I Got a Brand New Set of Rules

by Nancy Bestor

If you spend any time with me, you’ll quickly learn I am a rule follower. I like to get to places on time (or, truth be told, even a little early), I struggle with questioning authority, and when someone tells me to wait in line or do something a certain way, I tend to do as I am told. Thus, every time I fly, I follow the TSA 311 rules to a T. All my liquids are jammed into one clear quart-sized bag, and the bottles holding said liquids are 3 ounces or less. And, of course, I always leave my hunting knives, firearms, and meat cleavers at home.

But on a recent trip, I noticed that in the TSA line in Medford, Oregon, the folks just ahead of me were not following the rules. They had shampoo AND conditioner bottles much larger than 3 ounces in their carry on. The bottles were not entirely full, but they were easily six ounces, or more. I smirked (to myself of course, because when I’m judgmental, I like to be judgmental in private), and waited for the TSA agent to confiscate their bottles. But alas, the agent said “these bottles are larger than carry on regulations. Next time please use the proper size.” And then he let them through, WITH THEIR BOTTLES!

Now perhaps the TSA agents at our little airport in Medford are kinder than TSA agents at larger airports. This could be true. But if TSA security regulations in place to prevent terrorism forbid travelers from carrying on large quantities of liquid, don’t you think all TSA agents everywhere should enforce those rules? Which, of course, begs the question, are liquids in bottles larger than 3 ounces a real security risk? Frankly, I think not.

Looking around at online traveler forums, I found that many travelers have carried on items that are not TSA-approved. Maybe it’s a full sized lotion bottle in their suitcase, or a swiss army knife in their purse. But again and again, travelers report that they are carrying on items that are not legal.

The long and short of it is that I will not stop following the rules. My deepest fear is that the one time I break the rules, I’ll get caught. And the TSA will not only confiscate my illegal item, but I’ll be subject to an additional search which will annoy me to no end. If you, on the other hand, are a risk taker, you might just get to carry your illegal items on to your next flight. Apparently, you won’t be the only one.

How To Speed Thru Airport Security

by Nancy Bestor

airport1We’ve all been behind someone who takes an extraordinarily long and frazzled time getting through an airport security checkpoint. Maybe they didn’t know there was a rule about carrying large shampoo bottles on board a plane, or carrying on large scissors or razor blades. Or perhaps they were unaware that their jewelry, belt, shoes, watch, keys, cell phone and pocket change all had to get put into the bin? The truth is that getting behind a slow moving traveler can’t be helped. But if we all prepare ourselves better for airport security, maybe we’ll offset the slowpokes, speed things up for everyone and ease our own stress. Here are a few tips to make your airport security experience go quicker and more efficiently.

Take a look at the TSA’s list of prohibited items for luggage carried on a plane. You might be surprised to learn that snow globes larger than a golf ball are prohibited, but knitting needles are okay. The TSA mobile phone app has a handy “Can I Bring” feature where you can type what you hope to carry on and make sure it is legal.

Give yourself plenty of time to get through security. This will certainly make the whole process less stressful, and give you more opportunity to people watch at the airport. The TSA mobile phone app gives you live, current wait times at airport security locations, which is handy for letting you know how far in advance you might need to arrive at the airport.

Take everything out of your pockets and put it into a small pocket of your suitcase or carry on bag before you get to the front of the security line. This way you won’t have to put your change, Chapstick, keys, etc. into a bowl, and you won’t have to waste time at the opposite end of the security checkpoint scrambling like Lucy Ricardo to retrieve all those items individually as they slide by on the conveyor belt. You can even take your belt off and put it into the same pocket. Again, it will save you time and stress at the pick-up end of the line. Put these items back into your pocket or loop your belt back onto your pants after you’re out of the line.

Wear slip on shoes, and either bring or wear socks! I often fly in sandals, but I always throw a pair of socks into my purse, so I can put them on in the security line. I do not want to think about the germs that may be floating around on the security checkpoint mats.

If you have a choice between two lines, studies say the one on the left will be shorter. Research shows that right handed people tend to go right more often than left, and there are far more right handed people in the world. Are there facts to back up this tip? Probably not, but it sounds pretty good to me.

airport2Finally, if you join the TSA’s pre-check program you’ll whisk yourself into the pre-check line wherever one is offered, and you’ll avoid having to take off your shoes and belt, and take your quart sized liquids bags out of your carry on, among other things. This is a great program if you’re a frequent traveler, and willing to pay the $85 fee and go to a TSA interview.

When going through TSA lines I’ve wondered how something so slow moving can feel so hectic. But just a little bit of pre-planning can make a big difference.

Speeding Through Airport Customs Lines

IMG_0785by Nancy Bestor

Bob and I first became aware of the US Customs Department’s Global Entry Program in early 2013.  The Program offers expedited re-entry into the United States and expedited TSA screening for approved travelers at a growing number of domestic airports. Since we fly both domestically and internationally several times a year, we decided it might be worth $100 each to apply for the Global Entry program.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to our readers to learn that the program’s application process is not the easiest to execute. Here’s how it went down for us.

First a few details. A Global Entry Pass costs $100, and is good for five years. With the pass, approved US citizens can skip customs lines and customs agents and instead go directly to an automated Global Entry kiosk, where with one swipe of your passport, an electronic fingerprinting and a photo, you are quickly approved for re-entry into the US. The same application also gains travelers access to the TSA Pre-Check program, where at participating airports approved travelers can go through faster, more efficient screening. Sounds awesome right? It is, but the application process does not work quite as efficiently.

You apply for the program online, and immediately pay the $100 fee. That part is easy. The tricky part comes in scheduling an in-person interview at one of the 38 Global Entry Enrollment Centers at airports in the United States. When we applied, the only west coast centers were in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles (the Portland International Airport has since opened an office). An interview appointment must be scheduled within 30 days of completion of the online application, and after your interview, you’ll know if you have been approved within two weeks, and you can immediately begin enjoying the benefits.

Soon after applying we attempted to schedule an appointment in San Francisco, but there were no available dates on their calendar, not one. I called the San Francisco Global Entry office (and spoke to a live person!), and was told there was a “glitch” in the system, and to try back in a few days. And the clock started ticking. A few days later: nothing. A week later: nothing. I called again, and was told they almost had it figured out, and not to worry as it would certainly be up and running before our 30-day deadline was up. Finally, with three days to spare, the San Francisco calendar at last showed availability, but only for three or four days within a three-month period. Living 350 miles from their San Francisco Airport office, we really wanted to schedule our appointment when we’d be there anyway – say, during a layover. But according to their online calendar that was impossible. So I called again. And on this third call the Customs and Border Protection officer gave me the scoop. He advised me to take any appointment and then reschedule whenever dates opened up that fit into my schedule. Who knew?!

So I did just that, but it took months of regular online checking to find a date that fit. We even dropped in to the Global Entry office at the SF airport once, when we had time to kill during a layover. But without an appointment, the officers would not even consider conducting our interview. We finally managed to make an appointment for October, during our layover en route to Shanghai, seven months after we applied to the program.

IMG_0788It took several tries to locate the Global Entry office at SFO. We asked several TSA employees, who you’d think ought to know about the Global Entry program right? Alas, two of the three employees had no idea what we were talking about. The third knew all about the program but sent us in the opposite direction of the office. We finally found it, checked in and waited for our names to be called. While waiting, I spoke with a woman up from Los Angeles who told me that the Global Entry interview calendar at LAX was booked out until the fall of 2014, hence the reason she came to San Francisco for hers.

Our interviews began promptly and consisted of a series of questions asked by a serious and unsmiling Customs and Border Protection officer. Why I had traveled to Turkey in 2008? What do I do on my annual trips to Mexico with my girlfriends? And what I was doing for 11 days in the Dominican Republic six years ago, were a few of the questions. Once I answered those, I was fingerprinted, photographed and sent on my way. Bob had a similar experience, although they had a longer list of questions for him. Six days later, while in Shanghai, we were notified by email that we had been approved effective immediately and we would be able use our Global Entry status for our re-entry into the US from China. Hooray for us!

We were not required to fill out the customs form on the airplane. And we were all set to waltz past the huge customs lines we were certain to encounter at SFO. Sadly, there were virtually no lines at customs. While we did speed more quickly through the kiosk than we would have with a customs agent, we had truly hoped for a long, snaking and slow moving line so we could give ourselves a pat on the back and feel like it was money well spent. Not this time though. Oh well, we’ve got a full five years and we’ll be ready for the back pat when that line comes.