No belt, slip on shoes, preferably no socks, no metal objects or rings or any other jewelry - this is the best attire for anyone who is boarding a flight today.
Most seasoned travelers also have a uniform way of packing, often learnt the hard way after being stared at on various occasions when they were required to pulled out objects from their pockets or bags. Their carry-on baggage will include minimal liquids, all packed in a clear plastic bag; while laptops, cameras and other gadgets are kept in handy pockets to be slid out for the scanners.
Security no longer means a slightly plump old man, casually checking if your name and face matched your ID. Security has now evolved into a serious business of preventing threats from multiple sources that seem to arise faster and grow deadlier by the day.
Perhaps it is the memory of the 'underwear bomber' last Christmas that has made people more receptive to the idea of full-body scanners, which are now used in about 20 U.S. airports. However, many objections over privacy and concerns over health remain.
The new federal security measures introduced in the U.S., including full-body scans, pat-downs, and intrusive searches, are vexing travelers headed home for the holidays.
Many local airports, however, are yet to upgrade their security systems beyond the basic requirements, which makes these checks more crucial.
Efforts also need to be made to ramp up security in the cargo areas. ABC Magazine reported last week that U.S. and Europe security officials are scrambling to stop an expected terror attack of some kind.
Two U.S.-bound packages containing explosives were intercepted late October in the cargo of a plane that originated from Yemen.
Earlier this week, the Al-Qaeda in its magazine 'Inspire' stated that it cost only $4,200 to sneak parcel bombs on flights. The insurgent group also gloated over the fact that the 'Operation Hemorrhage' forced U.S. to up their security spending and further hinder the flagging economy.
The U.S. has imposed a ban on cargo from Yemen and is considering an 'Air Cargo Security Act' that would result in the inspection of all U.S. Cargo terminals to ensure proper security.
Current measures now include screening of all high-risk packages, ban on toner and ink cartridges (which were used to disguise the explosive package) that are over 16 ounces and more screening of other goods.
However, experts wonder if these measures are sufficient, particularly in times of heavy travel and cargo shipments during the holiday season.
Other Woes This Holiday Season
Frequent fliers have also had to put up with other problems this holiday season. As the economy picks up, many carriers have hiked prices or included additional fees for checked bags, additional bags and every other conceivable thing.
Airfares are about 59 percent higher than last year for travel before Thanksgiving, and up to 40 percent higher for flights before Christmas, USA Today said in a report.
Airline carriers, who had cut flights during the economic recession, have not yet gotten comfortable with the rebound to reinstate those planes. Instead, they added more seats to each plane, as much as regulatory capacities allow.
Fewer flights also ensure that other remaining flights are full and prices are more competitive.
However, there is also an increased chance of delayed or canceled flights, thanks to the new rules adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation in April.
According to the new rules, airlines that leave passengers stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours face hefty fines of up to $27,000 per customer. The rules are aimed at poor handling of tarmac delays, arising from the incident in August 2009 when 47 passengers of a plane operated for Continental by ExpressJet were stranded for nearly six hours at an airport.
But in a time of fewer planes and tough weather conditions, the rules could have certain unexpected side effects
US Airways and Continental Airlines have both unveiled procedures to return the plane to the gate if it can't take off before the three-hour limit, LA Times reported in April.
In 2009, US Airways alone had 193 flights that were delayed more than three hours. If each had an average of 200 passengers, under the new rules, the fines could add up to more than $1 billion, the report said.
The real test, however, will be during the peak holiday season, which experiences severe winter conditions.
Travelers better be prepared to pay more for a tough and frustrating flight this holiday season.