Businessman holding his passport and luggage at airport.

Staying prepared, knowing your rights and enrolling in a Trusted Traveler program are a few ways to expedite the border security screening process on your way back into the U.S. (Getty Images)

Whether your cellphone contains confidential business documents or you're packing homemade cranberry sauce, unless you're exempt by diplomatic status, you'll be subject to examination by officials from the Department of Customs and Border Protection. Air passengers also must abide by additional security protocols implemented in October to mitigate concerns about in-flight laptops. Since these latest measures are estimated to affect 2,000 daily flights to the U.S., it's a smart idea to review the rules and know your rights for a smoother journey.

[See: 10 Frequent Flier Secrets Every Traveler Should Know.]

While CBP directives assure travelers that searches are undertaken judiciously to protect 4th Amendment rights and privacy, the federal government asserts its right to search the contents of electronic devices without a warrant or individualized suspicion at international borders. This means government agents may detain anyone, their baggage and their personal devices at border screenings.

The number of electronic device searches more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, and CBP figures confirm that about 2,500 travelers – selected through a variety of law enforcement techniques – are now searched monthly. This amounts to "fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of all arriving international travelers," says Jennifer Gabris, a spokeperson for the Department of Customs and Border Protection. "Electronic media searches have produced information used to combat terrorism, violations of export controls, and convictions for child pornography, intellectual property rights violations and visa fraud," she adds.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in its helpful online "Know Your Rights: Travel" series, says the government's presumed authority to search your electronic devices such as laptops and cellphones, without individualized suspicion, is a contested legal issue. In September, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 11 travelers who had their electronic devices searched at the border in 2016 and 2017.

Nonetheless, travelers and border control personnel have a shared interest in safety and security. If you're going to be among the 380 million people the CBP estimates will cross U.S. borders in 2017, take advantage of these tips to make the experience less stressful.

Arrive Early

Major airports recommend that U.S.-bound travelers arrive at least three hours prior to departure for enhanced security measures that may include in-person interviews, additional forms and other undisclosed measures. Also make sure travel documents, including permission letters for minor children traveling without both parents, are in order.

[See: 5 Airport Lounges You Need to Know About – and How to Get Inside.]

Know the Latest TSA Carry-On and Checked Baggage Rules

Even after luggage has successfully passed an airport security screening, it may be subjected to a secondary, more thorough inspection at officers' discretions. Familiarize yourself with the liquids restrictions and plan ahead by using the Transportation Security Administration's "What Can I Bring?" online search tool.

Understand Your Child's Rights

Parents can have their children excused from passing through an airport scanner, but they are not exempt from a pat-down by TSA agents. Children under 13 years may pass through security scanners with shoes, lightweight outerwear and headwear on. If you're traveling with a baby, there are other guidelines you should follow. The company Mamava, which designs portable privacy pods for nursing mothers, says breast milk, formula and juice can be carried on, along with an ice pack and breast pump, as long as they're sent through a TSA scanner. "If your breast milk is frozen, a visual inspection is usually fine," says Mamava's CEO Sascha Mayer.

TSA agents may want to test liquid formula, milk and juice for explosives, but you have the right to request that these liquids not be opened or X-rayed and opt for another screening procedure. If you consent, ask agents to wear sterile gloves before opening bottles. International carry-on regulations differ and should be confirmed by local consulates; for example, up to 2 liters of breast milk may be transported within the European Union after being scanned.

Answer Questions Honestly

Border officers may ask about your travels, activities, immigration status and possessions, including electronic devices. U.S. citizens with a valid passport do not have to answer officers' questions, but a refusal to do so may trigger a closer inspection. Noncitizen visa holders may be denied entry for refusing to answer questions from a border agent on any topic.

Pay Attention to Road Trip Rights

"At a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, an agent may question a vehicle's occupants about their citizenship, place of birth and request document proof of immigration status, how legal status was obtained and make quick observations of what is in plain view in the interior of the vehicle," Gabris says.

Ask for a Receipt

Border patrol officers will examine your electronic device with a supervisor present, if available, and require a supervisor's consent to copy its contents for future inspection. Additionally, CBP officers should provide a Form 6051D custody receipt if your device is retained for further inspection. Because the CBP is aware that travelers may have sensitive legal, commercial or otherwise privileged information on their devices, "our policy provides for additional procedures for officers encountering such materials," Gabris adds, highlighting referral to the CBP associate or assistant chief counsel. Inspection times for detained devices vary and, according to her office, usually do not exceed five days.

Exercise Patience and Understand the Risks

Foreign nationals and legal permanent residents must provide fingerprints when entering the U.S. Refusal to cooperate with an examination for any reason may lead to a secondary inspection and further delay. "U.S. citizens cannot be denied entry to the country for withholding the password to their device," says Esha Bhandari, staff attorney at the ACLU. "Whether to decline providing a password and risk staying longer at the border is a choice you have to make," Bhandari adds.

Carry Designated Travel Devices

Security experts recommend against carrying personal or confidential data on devices you travel with. However, attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation warn that stripped bare electronic devices may themselves cause suspicion of criminal activity. The best precaution is to use full-disk encryption on your devices and backup data somewhere else, the EFF cautions.

[See: 8 Airports With Amenities That Will Make You Look Forward to Flying.]

Stay Prepared

Save time by joining Trusted Traveler programs such as Global Entry, or using Automated Passport Control and its mobile app to answer questions online, prior to arrival at major airports. Though business travelers routinely carry an attorney's phone number in case of trouble, savvy travelers who understand the rules at U.S. borders shouldn't worry about having a comfortable experience at border patrol.


8 Ways You're Annoying Passengers During the Holidays


Photo Gallery
Health problem on an airplane
Businessman checking damp armpit. Deodorant not working it seems!
Nuisance
Adult couple traveling in an airplane
Passengers boarding a plane
Jet Passenger Grips Armrest from Fear
Frustration
Meal in the airplane.
mature businessman putting luggage into overhead locker on airplane
|

Avoid agitating fellow fliers this travel season.
Forget about your occasional armrest hogs or fussy baby. These days, sitting next to seat kickers, intoxicated passengers and fliers with poor hygiene has become a new reality for travelers. And with the holidays just around the corner, a time when many of us will take to the friendly skies, dealing with irritating behaviors on top of already cramped cabins and steep airfare is enough to bring our rising frustrations to a boil. From trying to dodge the person's smelly feet next to you to tuning out the seat recliner in front of you, let's be honest: It's tough to avoid disturbances at 35,000 feet. But here's the silver lining: At least you can rest assured that you're not one of these headache-inducing fliers. Here are eight common ways people alienate fellow passengers, plus simple ways you can avoid being a frustrating or flat-out disrespectful seatmate this holiday.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Skipping a shower before your flight.
Bad hygiene is the leading frustration among 520 adults who flew the previous year, according to a recent Airline Pain Index study conducted by analytics company Qualtrics. In fact, 45 percent of participants reported poor hygiene as a top aggravator. To avoid irking everyone breathing the same recirculated cabin air, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, cautions to not only take care of personal hygiene but also to avoid putting your foot on another person's armrest or doing any kind of personal in-flight grooming.
(Getty Images)

Kicking the person's seat in front of you.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 35 percent of fliers who participated in the Qualtrics study reported seat kickers as a top infuriating in-flight behavior. Expedia's 2015 Airplane Etiquette Study also found that 61 percent of the 1,019 participants rated rear-seat kicking as the most agitating trait among fellow fliers.
(Getty Images)

Indulging in one too many cocktails at high altitude.
Sitting next to an intoxicated passenger is a significant pain point among fliers. In fact, 35 percent of Qualtrics survey participants cited belligerent passengers as the leading culprit of bothersome behavior. And 45 percent of participants named intoxicated fliers the most offensive seatmate. Before you consider ordering numerous cocktails for a long-haul flight, keep in mind that altitude can elevate the effects of alcohol, Hobica says. While some experts contend that the lower level of oxygen in the air at high altitudes can trigger fatigue and impact cognitive ability (but that alcohol is not absorbed faster into the bloodstream), others suggest that the effects of alcohol on cognitive ability are elevated in the air.  
(Getty Images)

Being unwilling to switch seats with fellow fliers.
"It's interesting that passengers say they're not annoyed when asked to change seats with someone else," says Mike Maughan, head of brand growth and global insights at Qualtrics. In fact, the study revealed that nearly half of fliers are not inconvenienced by changing seats upon request. Maughan emphasizes general communication and common courtesy as key ways to uphold decent in-flight etiquette. And Hobica advises staying flexible and being willing to change seats not only to be polite to elderly passengers or parents who want to sit with their kids but also to prevent unnecessarily stalling your flight.
(Getty Images)

Insisting on hogging the armrest.
As a general courtesy, "the middle-seat person gets the armrest," Hobica says. Rather than elbowing your neighbor in a squished cabin, exercise manners and give the extra inches of space to the poor passenger stuck in the undesirable middle seat. He also advises staying conscientious of fellow fliers by respecting boundaries and not taking up extra space across the armrest. "Be courteous," Maughan says. And if extra space is most important to you, consider springing for a premium-economy seat for added legroom, he says. While there's not much you can do once you're up in the air aside from controlling your own environment with tools like noise-canceling headphones, Hobica advises communicating with fellow passengers and exercising kindness to de-escalate a situation versus fanning the flames. 
(Getty Images)

Acting rudely or aggressively toward flight attendants.
"Most people are doing their best. That goes for airline staff and passengers," Maughan says. To the extent that passengers can defuse a situation by treating their neighbors with dignity and respect, they can make for a more comfortable trip and avoid the risk of having to divert the plane, he says. "A few kind words can de-escalate a situation," he adds. Tim Winship, editor and publisher of FrequentFlier.com, says even if you're well-prepared, nothing is going to "make holiday flying a breeze. So relax. Expect travel to be stressful," he advises. "And hope that other travelers do the same."
(Getty Images)

Smuggling smelly food on to the plane.
Instead of settling into your seat with a greasy meal in tow, Hobica advises enjoying your food on the ground to prevent disrupting fellow fliers. In fact, 30 percent of respondents to Expedia's survey recorded "pungent foodies" as top etiquette offenders. Rather than disgusting your fellow fliers, skip bringing odorous meals or snacks in your carry-on. 
(Getty Images)

Overstuffing the overhead bin.
Rather than trying to cram a bulky suitcase into an overhead bin a few rows away from your seat, consider your fellow fliers and their needs, and whether you're encroaching on their limited space. Expedia found that 32 percent of participants consider "overhead bin inconsiderate" behavior to be among the worst flier characteristics. Many passengers get very irritated by limited cabin space, Maughan says. If plenty of overhead storage space is an important component of overall comfort, consider splurging for priority boarding, he advises. It's also critical to be mindful of others when boarding by not shuffling through your bag when you arrive at your row and stalling the passengers behind you or overcrowding the overhead bin with smaller carry-on items such as backpacks, which not only take up plenty of storage space but can also make overhead bins more difficult to close.
(Getty Images)

Health problem on an airplane
Businessman checking damp armpit. Deodorant not working it seems!
Nuisance
Adult couple traveling in an airplane
Passengers boarding a plane
Jet Passenger Grips Armrest from Fear
Frustration
Meal in the airplane.
mature businessman putting luggage into overhead locker on airplane

Avoid agitating fellow fliers this travel season.
Forget about your occasional armrest hogs or fussy baby. These days, sitting next to seat kickers, intoxicated passengers and fliers with poor hygiene has become a new reality for travelers. And with the holidays just around the corner, a time when many of us will take to the friendly skies, dealing with irritating behaviors on top of already cramped cabins and steep airfare is enough to bring our rising frustrations to a boil. From trying to dodge the person's smelly feet next to you to tuning out the seat recliner in front of you, let's be honest: It's tough to avoid disturbances at 35,000 feet. But here's the silver lining: At least you can rest assured that you're not one of these headache-inducing fliers. Here are eight common ways people alienate fellow passengers, plus simple ways you can avoid being a frustrating or flat-out disrespectful seatmate this holiday.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Skipping a shower before your flight.
Bad hygiene is the leading frustration among 520 adults who flew the previous year, according to a recent Airline Pain Index study conducted by analytics company Qualtrics. In fact, 45 percent of participants reported poor hygiene as a top aggravator. To avoid irking everyone breathing the same recirculated cabin air, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, cautions to not only take care of personal hygiene but also to avoid putting your foot on another person's armrest or doing any kind of personal in-flight grooming.
(Getty Images)

Kicking the person's seat in front of you.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 35 percent of fliers who participated in the Qualtrics study reported seat kickers as a top infuriating in-flight behavior. Expedia's 2015 Airplane Etiquette Study also found that 61 percent of the 1,019 participants rated rear-seat kicking as the most agitating trait among fellow fliers.
(Getty Images)

Indulging in one too many cocktails at high altitude.
Sitting next to an intoxicated passenger is a significant pain point among fliers. In fact, 35 percent of Qualtrics survey participants cited belligerent passengers as the leading culprit of bothersome behavior. And 45 percent of participants named intoxicated fliers the most offensive seatmate. Before you consider ordering numerous cocktails for a long-haul flight, keep in mind that altitude can elevate the effects of alcohol, Hobica says. While some experts contend that the lower level of oxygen in the air at high altitudes can trigger fatigue and impact cognitive ability (but that alcohol is not absorbed faster into the bloodstream), others suggest that the effects of alcohol on cognitive ability are elevated in the air.  
(Getty Images)

Being unwilling to switch seats with fellow fliers.
"It's interesting that passengers say they're not annoyed when asked to change seats with someone else," says Mike Maughan, head of brand growth and global insights at Qualtrics. In fact, the study revealed that nearly half of fliers are not inconvenienced by changing seats upon request. Maughan emphasizes general communication and common courtesy as key ways to uphold decent in-flight etiquette. And Hobica advises staying flexible and being willing to change seats not only to be polite to elderly passengers or parents who want to sit with their kids but also to prevent unnecessarily stalling your flight.
(Getty Images)

Insisting on hogging the armrest.
As a general courtesy, "the middle-seat person gets the armrest," Hobica says. Rather than elbowing your neighbor in a squished cabin, exercise manners and give the extra inches of space to the poor passenger stuck in the undesirable middle seat. He also advises staying conscientious of fellow fliers by respecting boundaries and not taking up extra space across the armrest. "Be courteous," Maughan says. And if extra space is most important to you, consider springing for a premium-economy seat for added legroom, he says. While there's not much you can do once you're up in the air aside from controlling your own environment with tools like noise-canceling headphones, Hobica advises communicating with fellow passengers and exercising kindness to de-escalate a situation versus fanning the flames. 
(Getty Images)

Acting rudely or aggressively toward flight attendants.
"Most people are doing their best. That goes for airline staff and passengers," Maughan says. To the extent that passengers can defuse a situation by treating their neighbors with dignity and respect, they can make for a more comfortable trip and avoid the risk of having to divert the plane, he says. "A few kind words can de-escalate a situation," he adds. Tim Winship, editor and publisher of FrequentFlier.com, says even if you're well-prepared, nothing is going to "make holiday flying a breeze. So relax. Expect travel to be stressful," he advises. "And hope that other travelers do the same."
(Getty Images)

Smuggling smelly food on to the plane.
Instead of settling into your seat with a greasy meal in tow, Hobica advises enjoying your food on the ground to prevent disrupting fellow fliers. In fact, 30 percent of respondents to Expedia's survey recorded "pungent foodies" as top etiquette offenders. Rather than disgusting your fellow fliers, skip bringing odorous meals or snacks in your carry-on. 
(Getty Images)

Overstuffing the overhead bin.
Rather than trying to cram a bulky suitcase into an overhead bin a few rows away from your seat, consider your fellow fliers and their needs, and whether you're encroaching on their limited space. Expedia found that 32 percent of participants consider "overhead bin inconsiderate" behavior to be among the worst flier characteristics. Many passengers get very irritated by limited cabin space, Maughan says. If plenty of overhead storage space is an important component of overall comfort, consider splurging for priority boarding, he advises. It's also critical to be mindful of others when boarding by not shuffling through your bag when you arrive at your row and stalling the passengers behind you or overcrowding the overhead bin with smaller carry-on items such as backpacks, which not only take up plenty of storage space but can also make overhead bins more difficult to close.
(Getty Images)

×

Tags: travel, Customs and Border Protection


Kyle McCarthy is the author of a dozen Frommer guidebooks, contributor to many publications, and is co-founder and editor of Family Travel Forum, the online community trusted by family vacation planners since 1996. Please use her Q&A @familytravel4um on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest and connect on LinkedIn.

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