flight schedule screen turned on
Notes on Planning and Packing, Study Hall: Essays On Travel

The Great TSA Mystery!

It amazes me that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to crack the TSA secret code of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I get the general liquids, shoes, and electronics rules but there always seems to be a little surprising twist. On Monday, I need to show ID and tickets in Washington, D.C. but on Friday I only need ID in Palm Beach. I can put my shoes on top of my laptop in Atlanta but don’t dare mix shoes and electronics on the conveyor belt in Dallas! AND all of this TSA travel nonsense may or may not be true when I click publish!

photo of people in airport for TSA Travel
Photo by Connor Danylenko on Pexels.com

Line Dancing

If you are anything like me, I’m sure you scope out the line competition. I’m always trying to make the best choice as to who to get behind. The man with the money clip, laptop, belt and jacket is a choice. Contestant two: the airport wheelchair couple that just came through the Clear line. And the inevitable last choice is the lady with two kids and a stroller. Why oh why am I never behind the lady who checked her bag and doesn’t have to empty her pockets?!

Nope, I am usually directed to the guy who hasn’t flown without his wife in 30 years and just realized he has to take off his belt. Insert eye roll here!

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Help me Obi Wan!!!

So what can I do?! As Shiela in Newark says my shoes need to be touching the conveyor belt and Todd in Detroit says that I don’t need to do anything because the airport has just been remodeled and they have face recognition, I give in to the roulette game. I’m sure both Todd and Shiela have checked my FBI record by the time I make it to the jumping jacks machine where you literally need to assume the position. Which, for the record, is extremely thin!! In fact, I was once told that I will always be pulled aside if my pants are cuffed. That was at Baltimore.

The only thing that I have found to be reasonably helpful in combating the TSA rules is the MyTSA app. Simply choose your airport and you can see how well the lines are moving and what the anticipated wait is. It sure is helpful but it still doesn’t quite crack the secret code of the day!

Very Funny, TSA

If there is one thing that’s certain in all of this line waiting and scanning it’s that TSA has one heck of a sense of humor! Whoever is running their Instagram feed deserves an award for taking the most ridiculous situations that travelers throw their way and sharing it with the rest of us. I tend to scroll on their feed while I’m waiting in line. It brings me a little joy and patience.

Seriously, though.

I’m sure by now, you are asking the following questions:

  • Question: So what do you do to make TSA easier?
  • Answer: I ensure that I have no layers on and slip on shoes with socks before I get to the security check. I also CHECK MY BAGS!!!! Go ahead, judge me as you shove that carry on in above my head.
  • Question: Is pre-check, Global Entry or Clear even worth it?!
  • Answer: Honestly, I don’t think so. I was next to someone with Clear at the ticket counter and as I went through the standard TSA line, they finished at the same time I did. Pre check may be a tad faster but if you are prepared for the fact that they are going to throw you a curve ball, the difference is a matter of a few minutes.
  • Question: What do you do with your water bottle?
  • Answer: I keep it empty and then look for a refill station on the other side of security. Airports are adding plenty of these and I see them more and more. A water bottle combined with a little bento box (I always take a bamboo one that I’m willing to ditch.) can be quite the budget move.

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So go enjoy your next adventure! Be prepared and know that you’ll still be surprised. And may the TSA odds be ever in your favor….

Notes on Planning and Packing, Study Hall: Essays On Travel

TSA Travel Troubles

A few months ago, I was flying within the states and had to, of course, get through TSA travel line. Like everyone else, I prepared to stand in line and wait out the inevitable. The longer I waited, the more irritable I got with the people who were obviously not ready to effortlessly glide through the TSA line well prepared and not holding up the burden of waiting in the never ending cue. I rolled my eyes when computers and cell phones were not boxed separately. Then I made a snide comment to the couple who didn’t remove their belts. I even had a bit of a temper tantrum when there was a question about whether or not shoes needed to be taken off. Yes! That’s the answer! We all do it!

Then it was my turn. Shoes, check. ipad and cell phone, check. No liquids in my bag thank you very much. I was ready to zip through the screening machine when the unthinkable happened! I was PULLED to the side to be WANDED!!!! How on earth could this have happened! I should already be finding my way to the terminal bar!

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I had no chance!

It turns out that I was pegged to be pulled over from the moment I entered the line because my pants were cuffed at the bottom! CUFFED AT THE BOTTOM!!! I had no chance of evading the detainment. I had been defeated by the very system I had been out to beat. Now, your first question to me is why didn’t you go through the pre-check line? Don’t you have pre-check?!

The answer is no. I have not paid for pre-check or global entry and I don’t intend to. Those lines, take a look, are getting to be just as long as others and TSA is coming up with ways to better control line waits all the time. Even at Reagan National, I have only waited a maximum of 5 minutes for the regular TSA line, other airports are much longer though. Additionally, I also get a complementary pre-check on my ticket with participating airlines, so I gamble on the chance that I will win the pre-check lottery.

More important than all of that is what can you do to make the TSA shuffle a little easier and less painless the next time you are off on an adventure. Here are some basics:

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Plan your carry-on.

Take the time to ensure that what is in your carry-on is what you really need. If you check your bags (I am a big believer in the checked bag) then you shouldn’t need much.  Your basic electronics, your plane needs, and your paperwork. I also carry a change of clothes (leggings and a shirt plus undergarments) that don’t take up much space, a solid shampoo and conditioner bar, and a disposable bamboo toothbrush.

Be liquid ready.

If you do plan to carry on everything, you need to ensure that your liquids meet all of those TSA requirements and are in the TSA approved clear bag. You also should put them in a convenient place so you can easily put them through the scanning machine on their own.

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Leave the kitchen sink…

… and everything else you don’t need. If I’m flying from Montana to Arizona, I’m going to leave my winter coat and boots in the car. I can make it to the terminal in my flats thank you very much! While, I’m at it, I change purses to ensure that my Mary Poppins purse doesn’t provide me any TSA surprises. You never do know what you’ll find at the bottom of your bag.

Minimize the accessorize.

I love to wear jewelry and I want to look nice but TSA is not interested in nice or my cute new bracelets. Instead, I just put all my bling into a little zip bag in my purse and put it on when I get through. It’s one less reason to get pulled over.

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Time your line.

TSA is usually a much bigger deal for people who are running late. A much bigger deal. The best advice for timing your trip comes down to three things. First, gauge your lead time based on the BOARDING time of your flight. You should be inside the airport one and a half hours before that time at a minimum. Next, use the MyTSA app to adjust this lead time based on the airport you are flying out of.

MyTSA does a great job of communicating the busy times and the down times from coast to coast. Simply, choose your airport and check out all the 411 on your pre-boarding experience. Last, check your gate location. While this may seem not necessary, trust me, it is. In some bigger airports have gate A1 compared to gate ZZ-99 can be a difference of walking 20 or 30 minutes more than you could have planned.                                                                                                                                         

Get the kids ready before you leave.

Choose clothing that makes them comfy on the plane and will get through that security check quickly. Remember, no cuffed pants! Ensure that their in flight entertainment is easy to scan and that they haven’t hidden any extras that can hold you up. Personally, I don’t think that every kid needs their own personal backpack to go on a plane. The less stuff the better. For super young ones, go online and scout out the easiest places to take care of diaper changes, feedings, and play space once you are in the terminal. And yes, breast milk  and formula are both permitted through TSA just be prepared to take a few extra minutes to look through that bag.

Follow the nonsense.

One of my favorite Instagram feeds is TSA. They have a great instahumor to their posts and often use the ridiculous to showcase what is and is not allowed.  Giant teddy bears that take up an entire seat? I think not. While you are at it, follow them on Twitter as well. You can get to them quickly if you have lost anything or you have left anything behind.

My TSA Travel App
TSA travel lines can be a breeze or a nightmare
Photo by Connor Danylenko on Pexels.com