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Navigating the TSA’s new airport security measures this Thanksgiving

The cranberry sauce and turkey feast is upon us. In a few days, 24 million travelers are expected to take to the skies to get to their Thanksgiving holiday destination, a 3.5 percent increase over 2009. Travelers can expect crowded airports, long lines, and enhanced security measures from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

You might have heard some of the backlash the TSA’s new full-body scans and pat downs are getting. Most of the backlash stems from travelers’ concerns that the scans are an invasion of privacy.

One grassroots movement is even asking travelers to opt-out of the full-body scan for a pat down on Nov. 24. On the other hand, there are travelers protesting the pat downs. They’re just as invasive as a full-body scan, except your face is not obscured, as it is with the scanner.

At the San Diego airport, passenger John Tyner made headlines when he threatened a TSA agent with arrest if he touched him inappropriately. Even TSA Administrator John Pistole got a pat down and admitted that it was clearly more invasive, but the procedures are necessary to detect devices not seen before.

Either way you look at it, people are going to be unhappy. But the TSA is defending its security measures by saying it will help them “stay ahead of the [terrorist] threat and keep you safe.”

If you’re wondering why there’s a need for such invasive photo-imaging, just remember the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack in 2009. The people on the plane with him were lucky, because the bomb he hid in his underwear was a dud. Today, thanks to devices like the full-body scanner, he would not be able to get on a flight at all.

So in light of the TSA’s new airport security measures, let me tell you what you should expect at the airport this holiday. With this knowledge, you’ll find it easier to get through the check-in process while doing your part to ensure safety as you travel.

New TSA regulations require all travelers to submit their legal names (as they appear on your passport or other photo identification), date of birth, and gender to book a flight. Your ticket cannot be written without this information, and a boarding pass will not be issued if this information is not in your flight record. Be fastidious when filling out this information, as you don’t want it to differ from what’s on your form of identification which might cause you to be denied boarding.

After you get your boarding pass, go to the security check point, and be ready to pull out your quart-sized plastic bag that contains your 3-ounce containers of liquid to place in a security bin. The 3-1-1 rule is still in effect. If you don’t already have your quart-sized bag prepared, you’ll hold up the line. However, if you’re checking luggage, you can put all of your liquids in your checked luggage and avoid this step completely.

But if you need to take some personal items with you on board, put them in the quart-size plastic bag. Some items you might not realize belong in the plastic bag are lipstick, mouthwash, perfume, chap stick, and mascara.

Next, you’ll need to remove your shoes and belts (whether the buckle is metallic or not). You’ll also need to put your smart phone, keys, and laptop or netbook in a security bin. Keep your passport and boarding pass in hand to pass through the metal detector or body scanner quickly.

As of today, 68 airports are scanning travelers with a body scanner. Understand that the person looking at your image cannot see your face and doesn’t know it’s you whose body is in the image. If you’re opposed to the full body scan, you can opt for a pat down.

A pat-down involves a person running her hands thoroughly around all the places on your body where a bomb could be hidden. Or, you could opt for a pat down in private with a witness, to be sure you aren’t touched inappropriately. This takes much longer to conduct. If you go that route, you’ll probably hold up the line and might delay travelers getting to their gate.

I don’t want to down play the inconvenience these security measures have on travelers just to board an airplane. But in today’s world, some of our choices have simply become limited. I do need to fly from place to place. And whatever it takes to make my flight safe, well, it’s OK by me.

Let me leave you with one final note when you’re traveling this holiday: keep your cool. Everyone is harried. Security agents, flight attendants, ticket and gate agents, and all the other support staff who you’ll encounter during your travels are equally harried. If 30 years of constant travel has taught me anything, it’s that a kind word, a friendly smile, and a polite request typically produces the best results.

Happy travels!

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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