Not so much fear of flying as fear of TSA
February 20, 2015 7:17 AM   Subscribe

It's been quite some time since I've been on a flight, let alone one with checked baggage. I'm going to San Antonio at the end of next month. I would appreciate some assistance regarding how this works given all the new rules and the freaking horror stories...

It's my first trip with a new gentleman friend and I'd like to avoid any preventable hassles with the TSA. I realize that some of these things are answered on the many TSA web pages, but I'm looking for personal experience because I believe the actual TSA employees are pretty stressed and I don't want my flat iron mistaken for a weapon of mass destruction.

We are going from the arctic north (Harrisburg PA) to San Antonio. I'm thinking we can lighten the load by not wearing heavy coats since we'll be in an Uber to/from the airport which is all nice and toasty. We won't be outside for any appreciable time.

1 - As for bags, we have a plane change in Atlanta. Do we have to go to Baggage Claim and get our bags at Atlanta and then re-check in? Or do the bags (ostensibly) follow us? I'd like to avoid checking bags, but we're going for 4 days, 3 nights, including a fancy date dinner, so I'm not cramming everything into my backpack. Plus, I'm a quasi-girly girl. I will need at least 3 pairs of shoes. I plan on having essentials in my carryon (like some extra undies and contact stuff), but would prefer to not be lugging a huge bag around unless absolutely necessary.

2 - Can I bring the flat iron in my carry on? The hair dryer is not nearly as necessary and I'm fine with it being checked. Have you had any issues with face lotion, shampoo, etc as long as it is under the requisite fluid oz limit? It's ok to put it in those unmarked containers they sell at Target if I can't get the stuff in a travel size?

3 - How early do we REALLY need to be at the airport? (Flight out leaves at 6am on a Friday)

4 - Do we need printed paper tickets or will the Delta app be ok?

5 - What super secret ultra mega travel tip do you have for making this go smoothly?

6 - My bras have underwires. Do I need to be concerned about this?

I think that's it. I'm sure I'm overthinking and I understand things happen, but whatever is in my control to make things easier, I want to know about. Thanks!
posted by sio42 to Travel & Transportation (64 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. Your bags will wind up at your destination. You don't need to re-pick-up at a layover, generally.
2. I've found each airport to be fairly idiosyncratic about what they allow and don't, so if you don't mind checking the flat iron, do it.
3. 6am flights are really popular, so I'd give myself two hours to get to the gate, through security, etc.
4. Your app should be okay, or you can print tickets at a kiosk there.
5. Wear shoes with no laces and put your belt in your carry-on to put on after you get through security.
6. You may be wanded, but the security folks know about bras.

It can be annoying, but if you have a smartphone that can keep you occupied and treat it like the theater it is (don't think they're yelling specifically at you), you should be fine. Travel isn't fun anymore in airports, which is a shame, but that's the world we currently live in. Have a great trip!
posted by xingcat at 7:21 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

A warning about your coats -- make sure to bring SOMETHING warm to wear over your normal clothes, even if it's just a shawl or a jacket. The jetbridge -- the little movable hallway that connects the plane to the gate -- will be extremely cold and you may have to stand in it for a while if people are slow while boarding. The cabin of the plane is also likely to be cold for at least part of your flight.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:21 AM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

1. Checked bags are checked to your final destination for almost all travel, certainly all travel within the US.

2. The flat-iron should be ok, but I haven't done that so don't take me as an expert. Unmarked travel containers within the size limits should be fine for shampoo, etc. My experience in October flying, which was after several years of not-flying, was that the TSA agents at the two particular airports I visited did not look at my liquids & gels with nearly the same intensity that they used to, which sped up the security lines immensely.

3. I would get there at 4am, unless the airport is teeeeeeny, in which case I would get there at 4:30am.

4. I haven't used the Delta app, but it seems that about 50% of people now have boarding passes on their smart phones. I did that for the first time in October, and it was fine.

5. I'll let others answer.

6. All of mine do too, and I've never had any issue.
posted by jaguar at 7:23 AM on February 20, 2015

Oh gosh. Take a deep breath. I promise you that this is going to be fine!

1. You check your bags once, and they transfer them for you. No need to pick them up in Atlanta. The reason not to check bags is that then you have to wait for them at the other side, which takes some time, but given your anxiety, I think it might be better for you to go ahead and check things.

2. You can bring your flat iron. I have never had any problems with liquids under the regulation size. Before you leave, put them all in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag, and keep the bag near the top of your carry-on, so it's easy to access. If you're going to put any liquids in your checked luggage, also put them in zip-lock bags, because something about the pressure changes in the baggage hold sometimes causes liquids to leak.

3. This sort of depends. I fly through an airport that is probably about as big as yours, and I'm fine if I'm in the door 45 minutes before takeoff. I'm an experienced traveler, though, and I know how parking works. I would probably aim for an hour and a half, just to be on the safe side, but I don't do well with anxiety, and that may be overly cautious.

4. Delta App is fine, but if it's going to stress you out, you can go ahead and print out a ticket.

5. Take a deep breath! This is going to be fine!

6. I have never had a problem with an underwire bra.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:24 AM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oh! Tip! More waiting areas now have places to charge your devices while you're waiting to board. Do that.
posted by jaguar at 7:24 AM on February 20, 2015

Are you leaving from the Philadelphia Airport? If so....

1. Assuming the flight to San Antonio is booked as a single trip with a layover in Atlanta (and not as a trip to Atlanta, then a trip to San Antonio), your bags should meet you in San Antonio without you needing to re-check.

2. Yes, you can bring the flat iron in your carry-on. It's fine to put all of your stuff in unmarked containers, and you shouldn't have issues. In my experience, they're strict about the 3oz and less so about the quart sized bag

3. If PHL at 6am + checking a bag, I think 1 hr is sufficient, but I don't mind hustling

4. Delta app is fine at PHL, but you may even get a boarding pass when you check your bag

5. Bring an (empty) reusable water bottle. Other than that, this trip will be totally NBD.

6. Not at all.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:25 AM on February 20, 2015

I strongly recommend being at the airport 2 hours before the flight, unless you fly often enough (at that time and through that airport) to predict what security lines will be like, etc. I usually arrive at my local airport much less than 2 hours before, but that's because I fly all the time and I know how long it takes me to get through security (plus I have Pre-Check, which speeds it up, and I don't check bags which takes extra time). 2 hours, and you don't have to stress.

I use electronic boarding passes every time, and it's fine. The one thing I'd say is that if you're worried about having to fumble with your phone, a paper boarding pass might be easier for you.
posted by primethyme at 7:25 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

1. Bags are supposed to follow you, when everything goes correctly.
2. This is going to depend on the mood and disposition of the person at the x-ray station. In my experience, they are usually pretty serious about fluid limit sizes, so yes, buy those little bottles and make sure they're under the limit.
3. Flights (ostensibly) start boarding 30 minutes before take off. At my airport, I allow 1 hour prior to that for security and bag-checking. So in my case, for a 6 am flight, I would arrive no later than 4:30. At busier airports, I would adjust accordingly - always err on the side of too much time rather than too little.
4. I've seen people use the app as a boarding pass plenty of times, but never felt comfortable doing it myself. I always feel better having the paper boarding pass in hand.
5. You're going to have to remove jacket, shoes and belt, as well as anything that's in your pockets. Transfer everything from all of your pockets to an inside pocket on your jacket, that way when you take your jacket off, it all stays together. In general, be calm, relax, and focus on how much fun you're going to have on your trip. Also, keep in mind that TSA agents are people too, they're just trying to do their job, so be cheerful and polite and just generally happy and calm.

I can't speak to #6.
posted by jbickers at 7:25 AM on February 20, 2015

1. Assuming this is all one ticket, the bags just automagically go with you if they are checked
2. If you're checking a bag, I'd toss the flat iron in it even though I think it would be okay. I travel with under-the-limit unmarked lotions in small containers all the time. Make sure they fit in one of those plastic one quart bags (and bring one with you, some airports supply them and some do not) but this should be a non-issue. Keep it somewhere handy because it needs to go through the stupid machine on its own not in your backpack, or pocket
3. I leave two hours. You could probably get away with one and change.
4. App should be fine. Make sure you have a charged device. You can always print boarding passes there if you need to and have extra time.
5. I just tell myself "I am a leaf in the river" and deal with all the TSA shit as gracefully as I can, not for their benefit but for mine. You can opt out of the millimeter wave scanner and get a patdown if they tell you to go through it. Most people don't mind this (the scanner) but it an option available to you. Just make sure you are ok at getting all the stuff out of your pockets and kicking your shoes off and the TSA stuff should be a minor annoyance but not more of a headache than that.
6. Never had an underwire bra set of a metal wanding thing or the metal detector.

I also second, I'd really have something that is warm-ish both for getting around in the airport but also for when you get back. Maybe something that packs up small that you just put away and forget, especially if you are checking a bag. Have a fun trip!
posted by jessamyn at 7:29 AM on February 20, 2015

2) I've never had a problem having a flat iron or a blow dryer in my carry-on bag. Yes, unmarked travel-size containers are fine for carrying on. Remember that they all have to fit in one quart-size or smaller plastic bag. Anything beyond that needs to be checked.

5) I don't wear a belt and I don't carry anything in my pockets. Everything has a place in my carry-on bag so that I can find it quickly, including my laptop which has to be pulled out and put in a bin. I wear slip-off shoes. Getting through security is a breeze.

6) I've personally never had a problem with my underwire tripping either a metal detector or the new body scanners.
posted by muddgirl at 7:32 AM on February 20, 2015

1 - Your bags will follow you. I have really bad luck with Delta...there's been a (relatively minor but still annoying) problem with my checked luggage the last three times I've flown with them. Good news, though: the Delta app will draw the plane's wifi for free so you can use the app's features on the plane. You will be given a baggage ticket with your luggage number. Plug that into the app and watch your luggage transfer with you (they'll scan it as it moves from plane to plane). When I flew home at Christmas I watched them fail to put my bag on the plane I was on and was able to ask the flight attendant what I should do and then take immediate action as soon as we hit the ground instead of what you'd usually do which is go to baggage claim and wait for 30 minutes for your bag not to show up, then get in line behind every other person whose bags didn't show up. USE THE APP! It will make your life so much easier.

2 - I'd put the flat iron in the checked luggage. You can transfer all of your toiletries into tiny target bottles, but all of the bottles have to fit inside a single quart size ziplock bag. If I were you I'd put most of the toiletries in your checked luggage as well. (It's just so much easier not to deal with it!)

3 - Personally I would get there about 90 minutes ahead of time.

4 - Delta app should be just fine, but you'll be checking your luggage so they'll probably give you your paper ones anyway. Whatever you do, make sure they give you your luggage number (see answer 1).

5 - Bring a cute dog. Seriously my interactions with the TSA have been so much nicer since I started flying with my dog. My dog is hella chill and hella adorable and even the gruff TSA folks just make googly faces at him and coo. Not really applicable to your current situation, though.

6 - No.

Just a note, they use pornoscanners now. I don't like the idea of them, I don't like the extra radiation, I don't want to have to assume the position. I always 100% of the time opt out and choose the "enhanced screening" which is actually not terrible. You'll have a same-sex TSA officer come and feel you up, but the line is usually shorter and I get through faster and something something personal freedoms. It's your choice.

You should bring a jacket.
posted by phunniemee at 7:34 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

1) I'd say check a bag if you're traveling with a bunch of toiletries. I honestly don't know how other women manage to get all of their products into a 1-qt bag for a trip of more than a day. And I'm not even particularly girly. It's a lot less of a hassle, in my opinion, to just check a bag and not worry about whether I can take this or that on the plane, or fighting over carry-on space on the plane. But that's me - a lot of people don't check a bag and that works for them.

4) I've never had either of those things. I just show up at bag check with my ID and they print a boarding pass for me there. Having the card you used to book the flight and your reservation code is handy too, but really, don't overthink this.

5) Wear slip-on shoes. Don't wear a belt. Buy a bottle of water when you get past security and bring some non-salty snacks to eat on the plane (there are a bunch of AskMes about this). Don't let yourself get dehydrated and you'll feel a lot better.

6) Your bra is fine. Your jewelry is fine. Neither of those things has set off a metal detector for me.

I can't speak to the Harrisburg airport, but the San Antonio airport is lovely. I flew out of there for the first time last summer and there were helpful airport employees everywhere. Don't be afraid to ask for directions

Just a note, they use pornoscanners now. I don't like the idea of them, I don't like the extra radiation, I don't want to have to assume the position. I always 100% of the time opt out and choose the "enhanced screening" which is actually not terrible. You'll have a same-sex TSA officer come and feel you up, but the line is usually shorter and I get through faster and something something personal freedoms. It's your choice.

I agree totally, but if you're nervous about flying or at all worried about time, just go to through the regular screening. It's painless and you'll get through the security area quicker.
posted by donajo at 7:42 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

1 - You don't need to pick up your bags. That's only the case for international flights entering the US.
2 - You can bring your flat iron in your carry-on. I've never had an issue with liquids/creams, even in unmarked containers. Be sure all of your liquids/creams are in a clear plastic bag (like a Ziploc).
3 - Be at the airport at least an hour before your flight.
4 - I prefer printed paper tickets out of habit, but the app should be fine.
5 - Don't wear a belt if you don't have to. Wear shoes that are easy to get on and off. Put your jewelry and any stuff that you would normally keep in your pockets in your carry-on. Bring a scarf or shawl, as it will probably be cold on the plane.
6 - Your bra underwire may or may not set off a metal detector. Mine always sets off the handheld detectors. But if it goes off, a woman agent will do a fast pat-down on you and you'll be fine. If they use a full-body scanner instead of a metal detector, then your underwire won't matter.

If you have a lot of electronics, just pull them all out and put them in the bins; sometimes they complain if, for example, you have a Kindle and a tablet laying on top of each other in your bag. If you think you'll use your phone for entertainment during the flight, consider getting a small external battery so you aren't totally out of juice when you land.
posted by neushoorn at 7:43 AM on February 20, 2015

FYI, there are no more pornoscanners in any US airport as of 2013.
posted by ftm at 7:44 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

You'll be fine! To address your specific concerns:

1. Your bags will be checked through to your final destination. They'll switch planes for you. There is always a small chance that they'll get misdirected and sent to another city, or they'll get on the connecting flight and you'll miss it, but in my experience airlines are really good at fixing screw-ups like that, and there are far less screw-ups now than there were twenty years ago. I've had bags misdirected a couple times, but never lost.

2. Yes, the flat iron is totally fine. And I have never ever had an issue with the liquids. I enthusiastically recommend GoGear tubes: they're easy to fill, refill, and clean out, and super squeezable. I've flown with them regularly. TSA doesn't care if your stuff is labeled, just that it's in small enough bottles.

3. I like to aim for two hours early, but one and a half hours is usually fine. Usually. Better to err on the early side in case you get stuck in traffic or whatever.

4. The app should be fine. If not, it's really easy to print boarding passes at a kiosk.

5. If you are prone to nervousness or restlessness, and you're a coffee/caffeine drinker, do not have any caffeine until after you're airborne. Obviously this only works for nervous restless caffeine drinkers and is better advice for morning flights than afternoon flights, but it's still made a considerable improvement in my travels. It'll also reduce your chances of needing to pee at inconvenient times, like during boarding or when the plane is taking off. Otherwise, wear slip-on shoes, clean socks, and no accessories if you can help it, and dress in layers because planes can be cold. And bring plenty of in-flight entertainment/distractions, provided it fits okay in your bag - you probably don't want to have three hardcover books with you.

6. This has never ever ever ever been an issue for me, and nearly all my bras are underwire.

I'd recommend wearing winter coats to the airport and then throwing them in your bags before you check them.

You'll be fine, and Delta has those tasty Biscoff cookies!
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:44 AM on February 20, 2015

Oh also, you're connecting through ATL. I also have very bad luck flying Delta and making connections. (I reallllly hate Delta.)

What's your layover in ATL like? If it's less than an hour, things could be tight if something goes wrong.

Here's my advice for that:

a) weather. If there's bad weather in Harrisburg causing a departure delay, check the weather in ATL. You can use this site to see how ATL departing flights are affected. If your flight is delayed such that it would cut your layover time to 30 minutes or less, talk to the gate rep about connection options.

b) delays in general. If your connection is going to be tight, while you're on your flight, check the arrival/departure times and gates. Find out which gate you'll be landing at and which gate you'll be departing from. There's an ATL airport map in the back of the in flight magazine. Use that to plan your route so you can make a quick go of it once you hit the ground. Tell a flight attendant about your situation and they'll usually make an announcement to stay seated and let people with close connections off the plane first.

c) worst case scenario. If your flight is delayed enough that you're sure you're going to miss your connecting flight, use the Delta app while you're on the plane to find the next scheduled ATL-San Antonio flight. You're leaving early so you should have options. As soon as you get off the plane, beeline to the customer service desk before any of the other poor schmoes on your delayed flight get their wits about them. Ask to be put on the blah-blah o'clock flight to San Antonio. Be very nice and patient but also look sad and be insistent that they need to work this out for you please oh please. With luck you'll be the first people rescheduling to get on the next flight (and if it's full might get bumped to first class, it's happened to me before).

I've been stuck overnight in the Atlanta airport before so have since become pretty good at managing doomsday scenarios.
posted by phunniemee at 7:50 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think everyone here has covered the basics well, but if you want to look like you know your shit at the airport then here's what you do:

-Wear a damn jacket to the airport. It's freezing out! When you get to the airport, you should find an empty table you can rest your bag on. Take your jacket off, put it in your checked bag.

-If you're checking in ahead of time (i.e. before you get to the airport), you go straight to the counter that says "bag drop" or similar. Have your picture ID out and hand it to the check-in agent as you're putting your bag on the scale. Don't put your ID back in your wallet just yet.

-Go get in line at the security checkpoint. This is not yet the time to do anything like untying your shoes or pulling liquids out of your bag. Relax. Have your ticket (or smartphone with the app loaded and showing your boarding pass) and your ID in your hand. Wait until a TSA agent at the little podium makes eye contact with you and waves you over. Say hello, hand them your ID and paper ticket. If you're using your phone, they don't want it - make sure the bar code is visible on the screen and wave it under the scanner until it makes some indication that it read properly. Say thank you when they hand you your ID back. You can put your ID away now; no one else is going to look at it or your boarding pass.

-Now you're waiting in line for the scanners. You may have been randomly selected to go through the Pre-Check line; they will have told you this, or it will be on your boarding pass. IF YOU ARE IN THE PRE-CHECK LINE: do not take off your shoes, do not empty your bag of anything. Take the things out of your pockets (phone, keys, etc.) and place them in an easily reachable pocket of your carry-on. Place carry-on on the belt, walk through the scanner. Continue on your merry way. IF YOU ARE NOT IN THE PRE-CHECK LINE: untie your shoes and wait until you have easy access to the bins.

-Once you reach the bins, grab one and put your shoes in it. Take everything out of your pockets and put that stuff with your shoes. If you have a baggy of liquids in your carry-on, take that out and put it with your shoes. If you're still wearing a light jacket, take that off and put it on top of everything in the bin. If you have a laptop, grab a second bin and put it in that. Do not put your carry-on in a bin. Nothing else needs to be taken out of your bag. Belts, watches, and jewelry generally can stay on your person.

-STAY WITH YOUR BINS AND YOUR BAG. You are responsible for making sure they get on the conveyor belt and through the x-ray machine. Wait until you personally watch them go through the little doorway into the machine, then get in line for the scanner. Another TSA agent will wave you in when they're ready for you. Follow their instructions.

-Exit the scanner and wait. If they need to get handsy with you, they'll ask you to raise your arms/undo your belt/whatever. After they're done, go to the other end of the x-ray machine.

-As quick as you can, throw your laptop and baggy of liquids back in your bag and grab your shoes and the stuff that was in your pockets. If you can cram the stuff back in your pockets quickly, then do that. Stack your bins at the end of the retrieval area. Find a bench past the security area and carry your bag and your shoes there.

-Reassemble yourself at the bench.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:52 AM on February 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

FYI, there are no more pornoscanners in any US airport as of 2013.

What are the big things you step into and spread your legs and put your arms up?

(I've done all of my flying for the last couple years with my dog, which has a whole separate security thing, so I haven't had to request an opt out in a while.)
posted by phunniemee at 7:53 AM on February 20, 2015

You've gotten good answers to your questions so I'm not going to repeat what others have said.

But as a pretty frequent flier (fly domestically around 5-6 times/year, internationally 1-2 times/year), let me assure you that traveling these days, 99% of the time, is nowhere near as nightmarish as social media would have you believe. You hear about the horror stories because they're horror stories.

- Checking bags: frequent fliers hate to do this because they have to wait at the end, not because bags are so likely to be lost. It does happen, but rarely. I almost always check a bag and I can count on one hand the number of times an airline has lost my bags (out of hundreds of flights) and I've always had them back in under 12 hours.

- TSA screening has gotten a LOT better in most airports in the last few years. It used to be that it would always take at least half an hour - now it's rare that it takes me more than 20 minutes to get through, even on the rare times I've had to do additional screening, and things are just generally more civilized and calm than they used to be. Yes, it's ridiculous security theater, but it usually goes pretty smoothly.

Some tips to make things easier:

- Be friendly to TSA agents. Don't talk their ears off, but a smile and a "how are you?" is usually appreciated.

- Yes, get there early. I know it sucks for early flights, but then you can get to your gate early and relax before the flight. Also, I've read that the earlier you check your bags, the less likely they are to miss your flight, which makes sense.

- Bring (non-liquidy) snacks, because stuff at the airport is expensive and restaurants may not be open before 6am anyway. Granola bars, fruit, chocolate, string cheese are my go-to flight snacks.
posted by lunasol at 7:58 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

What are the big things you step into and spread your legs and put your arms up?

Those are millimeter wave scanners. No radiation. No detailed imaging of your naked body.

They just seem to detect the sweat on my back from carrying a backpack, since I've been getting pat downs afterwards, lately.
posted by hwyengr at 7:59 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

1) Bags should be checked through to San Antonio.
2) I don't know about the flat iron. I've never had any issues with fluids under the travel size limit.
3) Really depends on the airport. I usually arrive about 90 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights. At a small airport, like Harrisburg, you can probably get away with an hour. If you're flying out of a bigger airport, like PHL, 90 minutes, at least. I'd err on the side of caution with this either way, it just makes the travel experience less stressful.
4) App is OK, I think, though I've never used it. If you want a printed ticket, you should be able to print one very easily at a kiosk.
5) Wear comfortable clothes, and shoes that are easy to take off. Don't book connections that are too close together. Empty your pockets and put all your stuff in your carry-on while waiting on the security line. After you're through, move to the side and go to the little benches to gather your things.
6) I will defer to the women of MeFi on this one.

One thing on coats: when I travel with a coat, what I normally do is stop once I get inside the terminal, take it off, and stuff in my luggage. That way I have a coat, but I don't have to take it off for security and I'm not taking up valuable overhead space on the plane (or sitting with it uncomfortably on my seat).
posted by breakin' the law at 8:00 AM on February 20, 2015

The pornoscanners are no more, at least mostly. For most values of "porn" anyway.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:03 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

You've gotten great advice already. I'll add one thing: I prefer printed tickets, because I have an older phone whose battery is getting flaky, and I don't want it to crap out on me just before boarding.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:03 AM on February 20, 2015

6. Sometimes my bras or the button on my jeans have set off the detector. On my last trip, the little bedazzled* accents on my shirt did too. As others have said, I got a very quick pat-down from a female agent. They use the back of their hand to do the pat-down so there's no chance of groping.

*I swear, this shirt is cute, not trashy.
posted by shiny blue object at 8:04 AM on February 20, 2015

More information on modern millimeter-wave scanners: they use Automated Target Recognition, which seem to have a higher chance of a false positive in my personal experience* but don't display naked bodies to anyone.

* Personally I always seem to be flagged for my belly fat and an agent has to quickly swipe their hand along my waistband. It takes a few seconds longer.
posted by muddgirl at 8:04 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, about the checked bags - when you hand it over to the check-in agent, that person will give you a receipt with a bar code on it. Hold on to that until you retrieve your bags at your destination. If for whatever reason you bag doesn't show up on the carousel, you can hand that over at the baggage office and they'll figure out really easily where your bag is.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:06 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

1. You're flying domestic, so your checked bags will meet you in San Antonio and you won't have to deal with them in Atlanta. I'd say the three pairs of shoes are likely to put you into the realm of needing to check luggage (unless you mean you're packing two pairs of ballet flats and wearing your bulkiest shoes); either that or if you have any liquid toiletries/cosmetics that won't fit in a quart bag that have to be checked.

2. No experience with lugging around flat irons/hair dryers, but many hotels provide hair dryers. I've never had an issue with unlabeled toiletries in travel-size bottles, and I fly regularly.

3. Harrisburg has what, a dozen gates? Small enough that getting there at 4 am for a 6 am flight seems like overkill. They recommend 90 minutes for early morning flights, and that seems more than adequate to me. (When I'm flying out of Knoxville from visiting the in-laws, we generally allow an hour unless it's Thanksgiving or Christmas; Knoxville's airport is a similar size to Harrisburg's.)

4. The app should be fine, but if it's not, you can either go to a check-in kiosk or the ticket counter to get paper tickets printed.

5. My sooper-sekrit travel tip to make things go as smoothly as possible is to pack light. Sorry. :) But when I travel and I *can't* fit everything in a backpack (probably half the time), I have a wheelie suitcase that fits in the overhead bin, and my laptop backpack. I just remember, 99% of the time, I'm flying to a city and staying in that city. I can buy anything I *really* need that I forgot.

6. Never had a problem wearing underwire bras.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 8:06 AM on February 20, 2015

Two hours in advance seems wildly excessive to me for a small regional airport like Harrisburg, especially since you're Ubering in and don't have to worry about parking, and for a flight so early that you won't have rush hour traffic delays on the way in - an hour and a half would be on the conservative side of fine.

The only time you ever really have to collect checked baggage and recheck it when connecting would be on an international connection, after clearing customs, or if the different legs of your connection were booked as two separate trips on different, non-codeshare airlines.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:10 AM on February 20, 2015

Unlike most folks here, I have had (one of my favorite) underwire bras trip the metal detector with some regularity (which is one of the reasons I like the millimeter wave scan devices). But even when it Does trip the metal detector, it's no big deal - I female TSA agent is called over and does a quick patdown (and they've all been compassionate about it), sometimes I've had a quick handwipe.

So, basically, even if you go through a metal detector and it's tripped, it's not bad.

One other piece of advice - I find it really helpful to wear my headphones playing music in the security line until I get up close. Music helps me to feel less anxious, and that helps the whole process be better.
posted by ldthomps at 8:18 AM on February 20, 2015

I fly frequently. I often fly out of HPN (Westchester, NY) airport which is small (ish). I arrive 45 minutes before flight time. When I fly out of LGA, JFK or EWR, I try to time my arrival for 1 hour to an hour and 15 minutes before flight time. I guess if I did not know where to go I would add 15 minutes. To me, the reason to leave the house early for a flight is the variable and unknown of traffic on the way to the airport.

Your checked bags will be shipped all the way. I travel with odd shaped and oversized bags (hockey sticks, hockey equipment) a few times a year and have yet to have an issue. The one time in the last 5 years a bag was delayed, the airline delivered it directly to my hotel later that day. It was actually a huge plus in that I did not have to lug the bag to the meeting before I checked into hotel.

With the TSA, I opt out of the scanners every time. I am often finished before traveling companions are who wait for the scanners. Either way, be cordial to the agents and you should have no issues.

The only time I had an issue with the liquid thing was when I was carrying a large size tube of toothpaste that had been used down to a wee little bit left. After a 2 minute theoretical discussion about how it was clear I had less than the maximum, I was on my way with my last 5 uses of toothpaste. Do not sweat any of it.

My biggest hassle came the time I was traveling with literally no baggage, no carry on and just the crap I had in my pockets. That concept seemed to unravel the agents.

One other consideration. If you are concerned about your bag making it or not wanting to deal with it, consider shipping it a day or two in advance via FedEx. The cost is reasonable and the hassle factor is 92% less than lugging it around. When I vacation with my kids, we do this all the time.
posted by 724A at 8:23 AM on February 20, 2015

I never check bags, I hate the hassle of it all. We recently went to India for a week to attend a wedding, which required 4 different formal outfits (each with different shoes)-- all that, plus everyday wear, makeup, flat iron, jewelry, etc. fit in my carry-on suitcase.

If you're not checking bags, and you're already checked into your flight, I like to arrive about an hour before - the flight boards 30 mins prior and security usually takes about 30 mins (if the line is long, you can typically jump to the front if you're in danger of missing your flight). Longer if international; shorter if it's a puddle-jumper that boards only 15 mins before takeoff.

Your bras will be fine. Wear socks and easily-removable shoes (you'll have to take your shoes off and walk through the scanner).
posted by melissasaurus at 8:23 AM on February 20, 2015

In addition to the above: I always tie a small colorful scarf or bandana around my luggage handle so I can spot it on the conveyer belt when picking it up at the airport. Unless you have a super flowery patterned suitcase, it can be hard to pick yours out in a crowd when you are tired after a flight.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:31 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I travel quite a lot, and getting through security is generally an extremely humdrum experience. The most stressful part is just getting everything into the bins required (laptop, shoes, etc.) in a timely fashion. I haven't taken my liquids out of my bag (or even put them in a baggie) in a couple years and no one has said a word, though that might be airport-dependent.

That said, on the few occasions that I've had to go through the metal detector rather than the wave scanner, my underwire has stripped and I had to get a full patdown. I did find this rather invasive, as it involves the (female) agent running her hands between and under your boobs. But, as others have noted, it's rare to not have the wave scanner available.

Using an app is fine (and my preferred method) for ticketing. You just place your phone on this little scanner device and it beeps and you're all good.

The only other caveat I would offer with regard to checking bags with connecting flight is that it increases the chances that your bags might not make it to your destination with you. If you miss your connection, for example, or the connection is extremely tight, your bags may end up on a different flight.
posted by Ms. Toad at 8:31 AM on February 20, 2015

Other people have answered your questions, but I wanted to chime in with personal reassurance.

I have worked with the Harrisburg TSA officers on technical issues related to related to their checkpoint screening equipment as part of a large TSA related study. The officers are friendly, relaxed people, who only do a few flights a day (Life as a TSO at a Cat V airport is infinitely preferable to life at a Cat X).

People get particularly worked up and paranoid about TSA for some reason, but like all outrage filter, weigh the occasional outrageous event against the number of unremarkable interactions to keep prespective. The world (metafilter in particular perhaps) would be a happier and more rational place if this was done more reliably. You are hugely unlikely to have any sort of negative interaction with a TSO.

And at Harrisburg, getting to the airport 45 minutes before flight time should be plenty. Parking and lines at the TSA checkpoint are not going to be an issue.
posted by pseudonick at 8:43 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you have money to throw at the problem, I highly recommend TSA PreCheck and shipping your luggage. I also agree that 2 hours is overkill, but it's up to you as to whether you'd be more stressed out by the prospect of being late or by being at the airport itself.

Maybe I've just had terrible checked luggage luck, but I've had my stuff lost or damaged at least 20% of the time. It's maddening and far more stressful than using a carry on. If your gentleman friend is checking too, you might as well do it, but otherwise I'd avoid it if possible. For what it's worth, the combination of these packing cubes and a ruthlessly minimalist packing strategy (stick to a palette of 2 colors, use those single-use packets of toiletries, putting things inside my shoes) has meant that until my 2nd child was born, I'd literally never checked a bag for anything less than a multi-week international trip.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2015

nthing that starting at a smaller regional airport makes flying less stressful in many ways than beginning your journey at a big hub: the security lines are shorter, the TSA staff are in a better mood, you're generally in the company of people who fly frequently for work, travelling light and with purpose. You're also more likely to have uncrowded gates and free wi-fi so while you can generally arrive 45m-1hr before departure, getting there early isn't annoying.

The downside is that smaller regional airports do get affected most by delays and cancellations from big hubs: the plane scheduled to take you to Atlanta is probably leaving from there having come in from some other regional airport, all on shortish turnovers, and if there's any kind of problem that can mess things up. When you get to Atlanta, check the board at the arrival gate for your connecting gate, then keep checking for any gate changes.

I've had cases go missing temporarily on international flights (they get found, and couriered to where you're staying) but never on domestic trips in the US.
posted by holgate at 9:00 AM on February 20, 2015

Here's my advice.

1. Put your liquids in your checked bag. This is because if you pack your liquids in the Ziploc bag, you have to take it out of your carry on, along with your computer, shoes, phones, etc. You also have to put the computer in a separate bin, with your other chazerai in its own bin. It's a lot to take out and put back in with people in front and behind you. I wear loafers and put the computer alone in the front zip pocket. Then I throw the carry on on the belt and walk through. As everyone has said, the bags will follow you to San Antonio.

2. Changing gate in Atlanta is pretty terrible. Delta has 3 concourses, and the concourses are each about 2 miles long. (No exaggeration.) If you have to change concourses, you walk from your gate to the middle of the concourse, take an elevator down to the Tram, board the Tram to the next concourse (don't walk it, just don't) then take the elevator back up to the second concourse and walk to your next gate. Even going from gate 1 to gate 21 on the same concourse can be a serious schlep. The less stuff you have with you, the happier you will be. Also you need at LEAST 60 minutes to change gates in ATL. Don't take it for granted that the gate printed on your boarding pass is the one you will leave from. Delta changes gates regularly, even if you've been sitting there for 30 minutes.

3. Take a sweater or jacket. 63 may seem warm now, but it will get cool at night. Put in your checked bag. You won't be sad.

4. Be there 2 hours early, especially if you're leaving out of Philly.

This isn't going to be hard or terrible. Well any more so than air travel is now.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:03 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Plenty of good advice above (I too use a quart-size bag from home, recognizable ribbon or scarf on luggage, etc., and all goes smoothly).

A few other things I do:

-Stash a pair of warm socks in my backpack. Airplanes can be hot and stuffy while on the tarmac, but I often find my feet get really cold during the flight.

-Resist the urge to buy coffee, etc. until I'm past security. It's more to carry and it has to be dumped anyway.

-Wear jeans or something similar so I can shove ID and boarding pass (and/or phone) into a back pocket so hands are free for other things if needed. After showing ID at security, it's all about the bins, shoes, etc., and since I know I'll need my boarding pass again, I just keep those things on my person until I'm seated on the plane. I like to freshen up and change clothes after a day of flying anyway, and the last time I decided to wear something less casual than jeans, I told myself never again.

-Remember that the gate closes about 10 minutes before the flight time.

You'll be fine. Have a great time!
posted by whoiam at 9:15 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

4) Maybe I'm old school, but I still like printed passes. Less fumbling at the gate, for one thing. An easy thing to do is check-in online then print the passes at a kiosk in the airport. If you're checking bags, you need to stop at a kiosk anyway to get tags.

5) Sekret tips:
For the security line, you want as low fuss as possible.
Wear your most comfy slip on shoes. No belt (or an easy to remove one). No Jewelry. Put your watch and whatever else in your purse, at least until you get through the scanners.
Bring a shawl/fleece/sweater---airports and airplanes can be cold, even in summer.
If you have a computer, it should be easy to remove from your bag.
Put all your carry-on bags in trays through the scanner.

The ultra-mega secret trick for security is the NEXUS/Global Entry, which lets you skip all the lines, but that takes 3 to 6 months to get enrolled.

For travel:

Drink water every single chance you get, especially if you have alcohol. There are bathrooms everywhere. Don't try to be a camel. Hydration is really important for not feeling crappy during and after travel.

Contrariwise, eat to maintain blood sugar, but eat lightly. Feeling full on a plane, when cranky and tired is the worst.
posted by bonehead at 9:24 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also you need at LEAST 60 minutes to change gates in ATL.

I'm not comfortable in ATL with less than 90, and sometimes that's close. ATL is huge and one of the more spread-out airports. You want enough time to change concourses if you have to, and you almost certainly will have to.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 AM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

On hydration: an empty reusable drinking bottle is your friend. Atlanta has converted a lot of its fountains to add fancy filtration tap things for refilling them. Far better than paying $2 for water or soda after security.
posted by holgate at 9:37 AM on February 20, 2015

If Harrisburg is the size airport it seems to be, I think arriving at 4AM could be a mistake. Ticket counters/bag checks and TSA checkpoints might not even be open, in which case you're just sitting around a cold lobby for an hour. Even the Harrisburg TSA only says to arrive 1.5 hours before.
posted by mskyle at 9:47 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Be nice to the TSA folks. Don't go overboard and be smarmy, but give them a smile and a "good morning". Their jobs entail all the joys of customer service (customers who are: entitled, icky, rude, in a hurry, clueless, showing off their insider knowledge of how The System Works), plus the possibility that someone in their line may be up to no good (from passengers trying to swipe each others' belongings to people trying to sneak dangerous things onto planes for nefarious reasons). It seems like a tough gig.

I've flown a lot since the TSA became a Thing, and have never had any issues.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 9:48 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

My secret travel trip to make things go smoothly is to be kind, polite and friendly to everyone I encounter along the way. Yes, you will occasionally run into an asshole, but the thing you can control is your own outlook.
posted by ersatzkat at 9:57 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

4) I've always been nervous about using the app as a boarding pass and preferred a printed boarding pass (what if my phone dies???) But on a recent trip the business center at my hotel, where I'd usually print my boarding pass for the return trip, was undergoing renovation and unavailable. I decided to try using the app (this was on Delta, even). Had no problems at all. I was even checking a bag, and still wasn't given a printed boarding pass (I did get the little receipt to match to my luggage.) But as others have said, you can always have a boarding pass printed for you there at the airport if you prefer.

5) I don't know if you'll be flying more frequently than you have been, but if you expect to fly more frequently in the next five years, consider applying for TSA pre-check. It's $85, but good for five years. If approved, you can keep your belt, shoes, and jacket on as you go through the scanner, and you don't have to remove your laptop and liquids from your carry-on bag. You'll get into a (usually) shorter security line. If you start the application process now you should hear back in time for a late March flight. Note that the application process requires an in-person appointment.

Include a small (TSA-compliant, of course) tube of hand lotion in your carry-on. My hands always get really dry when flying, and I always forget about this when I'm packing, so now I have about six partially-used tubes of overpriced lotion that I've bought at airport kiosks.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:59 AM on February 20, 2015

Especially be kind to gate agents. If things go bad, gate agents can make your day or send you to uncomfortable places. They've got a pretty crappy job in all and being considerate to them is both the right thing to do and can often pay off for you too.
posted by bonehead at 10:00 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

The best ziplocs to use for toiletries are the kind with the little plastic slider on the top. They have a gusseted bottom that makes a much more friendly shape for holding tons of little bottles, and I swear I can fit a lot more in them than the regular quart bags. The zip top can be a little unreliable if they're overpacked, though, so I bring a couple of extras just in case.
posted by dialetheia at 10:15 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

i'm only as far as phunniemee's answer but the tip about tracking the baggage is AMAZING. that has reduced my anxiety by about 95%.

i am flying out of Harrisburg International Airport (MDT - Middletown). It's smallish. The international means Canada.

And I'm taking Uber to/from airport so no parking issues. Sounds like getting there around 430 should be good.

I wasn't prepared for so many answers, but glad to see it seems like the TSA has kinda calmed down since I flew last.

I'm gonna get back to reading this stuff. Thanks everyone!
posted by sio42 at 10:49 AM on February 20, 2015

BTW, secret travel tip for if things do go wrong (terrible delay, cancellation, etc...): Call the airline ticket desk, don't bother lining up for an agent. The agents at the airport are going to be swamped, possibly for an hour or more, if a flight gets cancelled. If you need to rebook fast, you're much better off calling the airline ticket office. It's a lot quicker to pull out your phone and dial a number than to be racing to be first in line at a customer service desk half-way across the airport.

If you must, get the number off their website, but it should be on your travel itinerary. If you printed your itinerary or have it on your phone, you're one step ahead.

The risk with a delay in rebooking is that you may get bumped down the list of flights and standbys available, a problem if you flights are time-sensitive. You can lose a day away or be late getting back.

Do use the agents if a situation gets complicated---they can often find solutions which may not be obvious to you. Alternatively, if you don't care if you miss a flight, you can sometimes get large incentives (upgrades or credits) by taking a later flight, even just a couple hours later. The gate agents have a fair bit of discretion here.
posted by bonehead at 10:53 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ruthless Bunny - thanks for the info on ATL. I was there once as a kid, like 20 years ago and my only memory is that it is freaking ginormous.

I'll check out a map of it so I can have an idea of the layout before we get there. Wouldn't have thought of that before since I'm used to BWI and HIA, which are both kinda smallish.
posted by sio42 at 10:58 AM on February 20, 2015

In addition to a light jacket or sweater, I always bring a small throw blanket in my carry on, especially if I have a window seat. (It's always much colder closer to the window.) It could be used as a blanket or a pillow, even in the terminal between flights. :D

Yes, the airlines all offer their own pillows and blankets (while on the plane), but I find much more comfort in my own familiar things.
posted by Zarya at 12:35 PM on February 20, 2015

You already got a lot of good information about flying, I just wanted to add some reassurances about security. I have been flying with my daughter since she was five months old and while I know the rules about what gets pulled out for the x-ray machine and whatnot, I am always absentminded enough to forget something. Something about keeping track of all my stuff, some of hers, and my husband being in charge of some of her stuff too, and I just never remember to do all the things I need to.

I have always been reminded very kindly, whether it's the shoes I forgot to take off, the full water bottle in the diaper bag, the liquid bag still in the carry-on, or the portable DVD player I didn't realize counted as "a computer". I have quite often stood off to the side as an agent takes a quick glance to find the problem; it takes just a minute or two and they have always been really nice about it. So even if you don't remember everything, someone will just remind you.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:39 PM on February 20, 2015

One quick note and sorry if someone already mentioned this. The only reason you would have to pick up your bags mid-trip was if you took the first part of the flight on one carrier and switched to a different carrier for the second part and this second airline does not have an agreement to transport luggage with the first. This did actually happen to me once. This would be an unusual situation, but I guess it could occur if you did a lot of searching for the best prices or something. When you check in for your first flight just make sure to ask your ticketing agent where you luggage is checked to. Almost certainly they will say San Antonio, but at least that way you will know you double checked.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:00 PM on February 20, 2015

Oh also, most airlines only have a few blankets and pillows. They run out quickly. Don't count on getting one from them.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:01 PM on February 20, 2015

while I know the rules about what gets pulled out for the x-ray machine and whatnot, I am always absentminded enough to forget something.

I've also found that security agents don't mind you asking about specifics ("watch on or off?"; "separate tray for jacket/laptop?") when they're not spelled out explicitly: better to ask than assume and inadvertently clog up the scanning line. My last flight, though a single itinerary, was an international route with three full security checks, each of them had slightly different rules, so it helped to ask and remind myself which country I was in.
posted by holgate at 1:02 PM on February 20, 2015

Yeah, asking is totally fine. TSA agents are usually polite and professional when you ask them questions, even if they are barking instructions at the line in general.

Also: if you, say, accidentally leave a full-size tube of toothpaste in your carry on (I've done this exact thing before), they'll just make you throw it out. They're not going to haul you in for questioning or some crazy thing, if you're concerned about that. Not that you shouldn't take the rules seriously, but if you slip up on some small aspect of them, it's not a huge deal.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:12 PM on February 20, 2015

I sat next to a couple on a flight this morning who were amazed that they did not receive full hot meals on the 2 hour flight. Furthermore, they were amazed that the only options of food for purchase were snack boxes and not hot meals. Don't assume you will get any food (bring your own or eat before as even a bag of nuts is pricey at an airport).

My suggestions is to get a paper ticket printed out when you check your bag. I am a whiz with the app but I like to save my battery for the flight and don't want to fumble with my phone at TSA and then again at the gate.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:50 PM on February 20, 2015

I didn't see exactly this covered (sorry if this is a repeat), but yes either check your lotions/gels/etc or get the teeny bottles for carry-on.

I've blanked (more than once) in the past packing my carry-on and have had confiscated (for example) a far-less-than-half-full bottle of lotion that was labeled "5 oz." C'mon, there's OBVIOUSLY less than 3 ounces in there, but the bottle said 5 ounces, so no luck. Learn from my boneheaded-ness. (On (lack-of) preview, what breakin' the law said.)

Also, many hotels have (small) hairdryers, so you may not need to bring one, depending on your blow-drying requirements.

Nthing to bring a shawl or pashmina. I'm always freezing on the plane. Once you get up above the clouds, it's sunny and they put on the A/C.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 3:35 PM on February 20, 2015

FYI, you will have to pay to check your bag, probably about $25. I didn't see that mentioned, although I may have missed it.
posted by Quiscale at 3:55 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

In response to your plan to get there at 4:30, check to see that the airport is open. HPN opens an hour before the first flight. No TSA or baggage check until then, but the terminal itself is usually open. Check with MDT
posted by 724A at 4:32 PM on February 20, 2015

You'll probably have to pay the extra $25 for a checked bag both ways.

Phones and tablets can stay in your bag or purse going through the X-ray machine.

We usually empty change, phones, pens, belt, etc. from my SO's pockets into my purse as soon as we get out of the car so he doesn't get flustered at security trying to hurry.

If you use the app boarding pass and your phone messes up at the last second at the gate, they can issue you a pass right there.

Pay big attention to the screens with the flight information in case your gate gets changed. Having the app text you any changes is very helpful.

A lot of these suggestions are kind of pro tips. Bottom line...make sure your ID is current and you have it with you, small liquids in a quart Baggie, socks so you don't have to go barefoot, and the rest is cake.
posted by tamitang at 8:04 PM on February 20, 2015

I fly for business 4-6 times a year. I'll try not to repeat things that others have said:

- I've used the Delta app for my boarding pass, but also I've experienced bugs in other parts of the app. I simply don't trust it, especially at a place like ATL, where massive numbers of people are putting a load on the system.

- I tend to arrive at the airport at least a couple of hours early and then amuse myself reading or websurfing. In general, more time -> less stress.

- don't lose yourself in listening to music or audiobooks. Listen to the announcements on the PA system. Because ...

- ... In the last year or so, I've experienced a number of canceled flights on Delta into / out of smaller airports. I've mostly managed to deal with this by working with a ticket agent. So pay attention to the announcements - the faster you hop on it, the better your chances of finding a substitute flight.

- bonus: at some small airports, you may need to exit the boarding area to get to a ticket agent - and so you may need to navigate TSA a second time. If you're traveling as a couple, you'll probably want to delegate one of you to watch your stuff, and the other to talk to the ticket agent.

- I know people say that you can act faster on dealing with a canceled flight by calling a ticket agent on the phone, but in my experience you spend time on hold, time negotiating phone menus, waiting for callbacks (that may never come), usually in a noisy environment ... I'd rather work F2F with an actual person.

- I *always* opt out of the scanner. I find it's actually easier to deal with: I can keep better track of my carry-on items, and it's somewhat easier to "put myself back together" at the pat-down station. I've never been hassled by the TSA people, and I think much of that is because I don't engage them in discussion.

My "secret trick": I carry a small adapter that has 3 AC and 2 USB outlets. Some airports are sparse on outlets. If all outlets are in use, but I really need to charge a device, I've never had anyone object to using the adapter to share an outlet.

"Secret trick" #2: pat-downs seem rather markedly less aggressive when I tell the TSA agent I've "gone commando".

I'm certainly no authority, but the TSA people at Austin-Bergstrom are consistently and by far the best in the USA.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:25 PM on February 20, 2015

Many excellent answers here and I (though a veteran business traveler) have little else to offer. But:

If you're going to feel doomsday-scenarioish, always get a printed boarding pass rather than relying on the app. Twice I've been at airports where the scanners have randomly quit reading the app codes, forcing me (and disgruntled herds of other passengers) to troop back to the counter to get a printed pass. Yes, you get to wait in all the lines all over again!

Even if you're randomly selected for Precheck, rules can vary by airport. Some require even Precheck passengers to take out laptops for scanning, for example. And some airports don't have pre-check lines at all. I paid for Precheck (makes sense for me given the amount of travel I do) but there are places where it doesn't do diddly for me. ("Trusted Traveler," ha.)

I'm a Delta Platinum (though I fly all the others at times), and, for suckitude, just my personal opinion, they are on average no worse than others. After 40 years of business travel I can safely say that the fun is 100% out of it, especially after 9/11. If you get to where you intend to go via the planned route and arrive within an hour or two of scheduled time, and with all of your stuff, undamaged, and not suffering PTSD from the vicissitudes of other passengers, gate agents, and airplane crew -- you're doing well.
posted by charris5005 at 6:57 AM on February 22, 2015

thank you for all these great answers!

i marked some as best answers, but really everyone's advice overall is very helpful and has reduced my anxiety greatly. i appreciate all the little tips from frequent fliers.
posted by sio42 at 9:15 AM on February 23, 2015

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