NEW YORK – Summer travelers now have some help in figuring out how their vacation plans may be altered after the national terror alert status was raised this week.
The Transportation Security Administration (search) is offering a few tips for travelers for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend and summer months.
U.S. officials were concerned about raising the national terror alert because they didn't want to dissuade Americans from traveling during the busy weekend marking the beginning of summer, particularly since the nation's economy is down in the dumps.
But given the recent spate of Al Qaeda-linked terror attacks and intelligence information pointing to possible attacks on U.S. soil or against U.S. interests abroad, the Department of Homeland Security (search) on Tuesday raised the terror alert from yellow, or "elevated," to orange, meaning a "high" risk.
TSA on Wednesday released a set of guidelines on what people should do to get through the extra security:
Summer Campers — Check the summer camp's suggested supply list against TSA's prohibited item list so you're not stopped at the airport's security checkpoints if your child is flying to a camp destination. Items like pocketknives and scissors aren't permitted in carry-on bags. Parents and camp counselors also should call airlines early to ask if they can escort children to and from flight gates. Children under 18 aren't required to travel with identification.
Sporting Goods — Scuba tanks aren't allowed on commercial airlines. Travelers should ship the tanks or rent them at the destination. Fishing tackle and sports gear, such as bats and lacrosse sticks, must be checked. Gas containers for grills or stoves must be shipped separately and cannot be checked or carried onto a plane.
Fireworks — Fireworks aren't allowed on airplanes at all.
Lotions, Spray and Foods — Sun-tan lotion, bug repellant and other skin-care products can be carried on planes or packed in checked baggage, but travelers should check with their airlines before flying with aerosol canisters, since some are flammable. Some food products may need to be OK'd by security officials, so they should be packed in carry-on bags.
Packing Bags — Overstuffed bags are more difficult to close after they're opened by baggage screeners and could delay the screening process, so pack light.
Film — Undeveloped film should be packed in carry-on bags, since baggage screening equipment, which checks bags to be stored in the plane's hull, will damage or destroy undeveloped film.
Summer Clothes — Warm-weather clothes like sandals and light clothes are less likely to set off metal detectors than dress clothes or heavy winter garb. This means checkpoint lines may move faster in hot weather. Contact your airline for suggestions on how early to check in.
"There may be more random checks at the gates, more luggage searches," Fox News' homeland security correspondent Catherine Herridge said Wednesday. "These are very highly visible steps that are taken by cities and states."
The Department of Homeland Security says such an increase in visible security actually has a deterrent effect on would-be terrorists.
And despite the alerts, vacation spots are still ready and waiting for tourists.
"We're wide open, and open for business," said David Barna, spokesman for the National Park Service (search). "These parks are places that heal the spirit and provide solace."
Barna said it will be business as usual for most of the nation's over 330 public parks, but there will be some extra security patrols added to most sites.
In seven parks — the Washington Monument, the White House, Liberty Bell Pavilion and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Arch in St. Louis, Liberty Island and Ellis Island in New York City, USS Constitution in Boston and Federal Hall in Manhattan — where regular visitor screening already takes place, tourists will continue to be searched.
News of possible terror attacks may dampen what was beginning to look like a sunnier tourist forecast.
The Travel Industry Association of America (search) last week forecasted that Americans will take 275.4 million vacations at least 50 miles from home during June, July and August 2003 — a 2.5 percent increase over last summer.
Air travel is expected to be up 1 percent this summer, which may help the beleaguered airline industry. Auto travel will continue to be stronger than air, up more than 2 percent. RV travel is also likely to remain strong.
AAA estimates that 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend, up a slight 0.1 percent from last year.
Approximately 84 percent of all holiday travelers will likely travel by car, while 3.9 million, or 11 percent, plan to travel by airplane, down 2.5 percent from last Memorial Day.
"Given conditions just two months ago, with the U.S. at war, record-high gasoline prices and dismal consumer confidence, AAA is encouraged to see holiday travel return to 2002 levels," said AAA Travel Vice President Sandra Hughes.
People can visit the TSA Web site at www.tsatraveltips.us for more travel tips or call the TSA contact center toll-free at 1-866-289-9673.