Sometimes air-travel security feels like such a hassle that you wonder why you didn't just drive to your destination. Before loading up the car, though, you should know that some of the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines might just accelerate airport security lines. Here's a rundown of recent changes to the airport security rules.
1. Age, Rank and Status Have Perks
The biggest change is a rule put into play late in 2012 that allows passengers who are 75 and older, 12 and younger, and members of the military to keep on their shoes and light jackets while passing through security. Of course, everyone still has to empty his or her pockets of any metal objects (and, just to save time, it's probably best to empty them entirely). But the new policies do make things less cumbersome for older people, parents and grandparents, and help keep those snaking TSA lines moving.
In addition, the TSA's PreCheck program continues to expand. It's true that the program primarily benefits travelers who fly almost as often as they drive and that it's currently associated with only five airlines operating from select airports (with more on the horizon). But those who've qualified for and enrolled in the program don't always have to remove their shoes, belts, jackets and laptops at security — and, once again, this speeds things up for everyone.
2. Scanning Gets Streamlined
Another big change is the removal of Rapiscan System's "backscatter" body-scanning machines (the ones that look like two big blue blocks). The TSA terminated its contract with the company after it failed to revise its too-revealing body scan software. In other words, all the hullabaloo about the machines capturing "naked" pictures of passengers was justified — and the TSA has essentially admitted it.
By June 2013, the TSA returned to using millimeter-wave units (the big freestanding domed gates) to scan using Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software, which produces generic body outlines to detect any metallic and nonmetallic items of note. A recent TSA statement said the system would mean "faster lanes for the traveler and enhanced security. As always, use of this technology is optional."
Now, as before, you can refuse a body scan by X-ray — without having to cite a reason — and opt instead for a pat-down by a same-gender TSA agent. Note, though, that pat-downs include a cursory body wipe to scan for chemicals and that even something as innocuous as pain-relieving cream could set off an alarm, prompting a more thorough pat-down in a private room. The upshot? Budget in extra time if you opt for pat-downs.
3. Research and Planning Still Help
Seamless air-travel experiences begin before you show up at the airport. As there's no end in sight for alterations to TSA air-travel mandates and the addition of airline penny-pinching policies, keeping abreast of developments will help you reduce stress and save time and money. Visit the websites of the TSA and the U.S. State Department for the latest information. (You also can call the TSA at 866-289-9673 daily during extended business hours, seven days a week.) Likewise, check your airline's latest luggage and fee policies before each flight. Even if your last trip was only a month ago, these policies may have changed.