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Tracy Christoph Headshot

How A Kiwi Fruit Led To My Biggest Airport Security Snafu

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"If you look closely, you'll see kiwi fuzz," I tried to explain and apologize to the TSA official all at once.

It was a hot summer weekend and my family and I had ventured to a water park to cool off for a bit and have some fun. We had a wonderful day full of sun, waves and snacks. The next morning, as I was rushing off to work, I forgot to check my purse before heading to the airport.

Thinking I would breeze through the employee security line, I was surprised when I was suddenly stopped by TSA. The official politely looked through my purse and at the bottom he found the small knife that I had used to cut kiwi fruit during the previous day's outing. I was completely mortified!

No matter how often you travel, even if you are a professional like me, it's important to cover your bases before heading to the airport. Preparedness is truly your best friend when you travel, and is the key to a stress-free trip. Here are some of the best practices and travel etiquette tips that I've learned from my 20 years in the airline industry.

Before you leave home:
Bypassing the ticketing counter saves time, so check in online and print your boarding pass at home if possible, especially if you aren't checking bags. Some airlines even reward customers for checking-in in advance or offer extras online before your trip (with JetBlue, you can earn 100 TrueBlue points for checking-in on Facebook Places with its Go Places).

Remember not to pack any bottles of liquid larger than 3.4 ounces in your carry-on. Gather all of your important travel documents in one convenient place. I love my travel wallet, which has slots for my family's passports, tickets and itinerary information. It fits nicely in my purse and I'm not sifting through my bag looking for stray papers.

Plan to arrive at the airport early! It seems so simple, but it is my number-one rule for stress-free travel.

Speeding through the security line, hassle free:
It's all about saving time. Ladies, limit the jewelry you wear. If you are leaving your house at 4 a.m. to make an early flight, put that beautiful necklace and belt in your purse. If you wear them through security, you'll just have to take them off and you'll slow yourself down (and everyone in line behind you). Once you sail through the lines, you can put all your accessories on at the gate.

Also, be mindful of laptops. Make sure they're easily accessible, since you'll have to take them out of your bag in the security line. Slip-on shoes save time too! Who wants to deal with laces anyway when there's a line of people piling up behind you?

Just before boarding:
Water! It's so important to stay hydrated while flying. Airlines provide water, and with JetBlue you have unlimited drinks and snacks, but it's always good to keep some extra on you regardless.

Before boarding the plane, retrieve all items out of your carry-on bag that you'll want to have handy during the flight. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I always see people scrambling at the last minute with the overhead compartment, trying to take out books or snacks.

Speaking of snacks, nuts and animal crackers are great travel foods. You want to find things that are light and high in protein. Stay away from sodium and carbohydrates because they will zap your energy. A piece of fruit is a great treat to bring along as well.

Now that you're on the plane, remember the Golden Rule:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Travelers often ask me about some seemingly simple aspects of airplane etiquette. These may seem like small points, but they can make a difference in the comfort and ease of your travel experience:

Who gets the armrest? Everyone has access to at least one armrest. But how do you determine which one is yours? On JetBlue and some other airlines, the armrest that controls your personal television is for your arm. If there's an armrest in question, I always err on the side of letting my seat partner get first dibs.

Window shade up or down? If you're not in the window seat, you can't control the shade without asking your seatmate. Someone may want to sleep and keep it lowered for shade, or if they are awake, they may want to keep it up to watch the takeoff and landing. If you really don't have a preference, respect someone else's wishes. If you're in the middle seat, though, and the sun is in your eyes, it's OK to ask the person in the window seat if they wouldn't mind lowering the shade. You can even ask your flight attendant to help facilitate if you're too shy.

Which overhead bin should I use? Try to stow your luggage in the overhead space directly above your seat. If there's no room, check the one directly behind or in front. If the front one is available, take advantage! If you can grab your bag as you walk off the plane, rather than having to walk back and hold up the line, it will help speed up the deplaning process.

What do you do about a chatty seatmate? While it is certainly nice to have a pleasant, engaging seatmate, sometimes you just want to rest or get some work done while on a flight. My biggest tip: "show and tell." If your neighbor has started up a conversation, but you really want to read, just take out a book or headphones -- he or she will get the hint.

I was recently traveling and my seatmate was a very kind, chatty fellow. He definitely wanted to talk, but I was just exhausted! I had been up since 3 a.m., and I wanted to fit in some sleep and get some school work done (I'm currently studying at the University of Richmond). As soon as the flight took off, I pulled out my laptop and didn't have to cut him off -- he could see that I was busy.

In the end, the best thing I've learned from my time in the air, both professionally and leisurely, is remembering that a trip is temporary. Make the most of your 35,000-foot-high journey! A polite question or request will always get you far. And who knows, you might even make a new friend or more!