Flying like a Pro Within the USA (Updated for January 2018 TSA requirements)

Travel Tips

Expert Travel Tips from a Frequent Business Traveler

Guest Post by Matt Tom

The best source of travel advice always comes from frequent travelers sharing their success and horror stories.

“I’m a business traveler who does about 50-70% travel annually, and I’ve collected some information here to help make your airport experience as painless as possible.”

Arriving at the Airport

The standard rule of thumb is to arrive 1-hour before your boarding time for domestic flights and 2+ hours before your boarding time for international flights. Please use common sense to adjust your arrival time, ie, small airport versus big airport, or holiday week with families versus usual business travel Tuesday.

In my experience, the biggest cause of crowds is people arriving too early and jamming up all the lines at any given Security Checkpoint. Also, keep in mind that I have NEVER EVER seen 100% of Scanners active at any Checkpoint. Even if the crowd is gigantic, about half of the Scanners are OFF. Don’t ask me why.

 

Identification – New Rules

You MUST bring a valid form of identification with you. A federal-issued USA Passport is always valid. But for most travelers flying within the USA only, a Passport is not something regularly carried. Likely your ID is going to be a state-issued driver’s license.

Unfortunately, DHS has decided that not all states issue IDs that are “secure” enough. Hence, they passed the REAL ID Act a few years ago which officially took effect January 2018. Of course, not all states are in compliance yet and those have been granted an extension until October 2018.

So what does this mean for the traveler? To get through any USA airport with minimal issues you have two choices:
1. Get an updated driver’s license from your state that is REAL ID compliant as soon as possible.
2. Use your USA passport.

Helpful links:
REAL-ID
REAL ID FAQs

 

TSA Screening Refresher

Before you even get in line at the Security Checkpoint, you should be totally ready.
– If you are going to check a bag, know that TSA has the authority to go through it whenever they feel like it. Expensive things tend to disappear. Also, beware that your airline carrier may charge for checked bags.
– You are allowed to bring 1 personal bag (backpack, purse, etc) and 1 carry-on bag (fits in the overhead bin) onto the airplane. Do not try to cheat the system. You will get caught before you try to board. Also, do not bring an oversized carry-on. It will not fit, and you will get frustrated. In the end, they will make you carry it off the plane and check it anyway.
– When you are in line, grab 2 of the gray-colored bins. Everyone thinks they can get by with 1. Unless you are a pro, get at least 2. Trust me.
– Take out your laptop and put it in a bin by itself. No laptop? Great! Any electronic gadget NOT laptop can stay in your bag: iPad, Kindle, music player, DVD player, etc. (Reasoning behind this is that the laptop has a big battery that may not be a battery, ie, it could be an explosive.)
– Take out your toiletries and put them in the other bin. Hopefully, you were smart and put all the liquids (less than 100 ml or 3 oz) into one big Ziploc bag for ease. The only liquid of more volume which can potentially pass is baby formula/breast milk. Anything else WILL get flagged. Lotion, sunblock, water or any beverage, hair gel, you name it. Gone.
– Take off your shoes, your belt, your jacket or sweater, your hat, and anything metallic (jewelry like rings, necklace, bracelet, phone, keys, etc) and place it into the same bin as your toiletries. (Or if you were smart, you already packed all these items into one of your bags so they are out of sight.)
– Place your 2 bags behind your bins and push them along the conveyor until you get them into the X-ray scanner.
– Now you can either choose to go through the Scanner or ask for a pat down. If you read the exception list below, it sure seems like the Scanner is not the safest of things despite their assurances.

Exceptions:

– If you are over the age of 75, then you get to keep your shoes and jacket on. You will likely need to remove your belt and other metallics. You will always go through the metal detector instead of the Scanner.
– If you are a child under the age of 13, then you get to keep all your clothes on. You MUST be accompanied by an adult at all times. You will always go through the metal detector instead of the Scanner.
– If you have any medical condition, disability, mobility issue, or medical implants like a pacemaker or metal implants, you should request for special assistance. You and your helper cut the line most times too! You will go through the metal detector instead of the Scanner.

Pro tip:

If you travel frequently, consider applying for the TSA Pre or Global Entry (the international version) to qualify for the special line that skips all the hassle.

In fact, I recommend getting Global Entry because you get TSA Pre by default as well. Yes, there is a fee, about $100, and it lasts for about 5 years. Yes, there is an interview. And yes, they take your fingerprints and a photo of your face. But instead of all the screening, you get to just drop your bag on the conveyor (do not forget to remove all your metallic accessories), keep all your clothes on, and just walk through a metal detector. (You know, like before we were all treated as potential criminals.)

Helpful links:
Security Screening
Pre-Check
Global Entry

 

Boarding the plane

– Arrive at your gate at least 10 min before your designated boarding time. Sometimes planes are ready early and they will start boarding earlier.
– Do not queue up too early. It just makes a crowd at the gate that everyone before you needs to cut through so it slows everything down.
– The order of boarding is typically: 1) anyone (and their helpers) with medical conditions that need assistance boarding, 2) any families with children under the age of 2 or anyone that requires more time to board, 3) any military personnel, 4) 1st class or business class (or if Southwest A1-A15), 5) all those with elite status, 6) everyone else in group number sequence.
– When you are on the plane, good etiquette is to move down the aisle and into your row and out of the aisle as quickly as possible. This means you should prepare ahead of time by taking out the small electronic gadgets (NO laptops) and other things you want on the seat with you so that you can stick your carry-on into the overhead bin quickly and move into your seat. After the plane takes off and reaches 10,000 feet, the attendants will let you know that you can take your laptop out of your carry-on.

 

 

Guest Post by Matt Tom

“I’m just a business traveler, primarily domestic and soon to be more frequent international! I have the opportunity to observe things at airports and I can’t turn off my engineer side, so I’m always looking to help optimize things. Any tips that help folks move through faster or creates a more pleasant experience at the airport helps everyone. Less stressed at the boarding gate means a more pleasant traveler in the cabin!”

 


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