Road Warrior


By Sheila J. Kittle

March 4, 2004 -- After 16 years in the travel industry, and several of those years as a female road warrior, I have learned many lessons. While there's a myriad of advice available from various sources, my intention in this column is to provide travelers, especially business travelers, with an overview of the essential "need to knows" about air travel right now.

Purchase cable ties and use them to secure your zippered luggage. Since the Transportation Security Administration has been breaking locks on suitcases when they feel the need to inspect checked bags, cable ties will keep your zippers closed and (somewhat) secured. If the inspectors need to open your bag, they will cut the ties, then secure them with official tape. They'll leave a note in your bag informing you of their inspection, too.

Tape your business card to your laptop computer. Airports across the nation report thousands of laptops are left behind or mistakenly switched when their owners reclaim them after security screening. Attaching your business card on your laptop's lid will at least lower the chances of your picking up the wrong computer by mistake. And be sure to check for damage if your laptop has been out of your sight for even a moment. If your items are lost or damaged, you can submit a claim by completing an SF-95 form, which can be downloaded from the TSA Web site.

Although it should be obvious, it's the simple things that set off a metal detector and should be avoided if possible: shoes with steel tips or buckles; clothing with metal buttons, snaps or studs; metal hair barrettes; belt buckles; and heavy jewelry, including body piercings. In fact, according to the TSA, hidden items such as body piercings may result in a "pat-down" inspection or removal of the offending item (in privacy). For the flight, it's is also advisable for women to skip the pantyhose and nylon stockings in the event of an on-board fire. Socks and comfortable flat shoes are the best bet during an emergency evacuation.

We all know that guns, knives and other items that can be used as weapons are not permitted as carry-ons, but those who aren't familiar with the new scanning equipment for checked bags may be surprised to learn of some of the changes in what's permissible or advisable. Last year, the TSA began screening checked bags using two types of electronic screening devices: the Explosives Detection System and the Explosives Trace Detection system. Before 9/11, photographers used to be concerned about having their high-speed film X-rayed at the screening checkpoint. They were worried about possible damage and chose to pack their film in checked bags instead. The opposite is true today. The electronic screening devices, mega-machines that resemble mini-vans, will certainly damage film. It's now wise to transport your film in your carry-on bag. However, keep in mind that X-ray screening at the checkpoint can still be harmful to film. So ask to have film hand-inspected.

In a rush to make a flight, even a seasoned traveler can forget that he or she tossed a new wine opener in their carry-on at the last minute. Unfortunately, that wine opener may have a small foldaway knife to cut the foil and that makes it a prohibited item at an airport security checkpoint. The TSA reserves the right to confiscate the item, detain you for questioning and possibly press charges, depending on the item and the circumstances. (They have even begun to fine passengers for offenses.) The wine opener may be lost forever, along with the ever-growing number of other presumably innocent, but prohibited, items seized at security checkpoints across the globe.

However, a number of airport shops are offering "ship-home" services for these types of items. They are even working on a relationship with TSA whereby the traveler would be handed a "get-back-in-line-for-free" card so they can rush off to ship the item and then return to the front of the line. For the time being, however, it's best to simply spend a few minutes and check your bags again to make sure that all your carry-on items conform to the security rules.

Finally, an interesting piece of advice offered by Victor Anderes, Virgin Atlantic Airways' assistant vice president of security and emergency response: Make sure to clean your golf shoes and clubs prior to flying. He says the fertilizer used on golf courses can actually trigger the explosives-detection machines.

One other note of trivia offered by Anderes: Did you ever wonder why the lights on an aircraft are dimmed prior to a night departure? It's to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness in the event of an emergency requiring the immediate evacuation of the plane.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Sheila J. Kittle. All rights reserved.