A holiday Q&A with the TSA
An armed British policemen watches over holiday travellers at London's Heathrow airport. (Richard Lewis/Associated Press)
You may have to leave the ugly Christmas sweater at home this year -- or at least pack it safely in your checked luggage.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) warns against any clothing with bits of metal – think jingle bells or gold/silver thread – which can set off the alarm at security. What else should you keep in mind when travelling for the holidays? TSA spokesman Kawika Riley offers some tips for getting through security.
Q: Can passengers carry pies, cakes, cookies and other holiday food on the plane?
A: Solid food is fine, as long as it does not contain liquids, gels or aerosols. [But] if you can smear it, spread it or spray it, you should expect that it could fall under the 3-1-1 liquid limitations.
Travelwise found this TSA list of holiday liquid, aerosol and gel items that you should put in your checked bag, ship ahead or leave at home if they are above the permitted 3.4 oz limit.
Q: What about smaller food items like cooking ingredients, including spices, herbs, etc.?
A: Same as above – TSA limits the size and quantity of carry-on liquids, gels and aerosols, but solid foods are fine.
Q: When going through security, we know passengers must take out laptops or iPads from their bags -- does the same go for Kindles and other non-computer electronic devices?
A: Laptop computers, full-size video game consoles, CPAP machines, full-size DVD players and video cameras that use video cassettes must be removed from their carrying cases and submitted separately for x-ray screening. Small and portable electronic items (iPods, cell phones, etc) do not need to be removed from their carrying cases.
Travelwise found these checkpoint friendly laptop bag procedures. Kindles and iPads should also be removed from carry-on luggage.
Q: What rules apply to wrapped gifts for going through security?
A: Wrapped items are treated the same as unwrapped items. If a wrapped item alarms as a potential explosive, our officers will need to resolve the alarm. This is why TSA recommends passengers do not travel with wrapped packages. In order to determine if a package contains a threat, a security officer may need to unwrap and inspect the item. If you are travelling with gifts please wrap them after you reach your destination.
Q: Have there been problems with people trying to smuggle things in holiday gifts in the past? Any examples?
A: Every day – not just the holidays – TSA officers find firearms and other weapons at checkpoints across the nation. Just this past week, TSA detected a knife disguised as a belt buckle and a stun gun disguised as a pink cell phone.
Q: With the three-ounce liquid rule, what kind of gift items -- like snow globes -- do people tend to forget about?
A: Many passengers are very aware of the limits on liquids in carry-ons, but may not be as familiar with the fact that those limitations also apply to gels and aerosols.
Q: What about candles? Can those be carried on?
A: Regular candles are fine, but please remember that they may be subject to further inspection before being cleared. Gel candles fall under our liquid, gel and aerosol limitations for carry-on items.
Travelwise found this list of prohibited items for carry-on.
Q: What about people travelling with pets? What should they keep in mind, especially during this busy travel time?
A: All pets and animals are subject to non-x-ray screening. At the checkpoint, take your pet out of the carrier, if possible, and send the carrier through the x-ray. You can then either walk or carry your pet through the metal detector. If you are not able to take the pet or animal out of the carrier, notify an officer of your need for special assistance at the beginning of the checkpoint screening process. At all times you are responsible for maintaining control of your pet and assisting the TSA in the screening process. Never put a pet into the x-ray.
Q: During the holidays, do you ever get people dressed up like Santa going through security? Do TSA agents have to keep an eye out for people in costume during holidays like Christmas, Halloween, etc.?
A: TSA officers look out for dangerous items and dangerous individuals who may pose a risk to transportation security.
Travelwise found these tips for dressing for airport security.
Q: We're always hearing travellers complaints about the TSA -- what are TSA agents' biggest complaints about travellers going through security or not knowing the rules?
A: We consider it a privilege to serve the public, and recognize that transportation security is everyone’s responsibility. When travellers are prepared before they arrive at the checkpoint, they make the experience easier for everyone, including their fellow passengers.