As any frequent traveler knows, the time it takes to wind through the maze of security checkpoints at U.S. airports can be lengthy. You and your attendees can get a handle on what you're up against with data from the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA tracks wait times at airports across the country and makes that information available at www.tsa.gov. (Click on “Security Checkpoint Wait Times” in the Travel Tips box.) After selecting your airport, day of the week, and travel time, the system spits back average wait times for each of the airport's checkpoints during the previous month. For example, at 8 a.m. on a Monday at Atlanta's Hartsfield International, the wait at the “T Checkpoint” averages 23 minutes. By 9 a.m., however, the average wait is less than half that.
Security delays may improve next year for some airline travelers. The TSA, which just completed a pilot Registered Traveler Program at five airports, has announced plans to launch it nationally by June 2006. The program allows participants — those who have submitted to a background check and paid a fee — to pass through an express security line. The national program will involve public-private partnerships, like the program in place in Orlando, Fla., where passengers pay $79.95 for the express-lane privilege.
While the airlines want your carry-on items to fit in the overhead bin or under the seat, remember to bring what you need to be comfortable in these days of vanishing amenities. On most airlines, there's no such thing as a free lunch any more, and in some cases, there's no lunch at all. Delta, for example, eliminated its buy-on-board meals last spring, offering snacks only on flights over three hours. (First class still gets meals on flights longer than 3.5 hours.) To cut costs, American Airlines eliminated pillows last winter on all but their longest flights, and others have followed suit. Some carriers, such as Air Canada, now charge for a blanket and pillow kit.
One ThinkPad looks like another. Be sure to label your laptop to avoid accidentally exchanging your computer with someone else's as you go through airport boarding security. A taped-on business card should do the trick. Also, note that the equipment used to screen checked baggage does damage undeveloped film, so pack it in your carry-on. High-speed film should be hand-inspected at the security checkpoint.
Do's and Don'ts
Yes, you can board the plane with your knitting needles, nail clippers, and eyeglass repair kit, but expect to leave your lighters, matches, and ski poles behind. To download a complete list of what you can and cannot take aboard a commercial aircraft, visit www.tsa.gov and click on “Travel and Consumers.”
SCREEN (verb) 1. to examine methodically in order to make a separation into different groups; 2. to select or eliminate by a screening process
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