How To Pack for Air Travel

This is yet another word of advice for you as you try to put 10 pounds of stuff in a 5-pound bag. The moral of this lesson: don’t overpack.

Because TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is under orders from higher up to speed up the process of checking carry-on bags at the same time as providing “service with a smile” (my words), we all are going to have to think carefully when we do our total packing. (By this I mean, both the material going into the checked bags as well as the carry-on and what you are wearing).

Pilot programs at select airports are attempting to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak, to inspect carry-on bags, maintain a high level of security awareness, and move the passengers quickly enough so that flights will not be delayed, or worse: passengers miss their flight.

As you know, there is a process: first, you show a government-issued picture ID card along with your boarding pass. Then you approach the dreaded conveyor belt. Clean out your pockets of EVERYTHING (even a handkerchief), remove your belt, put these in one of those little baskets. If you have a computer, take it out of its container and be prepared to turn it on (so make sure that it has some kind of residual charge, in case you are asked to turn it on). Video cameras must be taken out of their case. iPads generally are not subjected to this scrutiny, but the rules are constantly changing. As of this writing (24 June 2017), laptops may NOT be carried if you are traveling from certain select countries. This restriction in the future may be extended to tablets and it might apply to all flights. Liquids must be in clear containers no larger than 3 ounces and all must be in a see-through plastic bag. If you are younger than 75, get ready to take your shoes off and remove your jacket and cap. You will go through a modified X-ray machine (turn to the side, put your feet on the feet marked on the floor pad, raise your arms to shoulder height, and hold it!)

All this is placed on the conveyor belt and it goes into that strange machine that X-rays it. There is a person looking at the contents of the bag and if there is anything that appears to be out of the ordinary, the bag is pulled and then opened up – in your presence. The more cluttered the bag, the greater the likelihood that it will be opened and inspected. Even if the bag is not opened, if there are a lot of things in the bag, the inspector will be spending more time looking at the X-ray image.

Based on an article in Thursday, 25 May 2017 Wall Street Journal, TSA personnel may ask passengers to take more listed items out of their carry-on bag and put them in bins. Food can trigger lots of false alarms because of the density of some items (like chocolate). Thick books might force a manual check, or manuals with heavy stock paper, particularly if they have holograms.

Even if every passenger complies fully with all the requirements at a particular air terminal, random checks (every sixth bag, for example) will be pulled. TSA claims that this randomness is necessary.

This is why airlines are getting more restrictive with a two-bag limit (one to go in the overhead compartment and one beneath the seat in front of you). And those bags are limited in both size and weight (as we have found out on prior group trips!).