Air Travel Regulations: What To Expect - My Family Travels
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Staying up to date with security regulations at US Airports can help you make your family’s journey less stressful.

Since 2001, a variety of aviation security regulations have been put into effect at all American airports (and adopted by many foreign airports, as well), courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Hand-carried and checked bags have become a security priority. The TSA reminds passengers that all bags are subject to search, and luggage may be handled by new systems built into baggage conveyer belts in non-public areas of the airport. “Leaving bags unlocked will avoid the potential need for them to be opened forcibly,” the TSA warns. Either before or after you check luggage, it will be scanned with explosive detection systems, hand inspected (if so, a notice will be put inside the bag to inform you of the TSA search, and a breakable plastic “lock” will reseal your bag), or inspected with a bomb-sniffing dog. These procedures may require your family to wait in one extra line.

International travelers arriving at US airports and transferring to domestic flights will have checked luggage re-inspected and X-rayed at most airports.

Carry-on & Checked Luggage Rules

Travelers are limited to one carry-on bag and one personal bag (such as purse or briefcase). Because the airlines are given many security directives that are not shared with the public, there will always be confusion in this area. For more information on carry-on restrictions, including current policy on car seats and portable strollers, call your airline prior to departure. You should also check back at the TSA website for the latest regulations prior to travel.

The current TSA packing guidelines forbid travelers from carrying any liquids or gels aboard. Dubbed “3-1-1” to indicate the rules for carry-on luggage, it means all liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a 3 ounce (100 ml in Europe) or smaller container; these containers must be placed in a 1-quart, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; only 1 bag permitted per passenger and this must be placed in a plastic bin for screening at the security portal. In practice, many airport screening stations have stopped inspecting carry-on liquids or their containers, but better to be safe than have your expensive shampoo confiscated because it’s in a 10-ounce bottle.

Of course, travelers are prohibited from carrying on board knives of any length, composition or description, or any type of cutting instruments, baseball or softball bats, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles, or hockey sticks; doubtful items should be transported in checked luggage.

Be sure to pack toys and snacks in carry-ons with the restrictions in mind. Since the number of carry-ons has been further restricted, now’s the time to prepare even the littlest ones to tote a fanny pack full of Goldfish.  Travelers should be aware that all electronic items may be subjected to additional screening; laptops must be removed from cases prior to X-ray (unless they’re in TSA certified clear cases) and screeners may demand that portable video game players, cellphones and camera be hand-inspected.

Film manufacturers have stated that the enhanced screening procedures for checked baggage are capable of damaging unexposed film, therefore, carry it with you and request a hand inspection. Label all your electronic items in case they are separated from you at security. For more specific information on airport security screenings and procedures, call the TSA at (866/289-9673) or visit The TSA’s section: Traveling with Children online.

Especially over the busy holiday periods, families will want to check their luggage or — even better — ship it ahead. Take that bulky infant gear, snowsports equipment, extra clothing and/or presents to FedEx Ground (cheap if you bring it to them), UPS (fussy about packaging) or one of the private services, such as Luggage Concierge. The costly private services are easiest; they take any type of sealed bag and rates include pick-up and delivery door-to-door, plus baggage insurance. Of course, it’s no bargain to check luggage any more, with first bag check fees running $15 to $25 each, and second and more bags costing up to $50 each.

Airport &  Terminal Security

In addition, travelers and their families should expect many slow security procedures — sometimes contradictory — and some new annoyances at both American and international airports.  Be sure to discuss these security procedures with children so they know what to expect, and how to behave.

Public transportation to and from airports is highly recommended, as all private vehicle standing and loading zones, as well as short term parking near most airport terminals, has been severely restricted or banned altogether.

Among the inflight annoyances cutbacks in service; airlines have eliminated meal service on shorter flights (usually about four hours or less.) Fortunately, most airports have substantially expanded their food court offerings and seating areas and many airlines sell prepared meals to passengers at the gate or onboard. Adults should be prepared to carry aboard food snacks for the entire family; beverages purchased after the security area should be marked and packaged for carry-on use.

Because of delays stemming from heightened security, families should bring distractions to make the long, but generally efficient, check-in and security lines more friendly. Despite lots of flip-flopping on this issue, the TSA has mandated that all travelers remove their footwear for X-ray screening at U. S. security portals. Those who are shoelace-challenged should travel in sandals or slip-on shoes. Coats are another source of confusion; make it easy on everyone by having the kids put any outerwear — from Roxy sweatshirts to Northface jackets — into bins so it can be X-rayed.

The TSA has, however, greatly improved procedures to have a same sex security officer ‘pat down’ or ‘wand’ all passengers who need secondary screening, and have provided separate “family” lanes where parents don’t need to feel rushed by aggravated business travelers who are trying to push their way through.

General Aviation Security Measures

Only ticketed passengers with photo ID and boarding passes will be allowed to enter ‘sterile’ gate areas past airport security screeners. Holders of e-tickets are required to show a boarding pass and photo ID to clear security, but at most airports families can use e-kiosks to retrieve reservations and print out boarding passes for domestic flights (and some international ones).

Escort fees and paperwork for Unaccompanied Minors must be handled at check-in by a ticket agent, so allow plenty of time.

The FAA advises: “Keep your photo identification handy. If you do not have a photo ID, make sure you have two pieces of identification, one of which must be issued by a government authority. Minors are not required to have identification.” Prepare your child with a passport, school ID or guardian contact information just in case. Note: The FAA says special arrangements will be made at the check-in counter to provide free gate passes for one parent/guardian of unaccompanied minors and one companion of passengers with special needs.

At some airports, randomly selected passengers of all ages will undergo a second round of ID checks, hand baggage searches, and in other airports, a secondary physical inspection, before boarding.

Airplanes are being thoroughly searched and secured before passengers board. Sky marshals (including personnel from the military’s special operations) are deployed on an increased number of flights, including many international flights with international carriers. Uniformed, armed officers from the Justice and Treasury departments patrol airport interiors. Exteriors and terminal entryways are patrolled by local police.

Visa Rules & Safety Bulletins

Foreigners visiting the US, including those visiting for the first time, are required to carry passports that are both machine-readable and biometric. U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. from any international destination by air are also required to show a passport. Regulations are always changing, check for the latest.

This site is where you’ll find current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State. Great Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office offers travel advice and is the Wall Street Journal’s pick for the most straightforward security information regarding current world crises.

We recommend that before flying within or to the United States, families contact their travel agent, who may subscribe to important agent-only security or international news and health services.  Your airline’s website should also post the latest in travel security measures, including how much time you’ll need for check-in and the current boarding deadlines imposed to meet the latest ‘baggage match’ regulations.

TSA Packing Tips

Sports fans – Clean your golf clubs thoroughly after use because some types of lawn fertilizer set off baggage screening alarms. Ship scuba tanks, gas stoves and parachutes (!) ahead. Check fishing tackle, baseball bats and lacrosse sticks.

BYOB Types – Pack all food products in carry-on bags. It’s very distracting to the trained dogs being used for luggage inspection.

Packers – Keep presents unwrapped. Forget the suitcase locks, TSA staff have the right to inspect everything. Don’t overstuff bags, since you may not be able to get everything back in once inspected.

Photographers – Undeveloped film should be packed in carry-on bags because the new checked baggage screening equipment will damage or destroy it. If it is faster than 800-speed, it should go to a security officer for physical inspection to avoid being X-rayed.

Note: This does not apply to CDs, videos, DVDs or diskettes.

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