Holiday travel questions

You don't have to be an infrequent flyer to have burning questions before the holiday travel rush. I fly a lot and write about travel for a living. Still, I've turned to the TSA's "What can I bring?'' tool twice to see if I'm allowed to pack a couple of quirky gifts in my carry-on bag. If you're one of the more than 40 million passengers expected to jam U.S. airports this holiday season, here are answers to some commonly asked questions.

At the airport


1. Can I bring (insert odd item here) on my flight?

The TSA gets plenty of grief, but the agency does a terrific job helping travelers navigate airport screening do's and don'ts. In addition to the handy What Can I Bring? online tool, travelers can ask questions via Twitter at @askTSA and Facebook messenger. TSA social media reps are usually quick with replies. In one 60-minute span Thursday, they answered questions about traveling with stained glass, dry chile peppers, fizzy vitamins, tea bags and hockey pucks.

The TSA's social media accounts are staffed 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

2. Do I really have to get to the airport two hours+ early?

That depends on your departure airport, date and tolerance for stress. If you're traveling out of a mega airport on one of the busiest travel days of the season (Dec. 21-23), it's a good idea not to chance it, especially if you don't have TSA PreCheck to speed you through security.


 If you're traveling on a slower day, such as Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, there's probably no need to arrive extra early. Fun fact from a survey by Champion Traveler: Dads arrive at the airport earlier than any other demographic, 1.9 hours on average. Don't mock them; it's never a bad idea to arrive early, even if you just end up using that time to check out the new shops, restaurants and other attractions at airports.

3. Do I need one of those new IDs I keep reading about? 

Not this year. The Real ID requirement kicks in Oct. 1, 2020. This year, a regular driver's license, passport or other approved form of identification will work. Passengers 18 and older are required to show ID at the checkpoint.

Find out if you need a Real ID:  You've got a year to get one

4. Is there any way to get into one of those fancy airport lounges with free food and drinks? 

At some airports, yes. Some airline lounges and lounge chains, including Escape Lounges, sell day passes. They aren't cheap but airport restaurants aren't either. A visit to the Escape Lounge at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport starts at $40 if you prebook.  $ American sells a pass to the Admirals Club lounge at its Philadelphia hub for $59. Check your credit card benefits, too. Some high-end cards aimed at travelers include lounge admittance.

Pro tip: check Groupon before you go. Escape Lounges regularly offers discounts on the deals site at airports including Oakland, California; Providence, Rhode Island; and Hartford, Connecticut. Be sure to check the hours before you buy it. 

On the plane 


4. Do I have to bring my own food for the flight? 

Free airline meals in economy class are a thing of the past on U.S. flights, but you can bring many items through TSA (as long as they don't exceed the 3.4-ounce liquid rule) or buy food post-security. Otherwise, you can buy meals from most airlines or subsist on the free snacks served onboard. Thankfully, the food for sale has gotten better on many carriers. American sells hummus, chicken wraps, a fruit-and-cheese plate and other food from Zoe's Kitchen. One major exception: Southwest Airlines does not sell food. Passengers get free pretzels and, on longer flights, Fritos and other snacks.

5. Can I bring those miniature bottles of booze onboard for some holiday cheer instead of paying for a drink? 

The good news: TSA will let you through the checkpoint with them as long as they're less than 3.4 ounces and contain less than 24% alcohol by volume. Now the bad news: FAA regulations say you can't have any alcohol that isn't served by a flight attendant. 

6. Will my flight have Wi-Fi? 

It depends on the airline and, in some cases, the route. American, United, Delta, Southwest and Alaska Airlines all offer Wi-Fi for a fee. Check your airline's website for details. JetBlue Airways offers free Wi-Fi. Budget carriers Frontier and Allegiant do not offer Wi-Fi, though Spirit plans to add it. Note that most airlines' Wi-Fi systems won't allow streaming, so download your own entertainment in advance if you're picky about your in-flight entertainment. Or check out the free entertainment.  

Pro tip: On several airlines, including Southwest, Delta, United and Alaska, you can stay connected without paying for Wi-Fi via free text messaging on apps including Apple's iMessage.

 

This story originally appeared on www.usatoday.com

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