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updated 1/5/2012 9:49:28 AM ET 2012-01-05T14:49:28

I'm pretty unhappy about walking through the full-body scanners. What can I do?

You can always request a pat-down if you're worried about the radiation exposure, but that can still feel personally invasive. The good news is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has begun adjusting the software in its full-body scanners so that they deliver only outlines, not near-naked images of your business. The scanners now search for hidden objects under a passenger's clothes; the torso itself is more of an outline, undefined to the point of being genderless. The software has been used in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Las Vegas and is being rolled out across the country over the next few months.

Yes, for now, though the TSA did say in September that children 12 and younger would now be allowed to keep their shoes on during security screenings. The change came after a successful pilot program in select airports this summer, and the TSA has been testing other potential changes as well. Pre-approved frequent fliers with Delta Air Lines in Atlanta and Detroit as well as frequent fliers with American Airlines in Miami and Dallas are being subjected to fewer security stops as part of a move to a more "intelligence-driven" system focusing on "higher-risk" passengers. You might also notice "behavior detection officers" chatting with passengers in casual conversation, looking for indications of suspicious behavior.

It's true—the rules change frequently and without notice. During the holidays last year, there was a last-minute warning, based on intelligence at the time, that required extra scrutiny of empty thermoses and insulated coffee mugs. In general, the most familiar requirements haven't changed: Take out your laptop; liquids are limited to 3.4 ounces; shoes come off, etc.  But you should check the TSA's website ( tsa.gov ) before you fly next. Or download the agency's free mobile app ( tsa.gov/mobile ), which includes both updated security procedures and the nifty feature of letting people in airports share how long they wait for security in real time.

 

Check in online and print your boarding pass at home, or have it sent to your smartphone. If you're checking a bag, you'll also save time going online because you can prepay any baggage fees. When you get to the airport, you may have access to a less crowded bag-drop-off line, reserved for those who have already checked in. Prepaying for your checked bags at major airlines used to be cheaper, too, but not any more. Shocking!

 

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