With the holidays fast approaching, you likely have a lot on your mind – travel arrangements, work schedules, parties, and gifts. If you do plan on traveling, particularly on an airplane, you may want to take a moment to review the rules and regulations for air travel.
The first question many have when confronting airport security is “is this legal? Can they do that?” The basic answer is yes. Although the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that the government must have a warrant to search you, airport searches are considered special needs” exceptions to this rule. Courts across the country have ruled that airport searches are reasonable because they serve a purpose beyond simple law enforcement. Some courts have even gone so far as to hold that when you fly, you are implicitly consenting to being searched. In today’s post 9/11 world, you can assume that you are going to be searched in some manner and that you will have to follow restrictions on what you can bring on the plane.
The limit on liquid carry-on items is the restriction that presently receives the most attention. A common complaint amongst travelers is that the limitations seem random and odd. However, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), these restrictions are based on extensive explosives testing and ensure that no effective amount of a single explosive could make it onto a plane.
To help remember the amount of liquids you can carry on a plane, TSA urges passengers to focus on “3-1-1.” This means: no more than three ounces of any one liquid; all liquids placed in one quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; and only one zip-bag per passenger. TSA requires this separate clear bag in order to reduce clutter and make the entire screening process more efficient. There are of course exceptions to this restriction, including: baby formula, juice for children, and any liquids required for a disability or medical condition. Remember, when in doubt, your best bet to avoid hassles and delays is to simply put liquids in your checked luggage.
Other rules have long been in place that prevent you from carrying potential weapons, such as knives, box cutters, and golf clubs. Nevertheless, TSA allows numerous surprising items in your carry-on, such as disposable razors, scissors (under four inches in length), cigar cutters, and corkscrews. Again, if you are unsure, your best choice is to just check your bags.
TSA has totally banned some items even from your checked bags. These items generally pose a fire risk, and include gun powder, flares and fireworks.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding what you can and cannot carry on a plane or check in your bags, you should consult TSA’s website at www.tsa.gov. It is important to stay up to date as these restrictions can change quickly and can easily impact your holiday travel.
Other Security Procedures
If you have traveled on a plane recently, you know that restrictions on carry-on and checked luggage are not the only security procedures currently in place. As has been the case for decades, every passenger must present their carry-on bags for x-ray examination and must walk through a metal detector. Again, these procedures have been upheld by various courts as acceptable searches.
Additionally, many airports also conduct “random searches.” These searches are usually in addition to the metal detectors and often involve an extra “pat-down” of the passenger and a hand-search of the carry-on bags, meaning that a TSA officer actually looks inside the bag. This is an area ripe for claims of discrimination, but so long as the searches are actually random, usually computer assigned, there is no constitutional violation.
Other security procedures include canine patrols and stronger cargo security. Also, many airports now conduct random searches of cars as the approach they facility. These searches usually consist of a visual investigation of the trunk, the interior of the vehicle and its underside.
It is important to note that TSA requirements are only applicable in the United States. If you are traveling abroad over the holidays, you will want to determine the restrictions and regulations in place where you are traveling. Most restrictions are similar; however there are sometimes important differences. For example, for a period of time in 2006, passengers traveling out of the United Kingdom were not allowed to have any carry-on bags. The European Commission (ec.europa.eu) provides information on passenger rights and restrictions when flying in the European Union, and your air carrier can provide you with the specific requirements for your flight.
What You Can Do
There are many things you as a traveler can do to ensure that your travel experience is relatively hassle free.
- Arrive Early: Give yourself plenty of time at the airport before your flight is supposed to take off. Going through all the security steps is a lot less stressful if you aren’t in a hurry.
- Don’t Wrap Presents: Wait until you get to your destination to wrap any gifts.
- Wrapping paper may prevent security officials from being able to properly assess the contents of your bags and can increase delays.
- Listen To Announcements: Airport and security officials will often make announcements about specific security requirements (such as removing your shoes).
- Pay attention to any announcements and follow directions.
- Plan Ahead: Before you travel, make sure you know the exact restrictions for the airports you will be using, for your airlines, and for the countries you will be in. Knowing exactly what will be required of you beforehand is the best way to ensure smooth travel.
- Follow Up: If you feel your rights have been violated, if you have been discriminated against, or if the airlines failed to provide adequate customer service, make sure to follow up and voice your concerns. TSA and the Department of Homeland Security are very sensitive to charges of discrimination during the screening process. Both agencies have complaint-filing instructions on their websites. If you have a problem with a specific airline, a call or email to their customer service department never hurts – and may result in some extra frequent flyer points for you!
What To Do If Detained?
Usually airport security is merely a hassle and slight delay. However, occasionally it can quickly dissolve into a serious legal situation. During your travels, if you are delayed by airport or immigration officials, the first step is not to panic, but also to realize that this is not a time for jokes or belligerence.
If you have been detained by security officials, it may be easiest and quickest for you to simply follow their directions and requests. The reason for your detention could be as innocent as a random additional search following predetermined procedures. The news is filled with stories about situations that quickly escalate because a detained passenger becomes angry or abrasive. If you are polite and follow directions, there is a chance that you will quickly be on your way and may still make your flight.
If you truly are “detained,” meaning you don’t feel you have the right to leave freely, realize that you are considered “in custody” for constitutional purposes. This means you have the right to remain silent and to talk to a lawyer. Ask polite questions to determine why you are being detained and attempt to get the names and badge numbers of any officials questioning you. Immediately report the detention to the airline and attempt to continue with your travel plans if possible. If for any reasons you think your rights were violated, do not hesitate to contact TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, or your attorney.