If your gift triggers an alarm, it might have to be unwrapped

By Madison Roberts
December 17, 2018 12:59 PM

Flying with a suitcase stuffed to the brim with presents for your friends and family this week? They may be unwrapped courtesy of the TSA.

The Transportation Security Administration is regularly called out during this peak travel season for undoing passengers’ hard work with wrapping paper, ribbon and bows — and shoddily putting it back together, if at all. But there’s a good reason for their Grinchy actions and an easy way to avoid a mishap of your own.

The TSA shared several tips for avoiding having your gifts unwrapped by someone other than their intended recipient, along with several other ways to avoid extra stress at the airport this year. Here’s what you need to know:

1. The TSA can (and will) unwrap your presents if need be

The easiest way to avoid this unfortunate surprise, according to the TSA? Wait until you arrive at your holiday destination to wrap your gifts with pretty paper. If a package is deemed suspicious for any reason by airport agents, it might have to be unwrapped. If you must have a present ready to gift upon touching down, the TSA says, “please consider using a gift bag or a gift box.” This way, “resolving the alarm will just mean removing the item from the gift bag or gift box without needing to unwrap it.”

The agency also remind travelers to check it’s general banned item list for carry-ons as it may apply to seemingly safe presents. Those considering gifting a snow globe, for example, need to remember the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid policy for carry-ons. (Liquids must be in 3-ounce containers or smaller, in 1 quart-size clear plastic bag, and 1 bag per traveler.) Snow globes containing more than 3.4 ounces of liquid must be packed in a checked bag or it won’t make it onto the airplane.

Other holiday items, like English-style exploding Christmas crackers can’t fly, even in a checked bag.

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2. You can travel with most food — but not all

According to the TSA, you can travel with your baked goods and other solid foods (i.e. ham and turkey). “If you’ve spent time baking your favorite Christmas cookies, fruitcake, pie or other holiday treats, you can bring these sweets and other food items with you when you fly,” they write, pointing out that as long as the food item is solid, it’s safe to pack it in your carry-on luggage. However, if it contains more than 3.4 ounces of liquid, it must be packed in your checked bag. “If you’re unsure if your food item should go into a checked bag, consider this: If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, then please pack it in your checked bag.”

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3. Don’t pack any prohibited items

If you are unsure whether an item can be taken through a security checkpoint, the TSA has many resources you can use to find out. The “What can I bring?” feature on their website allows travelers to type in the item in question for an immediate answer as to whether it goes in your checked bag, carry on, either or neither. This feature is also available on the free myTSA app.

If you tweet a photo of the item or its name to @AskTSA, they will respond to let you know which bag it belongs in or if it should stay home, with live assistance available from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Travelers can also use Facebook messenger as a resource to ask questions, with live assistance available during the same hours or call TSA’s contact center at 866-289-9673 from 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. ET weekdays and 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. weekends and holidays for any questions.

4. Arrive at the airport early

Even if you’re an expert packer, the airport is likely to be especially crowded this time of year, and it will take longer to check-in and get through security. In order to avoid missing your flight, TSA recommends arriving two hours before your scheduled departure time for domestic flights, and three hours prior for international flights when leaving from a major airport. “It’s peak travel season,” they write. “Remember that you aren’t the only one who wants to fly during the holiday.”

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5. Be prepared while in line at security

The security checkpoint can often be the biggest hold up at the airport, but if you’re prepared, the time it takes to move through can be expedited. TSA recommends finishing all of your beverages while in line or before you get to the airport, and says you should consider bringing the empty bottle through security so you can refill it once you’re in the terminal.

While in line, they also recommend pulling out your boarding pass and ID before you get to the TSA agent so you aren’t rummaging through your bag to find them at the podium. And remember that when traveling with children, parents and guardians should present their own boarding passes and IDs before handing over the ID for each of the children.

They also recommend getting a head-start on the x-ray machine by emptying everything from your pockets while in the checkpoint line and adding things to your carry-on bag in advance. When you step up to the conveyor belt, remember to remove all of your large personal electronic devices (laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, etc.) from your bag and place them in a bin.

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