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Airport Security Q&A

Q. Are the rules different for international travel?

european union eu flagA. The European Union (E.U.) as well as other countries such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, Iceland and Norway have adopted similar security restrictions to those in the U.S. You are permitted 100-milliliter containers of liquid and gel substances, packed within a clear, resealable, one-liter plastic bag.

If you're not sure what airport security rules will apply in the country you're visiting, we recommend contacting your airline or the local tourist board for advice.

Q. Am I permitted to bring duty-free liquids in my carry-on bags?

A. Duty-free liquids, such as perfume or alcohol, are permitted in excess of 3.4 ounces as long as they were purchased at a duty-free shop and placed in special tamper-evident bags. Liquids not in these bags must be stowed in your checked suitcase if you have more than 3.4 ounces.

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Q. May I bring dry ice in my carry-on? What about my checked bags?

A. Passengers may bring five pounds of dry ice in either their carry-on or checked bag as long as it's stored in a package that allows the venting of carbon dioxide gas. That said, a DOT spokesperson suggests that travelers avoid packing dry ice in carry-on luggage, as individual TSA agents unfamiliar with the regulations may confiscate the substance.

Q. I have a hearing aid, C-PAP machine, pacemaker or other medical device. How will this be handled during my security screening?

A. Although there have been some horror stories about the TSA's treatment of fliers with disabilities and medical conditions, most security officers are discreet and professional. As soon as you approach the TSA agent, you should notify him or her of your medical issue so that he or she can determine the best way to screen you and any equipment you may be carrying. The TSA does not require travelers to carry a doctor's note describing their condition, but having this written description may help expedite the screening process. See TSA Introduces New Medical Notification Cards for Travelers.

Q. How early should I arrive at the airport?

A. We recommend arriving at the airport two hours before a domestic flight, especially if you're traveling during the summer, the holidays or another particularly busy time of year. If you're flying internationally, you should allow yourself even more time.

Q. What should I expect at the security checkpoint?

laptop computer carry-on airport womanA. You will have to put your shoes, clear plastic bag of liquids, jacket, jewelry, cell phone, keys and metal items into a bin for screening before you step through the metal detector or the full body scanning machine. (If you opt out of the full body scan, you will face an "enhanced" pat-down, which is performed by a security officer of your gender and covers all areas of the body, including the groin, buttocks and breasts.) You may also need to remove your belt. Laptops and video cameras must be removed from their cases and screened individually. Smaller electronics such as iPads or e-readers do not need to be removed from your bag for separate screening.

Save time by putting metal items into your carry-on before you get to the checkpoint, taking your electronic items out of their cases and wearing easily removable footwear.

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Q. I'm bringing birthday or holiday gifts. What's the best way to pack them?

A. Do not pack wrapped gifts in either your carry-on or checked baggage, as the TSA may unwrap them for inspection. Your best bet is to wrap your gifts once you arrive at your destination, or ship them ahead of time.

Q. May I bring electronic items on the plane or in my checked luggage? If so, how should I pack them?

A Laptops, video cameras, iPods, hand-held video game consoles, e-readers and most other standard electronic devices are permitted in both checked and carry-on luggage. As noted above, you should be prepared to remove laptops or video cameras from their cases at the security checkpoint. Because electronic items tend to be frequent targets for security screening, you may want to pack these near the top of your bag so that inspectors don't need to unpack your whole suitcase to get to them.

Q. Can I lock any suitcases that I'm checking?

A. Yes, but you'll need to use a TSA-approved lock so that screeners can open it if your bag is selected for inspection. TSA screeners will simply cut off non-approved locks if they need to get into your bag.

Q. Where can I find more information about airport security?

A. Check TSA.gov for packing tips, a searchable list of permitted and prohibited items, and information for travelers with special needs.

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--written by Sarah Schlichter

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