Inching my way through the security checkpoint lines at airports in Seattle and San Francisco over the Thanksgiving holiday, I spent a lot of time studying the other passengers. I was curious where everyone was going with all that stuff. But mostly I was wondering if anyone had any cranberry sauce tucked into their carry-on suitcase.
I wasn’t getting hungry. Just worried.
Worried because homemade cranberry sauce is the sort of dish people like to bring to holiday dinners — or to take home for a meal of leftovers. But because the red substance can be considered a liquid, a gel, or both, the TSA has added cranberry sauce to the “no-fly” list — alongside salsa, salad dressing, gravy, maple syrup and a refrigerator-full of other tasty treats.
These forbidden foods join a long list of items that can trip up even the most savvy and well-mannered traveler this time of year. So before you head to the airport and line up for that next trip through the security checkpoint, take a moment to review these bite-sized tips for getting you and your stuff merrily past the metal detectors.
Dress for success
Before you leave the house, take a minute to look in the mirror. Do your shoes match (each other)?
Good. Now, check for metal.
You can avoid multiple trips through the metal detectors — and the wrath of travelers lined up behind you — if you avoid wearing Santa-sized belt buckles, big watches, metal hair ornaments and heavy jewelry. If you do want to wear these adornments on the airplane, take a moment to remove them and tuck them into your carry-on before you reach the checkpoint. Don’t risk losing or leaving a valuable item behind by sending it down the line in a bin or basket.
Dress for success — and avoid embarrassment
Under-wire bras and other “hidden” metal, such as a body piercing in a non-apparent location, can get you sent to the secondary screening station for an extra wand or pat-down inspection. To avoid this, consider changing your outfit or removing your piercing before you head to the airport. And if you’re thinking about getting a piercing over the holiday break, think it through carefully. You may be able to hide it from your mom, but not from the TSA.
Don’t ruin the surprise
Gift wrap, especially any paper with a hint of foil in it, seems to trip airport scanning machines. So don’t be surprised if you’re ordered to unwrap all those presents in your carry-on before you make your way through security. If you don’t want to have to re-wrap everything on the other side and risk having your traveling companions see what you so successfully kept hidden from them until now, consider shipping your presents ahead. Or pack your gifts and your wrapping paper separately and convince your pals to avert their eyes or head to a different screening line.
Get a note from your doctor
If you’re one of the millions of Americans with an artificial hip, knee or other body part made of metal, make time before your trip to visit your doctor, who can give you a manufacturer’s card or a letter that identifies the implant. That piece of paper may not keep you from getting an extra pat-down, but it will help move the process along if you and your replaced body part do set off the metal detector.
Need more room in that zip-top plastic bag?
If that single, quart-sized, clear plastic zip-top bag isn’t large enough to hold all of your 3-ounce containers of liquids and gels, make room by packing another plastic bag with alternatives. Try tooth powder instead of toothpaste and solid or stick deodorant instead of roll-on or spray. You should also be able to find perfume, shampoo, conditioner and many commonly used cosmetics in cake or bar form as well.
Test your food
Think carefully about the sandwiches and snacks you bring along to eat on the plane and the homemade or store-bought foods you plan to bring along as gifts. The TSA has a long list of “no-fly” foods on its Web site, but the list doesn’t cover everything that might get you pulled over.
And there’s no assurance that a food item that passes muster in one city will make it through security in another. For example, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, yogurt cups, cheesecake, fruit pies and even jelly-filled doughnuts are often, but not always, confiscated or turned away. And a sandwich may be fine and dandy on its own, but could get rejected by a TSA officer who determines that mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup constitutes a liquid or gel. To get around this one, build your sandwich, but leave out the condiments. Pack single-serve packets of mayonnaise, ketchup or mustard in your quart-size, zip-top plastic bag and assemble the sandwich post-security.
Don’t get into a food fight
At the Philadelphia airport this past Halloween, I watched warily as a TSA officer informed a woman that she’d have to surrender that jumbo bag of snack-sized peanut butter cups discovered in her purse. I held my breath and waited for the woman to start arguing about the alleged “gel-ness” of her bonbons. Instead she stepped aside, opened the bag and a book and began calmly unwrapping and eating the candies.
It was an intriguing — although fattening — solution. But I must advise all well-mannered travelers to think twice before trying that with a rum-soaked fruitcake.