Dressing for Air Travel Without Losing Your Mind (Or Getting Arrested)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave lately, you’re probably aware of the uproar around the new screening procedures at U.S. airports.  Thanks to the ever-growing threat of would-be terrorists hiding bombs in their clothing, the TSA continues to intensify security procedures for anybody who wants to get on a plane.

This is the most personal it’s gotten so far:  we now have the choice of being felt up or posing for a semi-pornographic pic.  I exaggerate, but that’s the kind of language used by the people who protest these procedures.  I actually don’t think it’s that bad… but then, I’ve been accused of having mildly exhibitionist tendencies.

So in short, here’s the deal.  Basics: shoes, scarves, jackets, sweaters and other outerwear off.  Sometimes watches and jewelry, but not always, which is annoying—you won’t know if this particular watch will cause a beep at this particular airport until you try it.  (Or you could just take it off.)  The next steps are different at every airport, which I suppose could be a good thing, because it makes it harder for the bad guys to figure out the system.  (I travel a lot and it’s certainly confusing the hell out of me).

Last week I was at O’Hare.  It seemed we had the choice of the regular screening machine or the enhanced one that makes you look almost naked.  I say “choice,” but I don’t really think it was up to us.   In addition, some lucky folks—they say it’s random—also had the opportunity for an enhanced pat-down.  I had one of those a month or two ago, before I saw any of the news reports about these new dialed-up procedures.  It startled me a bit, but not in a bad way.  I thought the security chick was getting a little too familiar; she lightly ran her hands between my breasts, brushed against my butt and even quickly between my legs (or so it seemed).  It was almost funny.  Anyway, she was friendly and very professional, but I didn’t quite know what to make of it.  For a split second it almost felt kinda nice, too, like a bad, clumsy first date.

If you’re planning to join the millions of folks who are traveling this holiday season, there are a few things you can do in dressing that will make it less painful.  These tips won’t make the plane take off on time, but they might get you through the security check faster.

You’ll want to plan your travel outfit carefully.  In general, the simpler (and lighter weight), the better.  The goal is to be the kind of traveler you wouldn’t mind being behind in the security line.

With these new procedures, I prefer clothing without a waistband, so I tend toward dresses more so than skirts or pants.  For the pat-down, the fewer hiding places, the better.  I prefer jersey knit dresses because they travel well: they don’t wrinkle and they look good, skimming the body “just so.”  And Mr./Ms. TSA  won’t have to dig around to see if you’ve got any contraband tucked in the waist.

I like leggings for traveling, but it matters what you wear with them.  I usually choose a T-shirt and long cardigan (which has to come off).   If you choose a tunic, it should be simple (see dress recommendations above).

If you opt for pants or a skirt, choose one that doesn’t need a belt—it’s just one more thing to remove, slowing things down.

In summer I favor flip-flops, but at this time of year I usually choose slip-ons: pumps, loafers, or ballerina flats.  Boots with zippers are also fine, but this is not the time to go trotting out the lace-up thigh-highs.  (Pack them if you think you’ll need them).  Avoid any shoe that has to be tied.  Pull-on boots are a no-no as well—you may think they’re easy, but in reality they take way too long.

For me, it’s barefoot or tights—I just don’t like socks. But I can’t think of a good reason you shouldn’t wear them, so go ahead if you must.

I always wear underwire bras and they rarely set off the alarm, but I know a lot of women who say that theirs do.  If this has happened to you, maybe wear a bra without underwire. Do wear a bra though; no matter how much of a free spirit you are, you don’t want to make it that much fun for the guys behind the body scanner.

In my opinion, women should always wear cute underwear, but it’s especially important if you’re going to get a body scan.  Some might think the exact opposite, arguing that we should wear something unattractive so the scanner-viewer won’t get any cheap thrills.  But then, we don’t really know what turns him or her on, so I say:  Wear something you’d be proud to be seen in!  Personally, I like lacy boy-cut shorts.  If you’re modest, you might want to avoid a thong.

Chunky, clunky jewelry gets packed or stays home.  I keep travel jewelry to a minimum, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll lose something.  (Wouldn’t you know it, I broke my own rule about two months ago and wore a beautiful bracelet I’d recently bought in Paris; it beeped, I had to go back through, I put it in a bin and sent it through the machine . . . and that’s where I left it.  Didn’t remember until I was on the plane.) 

Next Steps
At the airport, you’ll probably have at least some choice of security lines; pick the one that looks the least complicated.  Obviously, you’ll want to avoid getting behind the family with two-year-old triplets in strollers.  Teenagers, with their headphones, electronics, and sullen attitudes should also be avoided (here, and in life in general, is my philosophy).  Ideal: businessmen and -women; they do this all the time and know how to get through it quickly.  I’ve found that older travelers—say, in their 80s—aren’t bad, either; their clothing and travel gear are often straightforward and uncomplicated.

Now that you’ve worked your way through security, the next annoyance is deciding what to do about food . . . but that’s another article for another time. Happy travels and happy holidays!

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2 Responses to Dressing for Air Travel Without Losing Your Mind (Or Getting Arrested)

  1. trixie says:

    wear socks. otherwise you are walking with bare feel through the airport. thats gross.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The problem with the enhanced xray is that they're worse for you than the ones used in medical & dental offices. One pass through is like exposing yourself to 1000 hours of UVA/UVB rays.
    Another problem is that some of the people hired are simply perverts and take advantage of their position to harass innocent people, such as the former actress from Baywatch, who was recently singled out.

    The answer is to build a small room with very thick walls and if anyonw is a suspect, put them in the room and turn on the switch. If nothing happens, so be it. If they had a bomb, all they did was blow themselves up!

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