"TSA bans holiday cheer," read a tweet issued from a Transportation Security Administration (www.tsa.gov) spoof account last week. And that's not so hard to believe, as passengers struggle to endure the busy travel season between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
What maddens people most? Long lines at security checkpoints clogged with infrequent travelers going to airports for the first time in a year. While the TSA reported that 99% of the 12 million travelers over Thanksgiving weekend took less than 20 minutes to clear security, it doesn't feel that way when you're the one pulled aside for special screening.
Part of what holds people up is not knowing exactly what they can or can't bring on board -- which is admittedly confusing when you hear about passengers like the pregnant Florida teen who was stopped because her purse had a gun design on it. She ended up missing her flight, turning her fashion crime into a huge hassle for herself -- and the people behind her in line.
This holiday season, there are a few new rules for people to ponder. Kids under 12 no longer have to remove their shoes, a time-saver that should speed up the family line. If you're a frequent flier, more airports have now set aside special security lines for business- or first-class passengers or for those who hold elite status with the airline.
Here are a few more tips about what you can and can't bring through airport security during the holidays:
When in doubt, check.The well-written (and often humorous) TSA blog (http://blog.tsa.gov) regularly reports what has been confiscated from passengers -- and the list is enlightening. Stun guns can apparently be disguised as smartphones. Grenades, both fake and real, are more popular than you think. And who knew how many people owned canes with hidden swords in them? (Two were confiscated in a single week in November.)
And please, all you people with loaded handguns: You may have a permit, but you still need to declare them to the airline and put them in checked luggage, without the bullets in them and in a locked hard-sided container. Seriously, what were you thinking?
Peruse your picnic basket.With prices of airline snacks starting at $3 and concessions charging sky-high prices, it's no wonder that more people pack food to eat on board. But some items that seem innocuous in the kitchen can raise red flags at the security gate. Think twice before packing peanut butter, mustard, salsa, and yogurt.
Don't cook until you get there. Speaking of food, the TSA specifically warns that creamy foods (such as cheese spreads, gravy, and sauces) could be confiscated. If your family expects your homemade cranberry sauce to grace the table, check it in a cooler. Pies, cakes, and baked goods are usually OK, although the desserts may undergo extra screening.
Ship gifts to your destination. The TSA will force you to unwrap gifts if they see something suspicious through the scanner. If you want your presents to arrive untouched, it's better to ship them or wrap them when you get there. And don't buy anyone a snow globe outside security; the TSA will confiscate any that appear in your carry-on luggage.
There's an app for that. The TSA now has an iPhone/mobile app called My TSA (http://apps.usa.gov/tsa-app) that allows you to ask if you can bring a particular item on board. It also has a crowd-sourced waiting time feature. And the app will tell you if an airport is suffering delays, which could come in handy when that first snowstorm paralyzes the East Coast.
Travel journalist Chris Gray Faust dishes up travel tips on her award-winning blog, Chris Around The World. She's also a member of the Value Luxury Network. Follow her on Twitter at @CAroundTheWorld.