Editor’s Note: This blog is the first in a series of travel topics that can make you stressed. Our agents will try to help eliminate the “fear of the unknown” for you. Today’s blog is from Debbie Lasher. Debbie can help you with your questions or travel needs by contacting her at email@example.com.
Traveling through an airport is not as intimidating as the media and society leads us to believe. We just need to be prepared, and all will go smoothly. And, preparing for the airport experience isn’t as difficult as it sounds.
First, make certain you arrive early to the airport. 90 minutes before domestic flights is recommended. When you first arrive at the airport, you will check in at the ticket counter. This is similar to checking in to a hotel: you will need to show photo identification (a driver’s license or passport), and confirm your travel destination. Note: all passengers, ages 18 and older, need to show photo identification when checking in at the ticket counter. After checking in at the ticket counter, you will be issued your boarding pass (some airlines allow you to print your boarding pass from home; check with your airline for details), your checked bags will be collected, and you’ll be directed to security. Don’t put away your ID yet; you’ll need to show it again when you go through security.
Going through security is arguably the most daunting part of air travel. There’s a lot to remember, and airport security officers can come across as intimidating. In my experience, security officers are serious (understandably, they have to take their job seriously), but a simple smile and ‘hello’ go a long way.
When you first arrive at security, you will need to present your boarding pass and photo ID. The security officer will scan your ID to make sure it’s legitimate, sign or initial your boarding pass, then send you on to the metal detector or body scanner. This, to me, is the most difficult part of air travel. First, you’ll likely need to remove your shoes. According to the TSA, “TSA’s objective is to mitigate risk in a way that ensures security measures while both promoting the safe movement of people and commerce and guarding against a deliberate attack against our transportation systems. The agency has implemented a number of risk-based security measures including modified screening procedures for passengers 12 and under, passengers 75 and older, and members of the military as well as TSA Pre✓™/Global Entry participants. All other passengers must undergo shoe screening and passengers with a disability or hindering medical condition who cannot remove their shoes can be screened using alternative methods.”
Next, you’ll need to remove any electronics (laptops, video cameras, etc.) as well as any liquids (remember the 3-1-1 rule for liquids: 3 ounces or less of liquid or less, inside 1 quart-sized, clear plastic, zip-top bag, 1 bag per passenger). These will need to go through the scanner in separate bins from your carry-ons. Security always has plenty of bins, so no need to bring your own. Finish any drinks you may have as you cannot take them through security.
While your bags are going through the scanner, you will pass through either a metal detector or body scanner. Each person goes through when the agent says it’s ok to pass through. If a body scanner is the only choice, you can request a pat-down instead if you are uncomfortable with the imagery being used. A same sex officer will conduct the pat down. Each airport will randomly select passengers to receive additional screening, either a pat down, wand down, or another form of security screening. Each airport has its own regulations as to how they select passengers, but rest assured that if you are one of the randomly selected passengers, this whole process is very brief. Always keep in mind that you are not being singled out for this screening; it, in the greatest majority of cases, is truly random.
One piece of advice when going through security: if you have any metal in your body, such as metal bars, screws, or joint replacements, make sure you have documentation as such from your doctor. You will set off the metal detector, and it will save both you and the security officer a lot of heartache. Similarly, if you have a pacemaker or other electronic implant, notify security as you cannot go through the metal detector, but can go through the body scanner. You also cannot be wanded. Finally, if you have an insulin pump, you may have to undergo further testing. One client was required to hold the pump in his hands and then have his hands swabbed and tested to be certain there were no explosives present.
Once through security, the fun begins! The hardest part of the airport experience is now over. After recollecting your belongings (make sure to collect them all!), verify your gate number with one of the monitors and head there to wait for your plane. If you are hungry or thirsty, you will have plenty of food and drink options in the airport. There are also newsstands where you can purchase newspapers, magazines, and the like. Just make sure to arrive to your gate on time!
Once at your gate, read over your boarding pass to look for a boarding number or boarding group. Each airline boards differently; some do it by groups or zones, some do it by row number. Also, keep in mind that the boarding process generally begins 20-30 minutes prior to your departure time. When you board the plane, all you need to show is your boarding pass; you can put away your ID after you complete the security process.
After boarding the plane, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight!
I just wanted to add a few comments. I travel extensively for work and also travel with a special needs child. If you need ANY extra help or assistance during the screening process IMMEDIATELY let the TSA representative know. This really helps lower the stress level. My daughter can’t remove her shoes, but we don’t always use a wheelchair. This is something i need to tell them in advance. We also travel with medical liquids (a full 1/2 gallon) AND are REALLY slow to get everything unpacked. I explain all of this up front and tell each TSA agent I see as we progress through to the x-ray machines. I also calmly and nicely tell the people behind us in line to please give us some patience as we will be quite slow going through. Saying this with a smile helps remove the stress of impatient people behind us in line. The TSA people are more than happy to help.
The other key thing for us is early arrival. Due to the extra time to screen, we arrive 2 hours early vs. the 90 minutes. We spend the extra time at the gate walking around the terminal to get our energy out before the flight.