The Transportation Security Administration had a record-breaking number of passengers pass through its checkpoints during the first five months of 2016, and it anticipates the summer to be even busier.
From January through May, 449 million travelers were screened by TSA officers, according to a TSA press release. The total was 57 million higher than during the first five months of 2015.
The administration met with members of the media Monday at Albany International Airport to provide the public some tips to help ensure quick trips through the security screening process.
– Enroll in a trusted traveler program. Global Entry and TSA Precheck are two options to shorten security screening time and make your experience more efficient.
– Get the TSA App. TSA is frequently updating its app and adding new features to help travelers. It can let you know about security screening wait times, flight delays and local weather, and answer questions about what you can bring on your flight and where to store it.
– Empty your water bottle. Empty water bottles are actually OK to bring through the TSA checkpoint. Once you reach the other side, fill it up and, as Lisa Farbstein said, “Save a couple bucks.”
– Remove your laptop from its bag. Few things can slow down a trip through a TSA checkpoint like leaving your laptop in its bag. Farbstein estimated the process of checking the laptop and bag at that point can add nearly five minutes to your experience.
– Appreciate the divestiture officer. These officers are at the checkpoint reminding travelers to empty all their pockets. “They’re worth their weight in gold,” Farbstein said. Listening to them cuts down on people setting off alarms, the number of pat-downs and overall time spent passing through security.
Bart Johnson, the TSA federal security director for upstate New York airports, pulled from his personal experience to get across the message that preparing for the process can be crucial.
“I bring my ID with me, [make sure] that I wear the right type of clothing that will limit myself setting off an alarm, [make] sure that I check what’s in my bag and pack it appropriately and [show] up on time,” Johnson said. “I show up two hours ahead of time with the anticipation that there may be a line or a problem or whatever.”
In the 21st century, there is the added component of anticipating the impact of new technologies on the process, according to TSA Public Affairs Manager Lisa Farbstein.
Travelers today pull up their boarding passes on their mobile devices, which can sometimes lose service at an inconvenient time. Farbstein recommended travelers have the boarding pass pulled up ahead of time or take a screenshot to avoid slowing down the process.
TSA officers follow specific protocols and procedures to prevent threats from getting on a plane. Johnson said he most wants the public to be aware of the role TSA officers play in the process and appreciate their importance.
“Why is it so important? It’s important because of Sept. 11, 2001,” Johnson said. “These officers are the last line of defense. They’re the last person standing between a safe flight and another tragedy.”
Johnson made it clear no specific threat faces the Albany airport at this time, but pointed out that an attack can happen out of nowhere, citing the attacks in San Bernardino, California; Paris; Brussels; and the Russian plane crash in Egypt as incidents that have occurred in the past 12 months alone.
“We’re not immune and we need to remain ever vigilant,” Johnson said. “If you see something, say something.”
Farbstein and Johnson both offered a number of tips for being prepared to pass through the TSA checkpoint. Farbstein led the media through a number of demonstrations to offer tips.
Each recommended travelers look into joining the TSA’s expedited screening program called TSA Precheck. The program allows travelers to leave on shoes, belts, light jackets or outerwear. Also, they can leave their liquid or gels bag and laptop stowed away. The program is in practice at 160 airports and 16 airlines currently participate.
Another tip was to take advantage of the different places to find information about what you can bring on the plane and where to pack it, as well as how to prepare for traveling with an individual with a medical condition or disability. Among the options are the TSA website, tweeting at TSA (@AskTSA), downloading the TSA app (MyTSA) or doing a Web search for “TSA Cares.”
“I actually used [tsa.gov] the other day when I was traveling because I was going to bring a nail gun with a battery to help my son build a shed at his house,” Johnson said. “I went online and discovered that I could not pack that battery in checked baggage, but I could bring it on carry-on.”
Farbstein encouraged travelers to pay close attention to the “3-1-1 rule” as well, referring to travelers only being allowed as many 3.4-ounce containers of liquid as can fit in a 1-quart bag. Each passenger gets one bag.
“We’re seeing that those who want to cause harm are using liquid explosives,” Farbstein said, “so that’s why we have this rule.
“Our intelligence tells us items, liquids, gel [or] aerosols these sizes [3.4 ounces or smaller] are not likely to cause a catastrophic event on an aircraft, like something larger [would].”
Summer is a time for travel and vacations leading to busier airports. With that in mind, the Albany International Airport TSA checkpoint will be opening 45 minutes earlier — at 3:15 a.m. — for the time being.
Despite the extra time, Farbstein encouraged travelers to still account for the time spent preparing to reach the checkpoint.
Reach Gazette intern Andrew Pugliese at 395-3191, [email protected] or @ByPugs on Twitter.
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