As Americans pile into airplanes to fly to Grandma’s house this holiday season, they should remember what she always said: Neatness counts.
The 12-day Thanksgiving travel period that began Friday is expected see a 4 percent jump in airline passengers over last year, the Air Transport Association said, with 27 million passengers crammed into planes about 90 percent full.
Some big airlines are adding as many as 500 seasonal workers — some of whom had been furloughed — to beef up their staffing, and some, such as Northwest, have rescheduled flights away from peak hours. President Bush ordered some East Coast military airspace open to accommodate the holiday congestion. New York’s airports, meanwhile, will try new rules, landing two planes at a time.
“The bottom-line way to put it is that we are deploying information and people in massive amounts,” said Greg Principato, president of Airports Council International, the national airports association.
Those policies should get planes off the ground more quickly, but that won’t help you if you’re stuck at a security checkpoint.
“Fifteen to 30 minutes. I think you can expect that and factor that into your holiday travel,” said Ellen Howe, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration.
A place for everything ...
Federal aviation officials say travelers can, however, do their part. Mainly, they say, don’t be a slob.
“Every bag check takes three minutes, so pack your bag in a way that we can see it on the X-ray,” Howe said. “Limit clutter. You’ll get through faster. Everybody will be happier.”
The TSA introduced new guidelines to help passengers streamline their carry-on bags in an effort to, in turn, streamline security checks. Dubbed “SimpliFLY,” the guidelines urge fliers to:
- Pack an organized carry-on bag using layers — a layer of clothes, then electronics, more clothes and then other items, like toiletries. This will help security officers see what’s in your bag.
- Have your boarding pass and ID ready for inspection when you get to the checkpoint.
- Remove your coat and shoes and place them in a bin.
- Place any oversized electronics, such as laptop computers, video game consoles, DVD players and video cameras, in a separate bin. Personal audio players and other smaller electronics can stay in your carry-on bag.
TSA officials told NBC News that they were especially concerned because infrequent holiday travelers aren’t familiar with how things work now and tend to take contraband in their carry-on bags, requiring more time-consuming hand searches.
“None of us like to have everything ripped through, so I don’t know what the answer is,” said Rita Mahoney, a holiday traveler from Boulder, Colo.
The biggest puzzler for inexperienced travelers are the rules governing carry-on liquids, aerosols and gels, which limit travelers to only 3-ounce containers of such materials in a single quart-size zip-top bag.
Some medically necessary liquids, such as medicine or breast milk, are exempt if they are declared ahead of time to a security officer. But there are no exceptions for Christmas goodies if they’re more than 3 ounces.
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“We don’t want to have you to leave gifts behind if you packed a bottle of wine or some jams or jelly or things that you made especially for someone,” said Mark Grose, the TSA’s assistant director of security. “They can’t go through the checkpoint.”
Bring your own bags, and a frown
A complication could arise for experienced travelers who show up at the airport expecting to find zip-top bags at the checkpoint. TSA officials said they could not afford to keep them on supply, so travelers now must make sure to bring their own.
More headaches could come if you’re carrying Christmas gifts for the nieces and nephews. No matter how pretty you want your gifts to be, don’t wrap them, because security screeners will pull them out of the line and unwrap them for inspection anyway.
Agency officials said applying common sense should go a long way toward resolving uncertainties. If you’re not sure about whether you can bring it through a checkpoint, leave it home or put it in your checked luggage.
And come with the right attitude, which isn’t necessarily optimism, said James May, president of the Air Transport Association.
“Always expect the worst,” he said. That way, “you’ll be pleased when you have a great experience.”
By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com with NBC’s Patty Culhane in Dulles, Va., and Steve Handelsman in Washington. NBC affiliates WRC of Washington, WISE of Fort Wayne, Ind., and WHO of Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.