Millions of Americans will venture forth on vacation this Fourth of July holiday, and holidays, as we know, present special challenges — especially with packed planes and the nation’s airports stretched to the limit by cascading flight delays and heightened security.
Here are 10 ways to make this a fun Fourth — or at least an efficient Fourth — whether you’re flying inside the United States or venturing outside the country:
1. Check-in early online. Airline Web sites often allow passengers to chose their seats and print their boarding passes four to 24 hours before scheduled departure. Do this: It will save you time and lighten stress at the airport.
2. Stay in touch with your airline; if you have the airline push real-time information about your flight to your phone or PDA, so much the better.
3. Pack light, pack smart — often that’s the same thing. If you don’t want to pay the new fees for checked bags, carry it all on. But don’t take things you don’t need and don’t pack so much you can’t wedge your bag into the overhead compartment or beneath the seat in front of you.
4. Put your name and contact information inside and outside your bags.
5. If you’re taking gifts, don’t wrap them, as Transportation Security Administration (TSA) baggage screeners might see fit to unwrap them.
6. Leave home early, giving yourself plenty of time for rotten weather, congealed roadways and congestion at the airport. The TSA recommends arriving at the airport 60 minutes before domestic departures if you’re not checking luggage, 90 minutes before domestic flights if you are checking luggage and two hours before international flights. Add 30 minutes to all those times. It may seem counter-intuitive to leave early when so many flights are delayed, but you’ll clear security early and if you take a good book, laptop or iPod, you can pass the time in relative peace.
7. If you lock bags, use only TSA-approved locks. You can get a list of approved locks from the TSA Web site. The site also posts an updated list of prohibited items in carry-ons. Hint: It may be the Fourth of July, but fireworks aren’t permitted in bags or onboard planes.
8. Carry a driver’s license, birth certificate or — for foreign travel — a passport, and make sure that the name on your boarding pass exactly matches the name on your photo I.D.
9. Don't wear clothing with metal when you're in the screening line; metal sets off the X-ray machines. Stow clothing with metal such as belts, neck chains and bracelets in your carry-on bag instead. Don't forget to take off your watch, too, before going through the metal detector.
10. Even if you think stressed and stretched TSA airport personnel are rude, don’t argue with them and don’t be a joker. That holds up the line and may subject you to additional scrutiny. Questions about security? E-mail TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov or call toll-free 1-866-289-9673.