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Travel Security Luggage Restrictions and Departure Checks

Enhancements in security measures since Sept. 11, 2001 came fast and furious. Although most of the kinks have been worked out, the new precautions and procedures may still lead to increases in travel time and inconveniences. Whether you're waiting on longer lines, subjected to closer personal searches or having to cool your (shoeless) heels while your bags are carefully inspected, you'll likely find traveling today a far different experience than it was in the more trusting pre-Sept. 11 days.

Security measures are still evolving and they tend to vary from airport to airport, but there are a few rules of thumb any traveler can use to make their next trip a little easier. Our tips:

Know your departure time: 
Although the Federal Aviation Administration still recommends arriving at the airport two hours before your flight's scheduled departure, check with your airline or the airport first. Some airlines don't require you to arrive quite so early for all flights. Delta, for example, recommends that you arrive one hour prior to a domestic flight. Other airlines say 60 or 90 minutes. Ask first; you may be able to reduce your airport time significantly. For most domestic flights, you need to be at the gate, with boarding card in hand, 15 minutes before the flight is scheduled. For international flights, you need to be at the gate 30 minutes prior to departure.

Use curbside checking
Unless you have a ticket that requires special assistance from an airline representative (for example you need to change your flight), you can use curbside check-in at most airports, where lines frequently are shorter. Not all airlines offer curbside check-in for all flights, however, so check with your airline or airport first. If you're traveling on an e-ticket, many airports and airlines allow you to proceed straight to the gate to check in, provided that you don't have any bags to check. To get through security you'll need a printout of your ticket or an e-ticket confirmation from your travel agent or airline, and your picture ID, of course.

Luggage restrictions:
Or better yet, know what you can't carry:
knives of any type
cutting or puncturing instruments (including pocketknives, carpet knives, box cutters, ice picks, straight razors, metal scissors and metal nail files)
athletic equipment that could be used as a weapon (such as baseball or softball bats, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles and hockey sticks)
fireworks (including flares or sparklers)
flammable liquids or solids (such as fuel, paints or lighter refills)
household cleaners (such as drain cleaners and solvents)
pressure containers (spray cans, butane fuel, scuba tanks, propane tanks, CO2 cartridges and self-inflating rafts)
weapons (firearms, ammunition, gunpowder, mace, tear gas or pepper spray)
other hazardous materials (gasoline-powered tools, wet-cell batteries, camping equipment with fuel, radioactive materials, poisons and infectious substances).

Find the entire list here at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration website

You can carry personal care items that may contain potentially hazardous materials (such as flammable perfume or aerosols), but only if they total no more than 70 ounces. You also can carry matches and lighters on your person, but "strike-anywhere" matches, lighters with flammable liquid reservoirs and lighter fluid are forbidden. You can carry on dry ice for packing perishables, but only if you have less than four pounds of dry ice and the package is vented.

Moving quickly through airport departure checkpoints: 
Before you leave for the airport, or while you're standing in line at the security checkpoint, take everything coins, pens, keys, lighters out of your pockets and put them in your carry-on. If you're wearing a big belt buckle or clunky jewelry, put it in your bag as well. This will save you time from having to unload at the foot of the X-ray machine and enduring the grumbles of those behind you. You might want to stow such small loose items in a plastic bag inside your carry-on so that you don't have to dig through your bag playing "find the lost watch" later in the day.

Leave gifts loose:  
You might get through security with your wrapped packages still intact, but airline security personnel will rip open your gifts if they can't get a clear view of what's inside from the X-ray scan. Save yourself the trouble and leave the paper off.

Obey the rules:  
Don't leave your car unattended; the signs mean what they say and your car will likely be towed if you leave it alone. Security personnel also are hyper-serious about bags left alone or jokes about bombs or other threats.

Watch your baggage size/weight restrictions: 
The FAA recommends and most airlines agree that each passenger bring one carry-on bag, plus one personal bag such as a purse, laptop or briefcase. Airlines are now enforcing size restrictions on your carry-on, so don't try to bring your steamship trunk onboard. Airlines typically require that your bag be less than 45 linear inches (height, plus width, plus length) and no more than 40 pounds. The good news is that the lighter you travel, the quicker you'll get through security and on your way.

Keep your batteries fully charged: 
You may be asked to turn on your laptop or cellphone, so make sure your battery is charged and ready to go.

Keep your ID/passport, ticket and boarding pass handy: 
You'll need them when you check in, when you go through the security checkpoint and when you board your plane, so keep them stashed in an easy-to-reach spot.

Watch your camera film: 
Where you pack your film is more important now than ever before. The new, stronger X-ray machines used in some U.S. and overseas airports to scan your checked bags can fog undeveloped film. It's best to carry your film including undeveloped film in your camera on the plane, since the lower-dose X-ray machines used to screen carry-on bags are safe for film. The only exception is when your bag and film pass through the X-ray machine more than five times during an extended trip. Repeated exposure even at this lower dose could damage high-speed film. To reduce excessive exposure, you can try asking the security personnel to hand-check your film rather than putting it through for an X-ray, although not all airports will honor the request. Or you can also buy a lead-lined bag, which will help reduce the amount of radiation that hits your film, but it will likely cost you in the form of increased scrutiny by security personnel. And of course, you can have your film processed before you head to the airport there's no risk to processed film.

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