General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Recent air travelers: some baggage guidance please?

Asked by Jeruba (55854points) April 6th, 2017

I haven’t traveled by air in 9 years. Now I have a trip coming up, and my experience is very out of date.

Am I allowed to lock my checked bags any way at all, even with a plastic clasp?

What happens if a bag is overweight?

Are carry-ons a big problem?

Have you been closely searched by TSA?

Any other hints and cautions?

Thank you.

Tags as I wrote them: travel, airplanes, flights, baggage, trips, luggage, TSA, security.

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21 Answers

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Check your airline’s web site to be sure, but here’s my 2 cents.

You can lock your bags. If the TSA feels the need to look inside (it isn’t likely), they can break the lock (or the bag).

There are locks which the TSA can open with a TSA master key. Look for “TSA lock” on Amazon or where ever you want to shop.

I think the plastic clasp is a great idea. Avoid putting valuables in checked luggage (carry them on) and just zip tie the bag closed.

Overweight policies are specific to airlines. Check their rules.

Looking at the American Airlines site it looks like $100 if you go over 50 pounds.

Best practice is to travel light. If you really have to take heavy stuff, consider just shipping it USPS/UPS/Fed Ex /whatever instead.

Carry-ons are a usually a problem only in that people carry on TOO MUCH junk and the airline doesn’t enforce the rules and there’s not enough space in the overhead bin. I typically carry a small backpack for the overhead and a shoulder bag to keep on the floor (the rule is it has to fit under the seat in front of you).

Basically I carry on the essentials to live with in case my checked baggage gets lost (it never has).

I used to fly twenty times a year (post 9/11) and I have never been troubled by the TSA. Wear a minimum of metal (I have a belt with a plastic buckle for traveling and court houses). Put ALL your loose stuff (phone, keys, wallet, etc) in your carry on. It’s not a problem in the bag, on your person it sets off the alarm and they make you empty your pockets and go through again.

Keep liquids in your carry-on under 3.4 ounces. TSA says“You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item.”

I carry an empty water bottle through the scanners and fill it up from a drinking fountain in the waiting area.

In short, try to minimize your baggage & carry-on, get to the airport a couple of hours before the flight, be friendly to the TSA like they’re your mailman or a store clerk.

The worst you are likely to encounter is long lines.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

In addition to @Call_Me_Jay‘s post, keep some ziplock bags in your handbag and put any liquids, toothpaste, handcream etc. in the bag before you go through security. Don’t carry water through with you when you go through security. You’ll have to throw it away.

Think about whether your shoes have any metal in them. The scanners can be quite sensitive and if you don’t want to have to take your shoes off, better to think about this beforehand.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Am I allowed to lock my checked bags any way at all, even with a plastic clasp?
No plastic clasp, TSA lock is the way to go

What happens if a bag is overweight?
They will charge you and it depends on the airlines how much they weight and what they will charge. get a scale for luggage available where they sell TSA locks.

Are carry-ons a big problem?
Here are the TSA tips

Have you been closely searched by TSA?
Yes body pat down and drug wipe down on carry-on.

Any other hints and cautions?

LuckyGuy's avatar

Walmart has the little TSA locks for ~$5 for 2 locks. They were cheap.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree buy a TSA lock. New luggage has the TSA lock already part of the bag.

Don’t go overweight on your checked bags, because it costs a lot more. Weigh your bags if you think it’s borderline. The scales at the airport can be innaccurate, so if you’re over by a pound, you might ask for a weigh on a different scale. I’ve never had a bag that was overweight, but also my largest suitcase is extremely light when empty.

Leave a little space in your carry on, and a little in your checked bags, so if for some reason you need to move stuff around before checking your bags you can.

You can take two items into the plane. Carry-on luggage and an additional bag, which can be your purse or a small duffle, etc. Carry-ons are not a problem as long as they meet the size requirements.

Carry-on liquids still need to fit in a more or less sandwich size ziploc bag. Each item in the bag must be 3.4 oz or less. Toothpaste is considered a liquid. Face foundation is a liquid, unless it is a compact. When you go through security you will have to take your ziploc bag out and put it in the tray with your purse and shoes.

Wear clothing that if you are frisked you will feel ok. I recommend slacks or jeans, their hand goes up your inner thighs until it “meets resistance” Wear a bra or a garment that holds your breasts. They will trace the lower half of the circumference of each breast with the back of their hand. Some women think it’s bad to wear a bra because of the wire, I’ve never had a bra wire trigger metal detector. Now, you typically don’t walk through a metal detector, unless you ask for a pat down. If you go through the screening machines the chances that you will be asked to be pat down is extremely low. I ask for the pat down, because I don’t want the radiation, but since you fly infrequently you might not care about that.

My experience is some airports TSA is way nicer than others, so it partly depends on your airport.

Have a great trip! I hope it’s for fun and vacation.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I haven’t tried to lock a checked bag in years; if they have the right to break the lock, I don’t see the point. If there’s anything I particularly can’t bear to have stolen, I put it in my carry-on. I’ve travelled a lot, and never had anything stolen.

Pack your toiletries in your checked bag, so that you don’t have to worry about the gels/liquids restriction. I use (doubled) ziplock freezer bags for this purpose, in case of breaks or spills.

Pack anything sharp (tweezers, nail clippers, corkscrew, knives, etc.) in your checked bag.

I carry a refillable metal water bottle pretty much everywhere anyway, so I bring it through security empty, then fill it from a fountain on the other side. No extra cost.

If a bag is overweight, you will be charged money. Probably a lot. This sort of information varies by airline, and is available on their website – and probably also in the fine print of your itinerary, which you’ll likely have received by email. If you open that file, you can search for “overweight” or some variant, and save your eyes the trouble of scanning for it.

Carry-ons do have a size limit, and experience with this is very variable. Some flight attendants do not care at all if your bag exceeds the size limit; some will force you to check it, depending on their character, mood, and how annoying the last passenger they dealt with was. I’d recommend sticking to the limit. If the plane is very full, they can ask people to check carry-on luggage for that reason, too, although this is fairly rare.

Note that the check-in process has changed a lot over the years, and again, this varies by airport. If you can check in online beforehand, do it. You may otherwise have to deal with an unfamiliar and completely non-intuitive automated process at the airport (some of them are perfectly fine). Many of these require an address where you’ll be staying, so be sure to have that ready. If you are travelling internationally, note that some airports also have you complete half of the customs process using an automated system, and this is hellish if you’ve never done it before and have a short amount of time between flights. In other words… unless you know exactly what you’ll be doing while changing planes, leave yourself enough time to do what’s necessary with as little stress as possible.

I’ve had my carry-on searched a few times by TSA, and it’s never been a big deal. I have a friend who always goes on and on about how friendly the TSA staff are, and to be honest, I’ve generally found them a surly bunch. The articles of clothing that need to be taken off and scanned varies arbitrarily by airport. Computers always need to be removed from the carry-on, but for some reason this doesn’t seem to extend to tablets or hard drives. I tend to just keep my head down and behave like the cattle they want us to be. When herded to a body scanner, I go there and be scanned. I hate all of this, but try not to think about it. I avoid flying through the US if headed anywhere else, so if I’m there, it’s because I have no choice anyway.

AshlynM's avatar

I would take carry on only. Utilize every nook and cranny of your bags, pack some clothes in your purse if you have room. I would take as little liquid as possible, and if possible, just buy what you need when you get to your destination.

JLeslie's avatar

^^I used to always carry on, and now I don’t struggle with it usually. I’m older, I have a neck and shoulder injury, it’s difficult to board with all my stuff, and now that I check a bag, I bought a larger one, and I can pack a bunch more stuff for long trips, and I don’t need to struggle with making so many choices about what not to bring. Winter travel especially, with bulkier clothes, is much easier.

The liquids rule completely changed me. Once I had to put liquids into a checked bag I just gave into it all, and that’s when I bought my larger piece of luggage with the 4 wheels.

snowberry's avatar

I locked my bag. Once. They don’t break the lock.

They cut off the zipper loop (and consequently the lock) so you can’t use that zipper again!

Seriously, if you’re not using a TSA friendly lock, don’t lock it at all.

JLeslie's avatar

Also, don’t check anything that you would be traumatized if it was stolen or lost. If you pack that way you don’t really need to worry about locking it so much. I don’t lock my smaller suitcase when I check it. My husband doesn’t have a lock at all on his luggage.

snowberry's avatar

Yes, TSA have been known to steal- I mean “confiscate your stuff”.

And it’s not only in the passenger screening area.

Also don’t assume that they’re watching your stuff for you while you’re being screened going through the line. They don’t care what happens to your stuff. They’re watching you. So even if they try to move you to a place where you can’t see your things, make them move you, or put your stuff where you can see it at all times. Otherwise when they get done padding you down or questioning you or whatever they do, you can bet they will blame you if your stuff is missing. I have seen it happen.

Jeruba's avatar

So helpful! Thank you all. I’m ordering the TSA locks (never heard of them before) and the scale—great ideas! And I’m taking all the cautions into account. Trying to travel light, but I have 2 modes of travel and 3 stops, with a 40-degree temperature range, so planning is tricky.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t lock my suitcases and once when I unpacked after flying I thought it looked untidier than usual and I found a note saying TSA had searched it. It wasn’t a big deal and the suitcase was undamaged.

You can pay a lot at the airport if your luggage is overweight so I would try not to be caught out. If a bag is really excessively overweight it can be more than the luggage handlers can deal with but I don’t expect that to be the case.

If you are changing flights your luggage should be checked through to your destination but I always ask just to make sure. I also put my contact details with my luggage just in case it gets lost.

snowberry's avatar

I have a lot of food allergies. If I travel by air, I pack foods that I can get through security because I won’t be able to eat most of what’s offered in the restaurants.

JLeslie's avatar

I know this is probably obvious, but I’ll write it anyway. If it’s difficult to weigh your luggage in your scale at home, weigh yourself, and then weigh yourself holding the luggage close to your body in front of you. Then subtract.

For the 40 degree temp change bring a heavy jacket. You can walk through security with your jacket and it doesn’t count as a carry-on. You just have to remove it, and put it in a bin through X-ray to get through TSA.

Regarding what @sniwberry said about keeping your eyes on your stuff, the rule is if you are going to get a pat down you are supposed to be able to see your stuff at all times. Some airports are great at this, and some really suck.

When you put your things on the conveyer belt to go through security, your purse is the last thing, and don’t push it through until you are next in line and ready to walk through the scanner.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Really cheap hand-held luggage scales are easy to find. Sometimes less than $10.

Google “luggage scale”.

JLeslie's avatar

^^The last thing I need is another item in my house. I have an entire bedroom full of boxed goods and an entire car space in my garage. But, that’s me. I’ve never weighed my luggage, and I’ve never been over the weight allowed.

I gave you a GA though, because I think it’s good info for the Q.

Magical_Muggle's avatar

I’m not sure if it’s already been answered, but most airlines are pretty lenient on bags that are slightly overweight (usually 1kg max) because there are always underwight bags on planes, but don’t take this as an opportunity to go and over pack your bag, because you will have to pay extra. Also, if you’re going on holiday, it’s better to underpack, anything you need, you’ll be able to buy when you get there, it’ll also mean that you have space in your bag for anything bought. If you know you’re going to have more than one bag of luggage on the way back, book an extra check in bag for the flight back, saves hassle, and it’s honestly not that expensive.

I use locks on my bag, they were cheap locks I bought at the supermarket, and pretty discreet, don’t get anything too big because then it will attract attention to your bag and the fact that there are potentially valuable items inside, I generally use them because I’m paranoid that my bag will open itself.

You have two options with carry on, under the chair, and in overhead. I always do my best to only have under chair carry on because its a pain trying to get things out from the overhead, but if you have something that can’t go under your chair, stick it up in overhead. it’s generally only 3–5 people to an overhead, and like I said, not everyone have overhead, try not to have obnoxiously large overhead, but otherwise, don’t worry about it.

In terms of stopovers, try familiarise yourself with the airport before hand and where you need to get to in order to avoid that extra stress, I know it’s hard because you don’t always know which terminal or gate you’ll be at, but if helps to figure out the basic layout of the airport. I know from my experience, sometimes flight itineraries are not in your time zone if you are going overseas, so always bear that in mind…

Jeruba's avatar

After-action report:

I’d never heard of TSA locks, but I found them easily online and bought a quartet of them. I set them all to the same code and tested them. At first I thought they weren’t working, but I just needed a little technique. They proved to be entirely sufficient. I chose orange ones, very easy to spot, with the slender cable loops that would go through a pair of zipper pulls. Perfect for my needs.

So this was a great recommendation and a very helpful update to my arrangements.

I also threw in the hand-held luggage scale and found it reassuring to know that my two bags together were under the limit for one. Somehow I had managed to worry that even if I couldn’t lift a 50-pound suitcase, my bags might be overweight without my knowing it.

My carry-on was not much more than a computer bag or messenger bag, so no problem with stowing. And I didn’t try to bring anything remotely troublesome through, not even small liquids or a nail clipper. I succeeded in remembering to pack my pocket knife in a checked bag.

Security scanning did slow me down a bit until I remembered to take off my glasses and a metal hair clasp. I stayed cool and didn’t make a fuss. I was afraid they’d pick me for a full-length grope, but I didn’t see anyone getting that kind of treatment on either Southwest or American.

Paying extra for business class on Southwest outbound got me nothing at all, but first class on American from Boston to San Jose was definitely worth it.

Many thanks for all advice and suggestions. They really helped me stay calm and feel in control instead of fretting and stewing myself into a ragged state. I enjoyed my trip much more with that confidence going in.

Still, the best part of my travel was by rail up the East Coast on Amtrak from Florida to Boston.

Did you know that a lot of people still ride the train?

JLeslie's avatar

Thanks for the update! I’m so glad to hear that everything went rather smoothly.

The east coast still uses the train a lot, I don’t know about other parts of the country. The last time I took Amtrak was the east coast of Florida to the west coast of Florida, and that same train continued up to the northeast. I was disappointed in the condition of the train. Do you remember which train you took? Maybe the Silver Meteor?

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