- Know the rules. If you haven't flown for a few years, check out the TSA site (for U.S. travelers), which has information on the rules about everything from knitting needles to body piercings. The biggest change in the last few years is the restriction on liquids in carryons, but also expect to be required to take your shoes off (yes, everyone), pull your laptop out of your bag (if you're bringing one), and take off your jacket. You also have to pull your bag of liquids and gels out of your bag so that the screeners can see it. Knowing the rules allows you to be strategic. For example, I like to take my shoes off first and put them in the first bin with my jacket, so that I can quickly get re-dressed before collecting the rest of my belongings. I also put my laptop inbetween my shoes and my suitcase so I don't forget it.
- Dress comfortably, with a minimum of belt buckles, jewelry, and other metal items. Flights are really full now, which means you can't even hope to be seated next to an empty seat. You may want to dress in layers even though it means taking off your jacket, because flights always seem to be either too cold or too hot. Don't forget that you want comfortable shoes for walking through the airport, preferably ones that are easy to slip on and off. And wear socks if you don't want to walk through security barefoot.
- Pack strategically. Check your airline's website, because most are now charging for every single bag you check. You are generally allowed one carry-on bag and one briefcase or purse. Make sure the bag you're using for your carry-on is within the allowable size or you'll have to pay to check it. Also make sure that it's not so heavy that you can't lift it above your head to put it into the overhead compartment. I always put everything I think I want to bring in a pile, and then see what I can eliminate. It's really freeing to travel light.
- If you plan to shop, either leave space in your bag or bring a collapseable duffle with you. Even if you have to pay to check it, at least you won't have to buy another suitcase for your new stuff. I usually pack my laundry in the duffle and check that, keeping any new purchases in my carry-on. That way, if my luggage is delayed, I have an excuse not to do laundry, not a worry that my exciting new purchases won't find their way home.
- Don't check medicine, contact lens solutions, or anything else you will be lost without. Airlines do lose bags.
- Consider simplifying your beauty routine while you're away. There really isn't room for your 25-step anti-aging regimen in that single plastic zip-top bag. Think about what you can do without. You can count on your hotel to have soap and shampoo (and often, a hair dryer). Rarely, they have conditioner, but I always brought some just in case. Most drugstores sell travel sizes of beauty basics, and Burt's Bees also has some nice starter kits. Because I flew so often, I kept my toiletries bag packed and left it in my suitcase. Whenever I got a free sample or a small-sized beauty product as a gift that I could use for traveling, I could just add it to the bag. When one of the little bottles got emptied, I refilled it from my full-sized supply. The Body Shop, Sephora, and other cosmetics stores will often give you trial sizes of products if you ask when you're making a purchase.
In the dozen-plus flights I had last year, I don't have a single security horror story to report, except that once I forgot a bag on the conveyor and had to retrieve it from the worried TSA agent who chased me down -- "I was just praying that it wouldn't blow up," she said. I have similarly well-traveled friends who like to argue with the agents on principle and exchange "My Worst Security Nightmare" stories, but I personally preferred breezing through the line and getting on with my life to that kind of drama.