[Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare, and columnist for Investopedia. The views expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia.]
Time for the latest update on the ongoing saga that is the TSA security experience. Background: You may (or may not) have noticed it, but over the past several months TSA officers have been slowly implementing some changes in security procedures. These "enhanced screening" rules are now fully in place.
It’s worth a look because if you don’t know about the changes, you could slow down your security line and have to listen to the angry mutterings of all those stuck behind you. Or, you could miss your flight! Here's how to avoid the drama.
1. All electronics out
It used to be you only had to pull the laptop out of its case at the security checkpoint. Now, all electronics from phones to tablets to handheld games have to come out of the carry-on and into a plastic bin.
Important note: The TSA’s lost and found is already overloaded with unclaimed electronics so keep your eye on your stuff when it passes through the X-ray machine. Also be sure all devices have some kind of identifying mark or label so if they do go missing, you’ll be able to claim them. When you have to search through hundreds or thousands of unidentified iPhones in airport and security lost and founds, good luck telling them apart.
2. Food inspections
As of now, you may be instructed to remove any/all food from a carry-on. This is not exactly new, since liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces have always been a no-no and that includes jars of what I call gloppy food – things like jams and jellies or homemade salsa. Big containers of these kinds of treats have always been banned in carry-ons (but are good to go in checked-bags, if you don't mind risking spillage).
The new rule is not a ban on non-liquid food. It merely tells passengers they might have to pull that bag of nuts or Little Debbie cakes out of their bags, at least temporarily. After inspection, back in the bag.
As the TSA puts it, “Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process.” This means you might be asked to remove “powders and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine.” And if you’re wondering what constitutes "powders," think make-up, dietary supplements, talc and other things of that nature. Again, these items are allowed, but may have to be removed for de-cluttering purposes.
What Stays the Same
Though not always enforced, the TSA has long stated you can bring pretty much any kind of cord in a carry-on (extension, charger, etc.), as long as it’s neatly wrapped. Again, this makes it easier for X-rays to look for bad stuff in bags and maybe not mistake unwrapped cords for something more sinister.
Buy your water after you pass the security checkpoint or the TSA will dump it (along with your bottle of wine and large coffee). That’s just a waste of money.
How to Avoid Much of the Hassle
Membership is $85 (for five years). While you’ll still have to follow a lot of rules, you can keep your laptop in its case and your shoes on your feet. Best of all, PreCheck gives members a dedicated lane at security, so lines are a lot shorter.