We’ve taken off our shoes, emptied our pockets, and left our nail clippers in the bathroom drawer. Now, we can’t have our shampoo, shaving cream, or soda pop. From new carry-on restrictions to near-endless lines, the effects of the events of Aug. 10 are enough to make a frequent flyer wonder if it’s worth heading to the airport at all.
The short answer, for this frequent flyer at least, is, YES, absolutely. With the terrorism plot in England foiled and heightened security measures in place at airports throughout the U.S. and Europe, air travel is currently as safe as it can possibly be.
Safe, yes. Stress-free, not so much. More security means more hassles and longer lines from the check-in counter to baggage claim. And while you can’t escape the increased scrutiny -- don’t even try -- you can take some steps to minimize the impact.
Pack light, pack right
Due to the nature of the recent threat, liquids and gels have been prohibited in the cabin on domestic and international flights until further notice. That means no water, no coffee, not even a tube of toothpaste or suntan lotion.
Drinks aside, you’ve got two choices. You can pack your personal-care products in your checked baggage -- you probably don’t use them inflight anyway -- or leave them home and buy new supplies once you land. Otherwise, they’ll have to be discarded at the airport, which will only make the already interminable lines even longer.
As for drinks, you can still carry them through security -- or buy them in the concourse -- but you’ll have to toss them before boarding. Likewise, if you’ve bought wine or duty-free liquor during your travels, be prepared to part company. Onboard beverage carts, on the other hand, are expected to remain fully operational.
Prohibited items aside, you can still take a carry-on bag onboard on most flights. (The one exception is for flights originating in London, where all carry-on bags have been prohibited.) Electronic devices, such as cell phones and iPods, however, will likely draw increased scrutiny. If you can do without them, check them.
Speaking of electronic devices, this is also a good time to take a look at your laptop. Do you really need it while you’re away to work, get e-mail, or share those photos with the family -- or are you carrying it to play FreeCell and watch DVDs? If you don’t truly need it, leave it home -- you may be surprised how enjoyable being unplugged can be.
If, however, you need your computer while you’re traveling, consider investing in a hard-sided case. (A good aluminum or molded-plastic model will run $125 or more.) Placing it in your checked baggage -- well-padded, of course -- can be nerve-wracking, but it beats being pulled out of line for a secondary search.
Go luggage free
Sometimes -- say, if you’re traveling with skis or a set of golf clubs -- packing light simply isn’t an option. Yet, you can still avoid the back-up at baggage claim by shipping your luggage before you leave home.
Currently, more than a dozen companies offer door-to-door luggage delivery. They’ll pick up your bags, ship them to your destination, and have them delivered to your hotel or other home away from home. (Most services require a two-day lead time, with cheaper rates for longer-lead bookings.) You, meanwhile, can head to the airport with just your tickets, money, and photo ID, bypassing the lines at both the check-in counter and baggage carousel.
Tomorrow and beyond
Clearly, the current situation is subject to change, and some of the new restrictions will eventually be relaxed. Even so, the repercussions will likely be felt for some time to come.
In the short term, many airlines are suggesting that it will take two or three days to work through the direct impacts of the initial delays and cancelled flights (rescheduling, rebooking, etc.). However, it could easily take twice as long before things approach anything resembling normal. And long lines and increased scrutiny will be a given long after you can carry your latte onboard again.
If you’re traveling domestically, therefore, you should probably get to the airport at least two, if not three, hours before departure. If you’re flying internationally, plan on four or five hours -- and expect plenty of downtime once you’ve made it through security. And, of course, you should check with your airline on a regular basis as all of the above is subject to change at a moment’s notice.
Note, too, that some airlines are waiving change fees for passengers with reservations who rebook within a reasonable timeframe. If your plans are flexible, it may be worth waiting a week or two. The skies are already safe; rest assured, the stressful scene in the terminal is temporary.