Three ways to ease the psychic pain of air travel — and one new way that may make your pain worse

LOS ANGELES, CA, FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016 - Memorial Day weekend travelers line up at a TSA checkpoint a
Travelers line up at a TSA checkpoint at LAX.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Remember when flying used to be simple?

Me neither.

It’s always been fraught with drama about whether your luggage would arrive or the seemingly unending wait to get through U.S. Customs on a return trip.

There’s still drama, just in new and different ways. Here are four important changes, three of them good, one of them annoying, that could affect you when you fly.

  • You and your luggage may arrive at your destination together, thanks to new tracking.

Because I like wearing clothes, I like greeting my luggage. There have been times in my life when that wasn’t the case.

Enter the smartphone (again).

More than three-quarters of adult Americans own smartphones, according to a Pew Research Center study from January, up from 39% three years prior.

If you’re a traveler, the allure is simple: You can make your travel life easier.

Both American and Delta have apps, of course, but now you can track your baggage using those existing apps. Within the last year, Delta has introduced RFID (radio frequency identification) technology that helps you track your bag. Now, American has jumped on board.

Mishandled baggage — consumers tend to call it “lost,” but this category is about bags that have temporarily lost their way — dropped to its lowest point last year since the Bureau of Transportation Statistics began tracking in 1987. For every 1,000 passengers, 2.7 had bags that went astray.

The decline isn’t surprising, given that many people now carry on their luggage to avoid baggage fees.

But there is also a concerted effort by the International Air Transport Assn. to encourage tracking among its 500 member airlines, according to

The association’s Resolution 753, the website reported, “means that from June 2018, every piece of luggage will be tracked and accounted for, from check-in to passenger pickup.”

It’s good to know you and your socks and smalls are increasingly likely to be staying with you in the same city.

  • Your way through airport security has become a little more complicated.

Didn’t think that was possible? Say hello to the new rule governing electronics at LAX and nine other airports: You must take them out of your bag if they’re larger than a cellphone, the Transportation Security Administration has now mandated.

This applies to those who do not have TSA PreCheck, the expedited screening process ($85 for five years if you buy just TSA’s PreCheck, $100 for five years if you buy it as part of a Global Entry package, offered through U.S. Customs and Border Protection, that gives you PreCheck and expedited re-entry into the U.S.).

The new TSA requirements mean big cameras, iPads (even the mini), e-readers and laptops must be out of your carry-on bag for screening and in a separate bin.

The nine other airports: Idaho’s Boise, Colorado Springs, Detroit, Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Boston’s Logan, Texas’ Lubbock, Puerto Rico’s San Juan, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

  • But security may be a little less complicated if you’re willing to pay a little more.

Clear is another pay-for-it program that helps you get through the airport security process (including at LAX and several sports arenas) faster.

It is not PreCheck, but complements that program, said David Cohen, its chief administrative officer.

Instead, using biometrics that it collects at airport enrollment kiosks (fingerprints, face, irises), it verifies your identity, speeding you past the TSA document checker.

You still must go through security, but you don’t have to wait in line to get to the person who looks at you and your license (or whatever ID you’re using), then waves you toward the line where you dump your bags and walk through the screen machine.

The Clear program doesn’t replace PreCheck and vice versa, Cohen said, but about 70% of Clear members have both.

Clear isn’t in every airport — the company is focusing on the busiest airports and business hubs, Cohen said — but you will find it in such places as Dallas, Denver, New York, San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

It costs $15 a month; the first month is free. For $50 you can add a family member; your children younger than 18 get it for free.

If you’re a member of Delta SkyMiles loyalty program, it’s $99, and if you’re an elite flier, $79. If you’re the top elite Delta flier, it’s free. (Go to Delta’s Clear page for more info.)

You do not need an appointment.

  • This may be the best news of all: Here’s an app that can save you time and won’t cost you a dime.

And if it seems similar to a service you already pay for, you may be on your way to saving even more money.

It’s called Mobile Passport, and it’s designed “to save people time at Customs and passport control” when re-entering the U.S., said Hans Miller, chief executive of Airside Mobile, the developer and operator of Mobile Passport.

It takes just four steps after downloading the free app (Apple or Android), and it involves entering your passport number, taking a selfie and setting up your profile.

Then, when you return to the U.S. you use the “new trip section,” which includes the usual customs declarations questions.

When you land, you hit send and, Miller said, you'll have an encrypted QR code “that looks a lot like a mobile boarding pass.”

Once off the plane, you follow the signs for the Mobile Passport line, show your bar code and passport photo to an officer and and maybe answer a question or two (such as how was your trip or where were you born).

In all, Miller said, it takes 17 seconds versus the usual 90 seconds, which makes it about five times faster.

LAX was its 25th location (24 airports and Port Everglades cruise ship port), and more than 2 million people have signed up for it, he said.

If you have Global Entry, which gives you PreCheck and expedited exit through Customs, why would you need both?

Global Entry, remember, gives you a trusted traveler number, which means you have been verified by the U.S. government. If you have a name that’s often confused with the name of someone who is on the watch list, Global Entry may be worth your while.

Otherwise, if you don’t have a problem and have Global Entry only for its PreCheck benefit, you may be able to drop Global Entry, take only PreCheck ($85 versus $100 for Global Entry) and still get out of LAX quickly.

Who isn’t in favor of saving money and, especially right now, time spent at LAX?

Have a travel question or dilemma? Write to We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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