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Holiday Flying: How to Beat the Wrap


Traveling for Christmas? With presents? You’ll want to read on for some good advice.


A couple of weeks ago, TravelGumbo offered advice on “flying through the airport.” We weren’t referring to the old Hertz commercials with OJ Simpson; we were talking about strategies for getting checked in and through security with minimum hassle.


If the TSA ever seemed like a bunch of Grinches, this holiday season is it: a firm warning not to wrap your presents before you go, because if the scanners don’t tell them that the package is a Rainbow Loom, or Raggedy Ann, or something they recognize, they’ll unwrap the presents before your grandkids or nieces get a chance. The gifts in the picture look gorgeous but might not survive a search!


And, of course, if the gifts are any kind of liquid or gel, they’ll need to be in checked baggage—the 3-1-1 rule is still with us, despite hints it may go away in the new year.


So, we have strategies for carrying your gifts without hassle—and suggestions on how not to carry them at all!


One of the biggest trends in retail today is the effort by brick-and-mortar chain stores to pull back customers from internet-only retailers by letting customers order on-line and pick up from a nearby store. But there’s no reason the store has to be near you: look for the branch that’s near your destination and pick up your gifts when you arrive.


A number of retailers, including Sears and Staples have had the service for years; Walmart is in, Target just joined in this fall, and nearly all the big electronic stores (BestBuy, Radio Shack, etc.) will let you order online and pick up at a store. You can even, in many cases, get your presents wrapped (usually for a charge). The big department stores like Target and Walmart will gift-wrap many items, as will Barnes and Noble books.


1024px-Amazon_Locker_at_Baltoro,_345_West_42nd_st,_Manhattan_NYCBut even if you’re mainly an Amazon shopper, you can get in on order here, pick up there. Amazon has been rolling out Amazon Locker, a service that delivers your package to a locker at a store near you, such as a neighborhood grocery. When your package is in the locker, Amazon texts you a code that you use to open the locker. You have to time it right, though: you have 3 days to pick up the package. But you can specify a delivery date.


If you really, really want to carry the presents with you, take the no-gift-wrap seriously, and pack the gifts where they can be easily checked without dumping the rest of your suitcase. Avoid items with many small mechanical parts; they won’t have an easily recognizable x-ray profile.


One other way: the airport mall. Although airport prices are traditionally higher, in a number of cities (including Pittsburgh and Newark) the airport shops advertise regular area prices…and everything you buy after security is allowed on the plane, liquids and all. It’s been cleared. But remember: that’s going to be carry-on, and especially at holiday time, carry-on space is limited. Be kind to your fellow passengers, and Happy Holidays!



Newark 1



Photos: top and center: and Adam Matan, Wikimedia Commons; bottom:


Images (3)
  • Amazon Locker in Store (Adam Matan)
  • Pretty gifts (
  • Newark 1

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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Just a note of caution, if, as PHeymont suggests, the airport mall tempts you to pick up holiday cheer and other liquids, don't forget connections and possible second trips through security.  Just because you bought it at the airport doesn't mean they won't snag it if you have to leave airside to get to your connection.  I can imagine very well supplied TSA holiday parties courtesy of some chagrined passengers.

Thanks for the good information.  I would not have thought about  the airport mall, Amazon Locker or the big box stores.  Those are terrific ideas.  


I have given up on gift wrapping and just toss a few colorful gift bags and some tissue paper into my luggage.  Later, I put the gifts in the bags for the big "reveal" for the recipient.

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