With airlines adding or raising fees for checked baggage, it makes sense to try to limit yourself to your carry-on allotment. But after the latest terrorism attempt in December, during which a man allegedly attempted to ignite a bomb hidden in his underwear during Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, rules for what is permitted on board airplanes in, to, and from the United States have become both more strict and more random, leading to confusion and frustration among travelers.
Three popular airlines -- Delta, American Airlines, and Continental -- raised their fees for checked baggage last week, to as much as $25 for the first piece of luggage checked per passenger and $35 for the second. Southwest Airlines still permits passengers to check two bags for free; Jet Blue allows one free bag and charges $30 for a second. Having overweight luggage or traveling with more than two suitcases incurs even steeper charges -- as high as $100 per bag.
Changes in security measures and prohibitions against certain items are causing confusion as well. Here's a primer on what to expect if you're traveling by air these days, according to the United States' Transportation Security Administration (TSA):
1.) All toiletries and other liquids must fit into a single 1-quart zip-top plastic bag. Only one bag is allowed per person.
2.) Liquids must be in containers that hold 3.4-ounces or less. This means that even if your 8-ounce bottle of lotion only has 2 ounces of product in it, you won't be allowed to bring it on board.
3.) If you're bringing gifts, do not wrap them. They may be unwrapped by security personel.
4.) , coats, and bulky items of clothing must be removed and scanned. Yes, even the cute little booties on the baby.
5.) must be removed from their bags or certain types of cases and scanned separately.
6.) Certain items are still prohibited. Right after 9/11, everything from nail clippers to cigarette lighters were forbidden. Now, lighters may be allowed, but there are plenty of things that you shouldn't try to bring through a security checkpoint, including sports equipment like baseball bats and tools like screwdrivers or hammers. (You can find a complete list of prohibited items here.)
7.) Be ready to remove your keys, loose change, and chunky jewelry. Also: certain things, like body piercings or underwire bras, may set off metal detectors. Be aware that you may be subject to additional screening if you're wearing these kinds of items.
8.) Babies and toddlers can't stay in their carriers. Small children must be taken out of their strollers or carseats and carried through security.
9.) Make sure your papers are in order. Soon, airlines will require that you provide your birthdate and gender when you purchase a ticket; having a nickname or shortened name on your ticket and your full name on your identification will cause problems. If you're used to booking your tickets as "Mike" but your driver's license says "Michael," be prepared to change your ways.
10.) You may be screened more than once. In an effort to randomize security procedures, some passengers may be pulled aside for additional screening at the security checkpoint or even while they wait at the gate. "These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere," Janet Nepolitano, the U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security, said in a December statement.
Other security measures were put in place immediately after the so-called "Underwear Bomber" attempted attack in December, but many of them are now being left largely up to the captains on individual flights. On some domestic flights within the United States, for example, passengers were not allowed to leave their seats for the last hour of the flight, and pillows and blankets were collected early as well. On others, announcements by the crew as to the location of the plane or landing instructions were suspended; some airlines also restricted passengers' access to their carry-on bags, reading material and electronics (including MP3 players), and to the in-flight entertainment system (in order to limit access to that electronic map that shows an airplane's position.
So how do you manage to get to your destination with your wallet minimally scathed and your sanity mostly intact?
Take only what fits in your carry-on suitcase. Airlines still allow passengers to bring one piece of luggage (small enough to fit in the overhead compartment) and one "personal item" (like a purse, briefcase, or computer bag, small enough to fit under the seat). With some advance planning and a few clever products, it's possible for two adults to fit everything they need for a long weekend into a single regulation-size wheeled carry-on.
Seems impossible? Think again. "Mix and match your clothes. Then, edit your bag," counsels Susan Foster, author of ‘‘Smart Packing for Today’s Traveler.’’ Start by figuring out what you'll be doing during the trip, and then planning an outfit for each excursion. Once you've done that, you can "edit" your selections, choosing items of clothing that work with multiple outfits. ‘‘When you take the time to plan ahead, then you know what you’re going to do,’’ she said. ‘‘What happens to people is, at the very last minute they say, ‘OK it’s time to pack’ and, two hours before they leave for the airport, they start throwing things into their bag.’’ Planning ahead can help you avoid taking your entire wardrobe with you.
The TSA suggests that you pack your carry-on in layers, with electronics and other items sandwiched between layers of clothing. "This will help transportation security officers see what's in your bag" they point out in their online guidelines. "Innocent items can actually appear to be potential threats in an X-ray image, simply by the way they're packed."
If you're traveling somewhere cold, wear your bulkiest clothes, coat, and shoes on the plane. It's worth the trouble to unlace those boots in the security line if it means you can avoid dealing with the hassle of checking and claiming a suitcase. Also: If you think you might be asked to check your carry-on at the gate, be sure to pack essentials -- medications, important papers, etc. -- in a smaller bag within your bag, so you can remove it easily at the last minute.
Anne McAlpin, a 15-year packing veteran who contributes segments on packing light to Home & Garden Television’s ‘‘Smart Solutions’’ and is the author of "Pack It Up," recommends investing in items that can be used in multiple ways. A microfiber towel she designed for her line of travel gear can also work as a sarong or a travel blanket, she said; a long, simple black skirt can be dressed up for dinner or dressed down for sightseeing. Miniature versions of your usual toiletries are a must, or consider purchasing what you need at your destination and avoid packing certain items altogether. ‘‘As travel has changed, so has packing,’’ she pointed out.