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TSA tells air travelers how to pack their bags to avoid delays

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The federal government is telling air travelers how to pack the bags they plan to check as it ramps up luggage screening during the holiday travel season.

James Loy, head of the Transportation Security Administration, said travelers should put toothbrushes and other personal belongings in plastic bags so screeners won't have to touch them. He said books should be spread out rather than stacked, and food and beverages are prohibited.

Food items, like cheese or chocolate, can be mistaken by bomb-detection machines, for explosives and would generate a so-called ``false positive.''

TSA screeners will hand-search all bags that give false positive readings.

Shoes should be packed last to make it easier for screeners to hand search luggage.

Bags should be left unlocked so the TSA won't have to force them open if they have to search them by hand. Loy recommended that people use cable ties or zip ties, which can be purchased at hardware stores and cut off easily. Passengers also were warned against putting film in checked bags, because screening equipment will damage it, and to leave gifts unwrapped should screening require them to be opened. Put scissors, pocket knives and other sharp items in checked bags; never carried on.

Loy traveled to Jacksonville, Fla., to make the announcement because the airport was one of the first to install an explosive detection system.

The TSA, created after the terrorist attacks, was given a Dec. 31 deadline by Congress to implement a program to screen all checked baggage for explosives. Lawmakers, fearing long lines and delays at airports, extended the deadline because some large airports weren't able to add SUV-sized bomb-detection machines to their existing bag management systems in time.

Installing the machines, which were in short supply, can require months of construction to shore up floors, add space and build power stations.

The TSA, though, says it will have some form of baggage-screening at as many as the nation's 429 commercial airports as possible before Jan. 1, agency spokesman Brian Turmail said.

Not all bags will be put through the big bomb-detection machines. Some will be screened by bomb-sniffing dogs, others hand-searched or checked with wands that detect explosives residue.

Steve van Beek, senior vice president of the Airports Council International-North America, an airport trade group, said he had concerns about liability for lost or stolen items.

``If something gets lost, what will the customer do?'' van Beek said.

The TSA has a customer response center in Washington that people can call in case something is lost or stolen, Turmail said.
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