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Travel + Culture

Travel Smart: Flying Through the Airport

How to get through Security and onto the plane without losing your mind.

Carry it on—if you can

We all know about lost luggage and the time saved avoiding baggage claim, but don’t forget to take a quick look at your carrier’s website before leaving for the airport. Both airlines and airports are cracking down on the size of bags that can be carried onto the plane—and this time, they mean it. At London’s Heathrow, officials make you put your bag into one of those metal contraptions. (When has that ever happened to you here?) If it doesn’t fit—and even if it’s over by just a quarter inch—the bag must be checked. (Don’t bother pleading; I was close to tears once—it didn’t help.) Plenty of airlines are charging for checked luggage these days (at American, for example, the one-way fee is $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second, starting June 15; prior to that date, the first bag will be free), but first-, business-, and full-fare coach tickets usually insure that you can check your bags for without an additional fee.

But DO think twice about everything you put in your carry-on

That means no Evian and no bottles of wine from that charming vintner in the Napa Valley. Rest assured that objects that call attention to themselves on a radar screen (arrow-like souvenirs, blunt objects, or, in my case, a simple conch shell I’d picked up on a Caribbean beach) will slow you down, even if you’re eventually allowed to take them on board. Whatever you do, pack a change of clothes in your carry-on. If every piece of clothing you own is traveling in your checked bag, and that bag gets lost, you’re going to be miserable for a couple of days. Who wants to go shopping in Rome for tee shirts and socks?

Don’t get confused about the simple rules for carrying liquids

There’s no need to pack toothpaste and shampoo in your checked luggage anymore. Those strict rules have changed. Today, you can carry on small tubes of liquid (3.5 ounces) if you pack them first in a quart-size, clear plastic zip-top bag and put them in the bin at Security as routinely as you do your wallet, keys, and computer. Some airports (Phoenix Sky Harbor, for one) even provide the bags on the way to Security, but don’t count on that.

Wear slip-ons at the airport

There’s nothing more frustrating than having to re-tie your shoes after Security, still worrying if you’ve actually managed to properly put yourself back together. (We all know the dread of slapping our rear ends or rummaging madly through handbags only to discover a wallet gone missing). Buy a cheap pair of loafers or sandals and christen them your airplane shoes. Learn to love them.