How to survive a flight on National Opt-Out Day

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Christopher Elliott

Now what?

The TSA won’t change the way it screens passengers, even when threatened with a major protest action on one of the busiest air travel days of the year.

How do you survive what, even under ideal circumstances, is a dreadful day to be flying?

Get there early — way early. If you are traveling on Nov. 24th, give yourself even more time than you normally would. If you had planned to arrive three hours before your flight, give yourself four hours. Bring a good book.

Decide before you arrive. Are you going to be scanned or opt out? Don’t make the choice when you’re there. Read this FAQ about the scanners and this post on screening from the TSA site and make an informed decision, based on everything you’ve already read and seen.

Assume you’ll be scanned. The online lists of airports using full-body scanners are out of date, in many cases. Expect to make the choice, and don’t wait until you’re at the screening area to make the call. (Remember, the most effective way of persuading TSA to change its policy is a combination of litigation and public pressure, although you will certainly be making a point by refusing to be scanned on Nov. 24.)

Talk to your kids. Explain what is going to happen. That way, they’ll be less likely to be confused or cause a scene. TSA says it will used a “modified” pat-down on kids under 12, but it has declined to say how, exactly, children will be screened. But we have a pretty good idea of how kids are currently being checked.

Cooperate. The best time to protest (if, indeed, you want to) is before you arrive at the airport. Refusing the full-body scan is another, arguably less effective, form of dissent, which I’ve already discussed. But once you’ve made your choice, my advice is to fully comply with the instructions of the TSA employees. You can record the encounter on your phone (that’s allowed) and you can take pictures of your screening, but please refrain from criticizing, mocking or threatening the agents. They’re just doing their job. Many of them don’t agree with these new policies either, for what it’s worth.

Get a refund. You could also cancel your trip. Some airlines (Delta, AirTran) are offering passengers their money back on a case-by-case basis, even if you’re holding nonrefundable tickets. Here are details.

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Good luck.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Tokyo.

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