual rate of $179 per person, frequent fliers working out of a CLEAR-enabled airport will probably have no trouble justifying the price. As reports of actual government cutbacks cause longer lines, even less-than-frequent fliers could suddenly become interested, as I was.

For travelers not based by a CLEAR-enabled airport, there are other options though. To get there, we need to start by thinking outside of the United States.

Global Entry Program
airport securityInternational arrivals can speed up the process of entering the United States by using automated kiosks at most major U.S. airports via the Global Entry Program. I signed up for this one too because I have several international flights coming up in the next few months. The $100 fee is good for five years.

One of several Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Programs, including SENTRI (expedites crossing between the U.S. and Mexico), and NEXUS (expedites processing between the U.S. and Canada), Global Entry requires a fairly detailed online application to begin.

You’ll need your valid passport, driver’s license and a clean criminal record to get conditionally approved. A face-to-face appointment at an airport processing center completes the application.

TSA Pre
airport securityThe TSA Pre✓ program allows some frequent fliers, invited by their participating host airline (Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines or US Airways), along with those enrolled in a Trusted Traveler Program, to speed through the airport screening process for domestic flights.

Odds are that if you qualify for the program through an airline, you already know about it. Those who don’t make it via airline invitation can back up to the Global Entry Program, pay the $100 for five years and enjoy the benefits.

Once enrolled in one of CBP’s eligible Trusted Traveler Programs, like the Global Entry Program mentioned above, air travelers are automatically qualified to participate in TSA Pre when flying a participating airline at a participating airport.

To make that work, once signed up for a Trusted Traveler Program, travelers provide their Trusted Traveler account number in the “Known Traveler Number” field when booking travel.

That number, along with reservation information goes into TSA’s Secure Flight system and enables access to the TSA Pre✓ line at participating airports by embedding a secret code in boarding passes.

In addition to a faster lane, TSA Pre✓-approved travelers can leave their shoes, light outerwear and belts on and keep their 311 liquids packed away. Laptops and small electronics no longer have to be removed either. The program is no guarantee of expedited processing, as TSA will continue random checks, but it sure can’t hurt.

Orlando International Airport where I am trying the CLEAR membership is one of those airports.
Observing both the CLEAR line and the TSA Pre ✓ line, CLEAR seems to be the winner for speed. We’ll find out as we test both over the next few months.

Travelers React to Big Changes on Airport Security

[Photo Credits- Flickr user alist - tsa.govChris Owen]

Gadling Gear Review: Solid Moisturizer From SkinFare

Can I get a show of hands from people who are still irritated by the need to game their packing to deal with the TSA’s three-ounce requirements? I thought so. There are still a lot of us out there. I’m both aggravated and pleased that there are new brands making solid cosmetics that I can get past the screeners. There’s a new-to-me brand out there called SkinFare; they’re making solid moisturizer sticks that give you more room for shampoo and sunscreen in your carry-on luggage.

There are a bunch of things I like about this product line. The moisturizers smell delicious – there are five different scents and one is sure to work for you. They come in recyclable cardboard packaging so there’s no plastic to throw away (take that, tiny hotel bottles of shampoo!). The moisturizer itself is made from organic stuff so you’re not putting toxic chemistry on your skin. It’s all good stuff. And yes, travel friendly, so you can carry a stick on the plane and use it as an all purpose moisturizer in the dry zone at 20,000 feet.

I find the product itself a little heavy, a little waxy, on application. I really like it as a lip balm or for my chapped and/or sunburned nose. But it doesn’t quite work for me – your mileage may vary – as an overall skin moisturizer. It’s easy enough to apply, you just rub it on your skin., but I want it to melt a little bit more on contact so it gets absorbed.

It’s worth a try, though. Everyone has different skin, so it might work really well for you. And I find that while it doesn’t suit my needs as an overall moisturizer, I’m putting the little container in my coat pocket instead of Carmex, and using it on my face and hands where I don’t have anything else on hand. And it’s perfect for on the plane – not just because of the solid product, but because the refreshing natural scents are nice for clearing that airplane funk out of your head.

SkinFare is $9.99 per stick. Give it a try or get some for your nearest traveler.

[Image by SkinFare]

Desperate TSA looking for new colleagues at gas stations – promises free X-Ray vision and benefits

After advertising on pizza boxes, the TSA at Reagan National Airport have now resorted to advertising at D.C. area gas stations. In their ad for part time security officers, they promise a career where “x-ray vision and federal benefits come standard”. Perhaps I’m overreacting, but using x-ray screening equipment as a job perk seems rather tacky.

I’m also surprised that four months after the pizza box ads, the TSA is still having a hard time filling positions in a country where unemployment is such a hot issue.

On the official government jobs site, 100’s of positions are listed with the TSA – but the entry level position of Transportation Security Officer is listed at $29,131.00 – $43,697.00 /year – and that starting salary may have something to do with the trouble finding enough candidates. Still, if you are out of work and you fit the requirements, the TSA would love you to come and help them enjoy their x-ray perk!

A humourous look at how to transport sex toys through the airport checkpoint

Funny “man blog” Manolith has put together a helpful chart with tips on how to carry “marital aids” through the airport checkpoint. The list is obviously meant as a bit of a joke, but from my conversations with TSA workers, it appears that the occasional dildo is not that rare in checkpoint luggage.

The full version of the chart is here. One tip you won’t find in the list is the Gadling recommendation to send your bags (and toys) by FedEx to your destination. That way, you won’t have to worry about a TSA agent questioning you on the purpose of that 12 incher in your bag, or the massive tube of lube you forgot to remove (remember the liquid rules!).

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Ten tips to make your trip through the airport security checkpoint easier on everyone

Flying can be a stressful way to spend your day, especially if you only fly once or twice a year. Reports of terror attempts and airport evacuations don’t make things any better. Thankfully, if you follow some simple tips, your trip through the checkpoint can be really simple, allowing you more time to enjoy the dreadful airport food, or to waste your money at the airport duty free shop.

We’ve gathered ten tips that can make your checkpoint experience as stress-free as possible. Not just for you, but for the hundreds of others trying to make it to the other side of the checkpoint at the same time.

Read up on the rules

Are you an “amateur” traveler? Were you allowed to carry box cutters and knives the last time you took a flight? Then chances are you are not up to date on the latest airport security rules. It is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, a prepared traveler is a rare breed, so consider yourself lucky that you are showing an interest in it.

The best starting point (other than this article) is of course the TSA web site. Their “what to know before you go” has the nitty-gritty on airport security, prohibited items and of course their own tips on getting through security as efficiently as possible.

Frisk *yourself*

Before you even think about stepping into the security line, frisk yourself. Really – run your hands up and down all your pockets, front and back. Remove anything metallic, and you’ll reduce the risk of missing that loose change or pocket knife.

Don’t just assume the metal detector will find it for you.

Find the right line

Many airports have introduced separate TSA lanes for the different kind of traveler. The black or diamond lane is for the experienced traveler. These lanes won’t have as many staff members assisting you. The casual traveler lane may have someone helping point out the bins, and the family/medical liquid lane is where you’ll get the most help. Especially if you are traveling with kids, you’ll want to pick the green lane. Sadly, not all airports have adopted this system.

The lanes are not a contest – don’t worry if you need to go to the casual traveler lane, because picking the right lane will make life easier on you, and your fellow passengers.

Liquids liquids liquids

I don’t think I can remember the last time I passed through the checkpoint without seeing some poor sole being pulled aside because he or she forgot to remove liquids from their bag. I mean, how on earth can there still be people left that don’t know about the liquid rules?

It really isn’t that hard – the only liquids you are allowed to carry, have to be inside a one quart bag, each bottle has to be under 3 ounces, and you are only allowed one bag per passenger. Your “baggie” must be taken out of your bag and placed on the x-ray machine or in a bin on its own.

There are obviously exceptions for baby milk and medication, but you will need to declare them at the checkpoint.

Don’t step in line till you are ready

Don’t be one of those travelers that walks into the airport, gets in line at the checkpoint and then starts getting ready for the screening. Unless you are in a terrible hurry to catch a plane, the area before the checkpoint line is the best place to prepare yourself.

Relax, take a deep breath, and start emptying your pockets. Don’t wait till you reach the x-ray machine to remove your wallet, the safest place for it right now is inside your bag. Don’t forget to put your ID and boarding pass in your shirt or pants pocket, because the screener will want to see them.

Invest in a checkpoint Friendly laptop bag

If you regularly pass through the checkpoint with a laptop, do yourself a favor and invest in a checkpoint friendly laptop bag. These bags are specially designed to fold open, allowing the x-ray machine a clear unobstructed view of your computer. They cost about 25% more than a normal laptop bag.

The advantage of a TSA friendly laptop bag is obvious – you don’t need to take your laptop out of its bag, greatly reducing the risk of damage. It also shaves about 30 seconds off your trip through the checkpoint. A good place to find a large assortment of checkpoint friendly bags is Mobile Edge. This company makes stylish bags for men and women, with bags starting at just $49.95.

Pack wisely

When you pack your bag, think carefully how it’ll look on the x-ray machine. Try not to stuff too many cords together, try and spread your gadgets around a bit, and always check your bag for items that don’t belong there. Two metal tubes with wires sticking out of them may be nothing more than two laptop batteries and some cords, but to a screener, it may look like something worth some extra attention.

(Image from The Register)

Never assume it won’t beep

Just because that oversized “Texas” belt buckle didn’t set off the metal detector last week, doesn’t mean it won’t beep today.

If you have something large and metallic, do us all a favor, and take it off. One of my number one checkpoint pet peeves is people at the metal detector that act amazed when all their metallic objects make the machine beep.

Seriously, these machines are designed to DETECT METAL. So anything larger than a wedding ring is going to make it beep. And for your information – the TSA will not let you just waltz on through once you point it out. They will make you remove it, put it back through the x-ray machine, and have you attempt to walk through the detector again. And in most cases, they’ll make you do this while I am waiting for you to stop beeping.

Count before and after

Put as much as possible in your bags. Too often, I’ll see people put a bag, shoes, a laptop, their toiletries, their phone, wallet, keys and watch on the belt. Don’t do it! Not only do you run the risk of damaging your items, you also run the risk of something being stolen or “otherwise misplaced”.

Put all your items in a zippered jacket pocket or bag. The ideal screening involves nothing more than your bag, jacket, shoes and your clear toiletries bag.

It sounds dumb – but count before and after. If you put four items on the belt, be sure to remove four items at the other end. Travel is stressful, and it isn’t too hard to forget your phone or laptop at the checkpoint. By the time you realize you are missing something, it may be too late.

Move away as soon as you can

Did you make it past the checkpoint without setting off any alarm bells? Gather your crap and walk away. Almost every checkpoint has a nice sitting area at the other side, which is the perfect spot to put your belt back on, remove your important items from your bag, and tie your shoes.

Standing around at the end of the x-ray machine doing all of this is only going to slow things down for everyone else. TSA agents like to keep the area as empty as possible, and if too many people are holding things up, you’ll delay the entire line.

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