5 tips for summer travelers to avoid new food screening at airport security

Get ready for longer airport checkpoint lines this summer as travelers may have to remove fruit, sandwiches and other snacks from their carry-on bags for separate screening under new security measures.

Transportation Security Administration agents recently asked a friend of mine to remove fruit and snacks from her carry-on bag at three airports — Dallas Love Field, Denver International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.

Although food is allowed in carry-on bags, the new screening is part of the TSA’s enhanced measures to raise the “baseline for aviation security.” Now, TSA officers may require travelers to separate items from their carry-on bags, such as food, powders and “any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine.” (Tips to avoid this at end.)

Travel food photo
Pack your carry-on snacks in a separate bag for easy separation at the airport security checkpoint. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Under the new rules, items that cannot be identified (does that include a mangosteen?) and resolved at checkpoint cannot be taken on an airplane. The entire process could hold up security lines and make waits much longer even though the TSA is adding over 1,600 more security staff at airports in preparation for the summer crush.

Oh yeah, the TSA expects to screen a record number of U.S. travelers this summer: 243 million people vs. more than 239 million during summer 2017.

The TSA’s stronger security measures began last summer — with requiring travelers to separately place all electronic devices bigger than a cell phone (laptops, tablets, e-readers and game consoles) in bins for X-ray screening.

Its appears that travelers with TSA PreCheck, a program that moves low-risk passengers through security quicker without having to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and jackets, won’t be subjected to the enhanced screening measures.

Here are my tips for getting through airport security faster this summer:

  1. Review TSA’s list of banned carry-on items before packing for your trip.
  2. The TSA encourages travelers to organize their carry-on bags and avoid overstuffing them to avoid screening gridlock. Pack your snacks in a separate bag, whether it be a canvas or plastic bag, so you can easily separate it from the rest of your carry-on items. (See my photo at upper right.)
  3. Join TSA PreCheck ($85 for five years) or Global Entry, a similar program ($100 for five years) that also provides faster U.S. Customs clearance.
  4. Buy your snacks at the airport after going through the security checkpoint.
  5. Consider buying food on the airplane. It’s still not the most affordable option, but food options and quality have improved.

Photo at top of a security checkpoint at Chicago’s Midway International Airport is by Chris Dilts, Creative Commons via flickr.

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Lengthy wait for Global Entry yields quick interview

 

Last summer, I signed up for a government program to help me move faster through airports globally and found myself stuck in a poky approval process.

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Global Entry members place their passport where the green light is to be identified. Airport kiosks spit out a slip of paper (in hand) to bring to a U.S. customs agent instead of the declaration form passed out on airplanes. (Sheryl Jean)
Global Entry members bypass traditional customs inspection lines and use an automated kiosk to enter the United States. (Quick facts at bottom.) It also includes TSA PreCheck, which lets travelers into a special security line without having to take off your shoes and coat or remove your laptop.

It makes sense, especially if you travel often or internationally. Friends raved about Global Entry, but I procrastinated.

I applied just as government agencies and airlines were promoting Global Entry after travelers last spring experienced long waits at U.S. airports.

As a result, applications surged and I was looking at a seven-month wait for an appointment at the San Francisco International Airport. I’m told the wait is not as long at some other airports.

The interview

This week, my interview day finally arrived.

At my local Global Entry office, I joined about a dozen other people sitting in chairs or standing outside the office door, which was closed with a sign saying “Do not knock.” After a few minutes, a woman stepped out to take names.

When my name was called, I entered the office and was told to sit at cubicle No. 3. A  U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer asked for my identification. Warning: If your home street address is not on your identification, you must bring a utility bill printed with it. Read the “Special Instructions” at the end of your appointment notice.

My photograph was taken and fingerprints scanned. That lets the CBP conduct a criminal background check and it’s needed to use the airport kiosks.

It all took less than 15 minutes.

Still waiting

I’m eager to test my new travel privileges, but I’m still waiting. The CBP officer said I should be notified within 48 hours.

Tip: If you have to wait a while for a Global Entry interview and have an international trip in the meantime, consider downloading the CBP’s free passport control app. It helps because you can electronically fill out the customs declaration form and use a special customs line.

Global Entry Quick Facts

Who: For U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of some other countries who fly within the United States and internationally.

What: Members who arrive at a U.S. airport go to a Global Entry kiosk to: Scan their passport and fingerprints; answer customs declaration questions; and go through an express customs lane. It includes TSA PreCheck to move through security lines faster.

How: You must create an account online to apply and schedule a visit to a Global Entry Enrollment Center to provide identification and scan your fingerprints.

Where: Kiosks are at over 50 airports worldwide; expedited entry benefits in 11 countries.

Cost: A $100 non-refundable application fee includes the $85 enrollment for five years.