Hello everyone. I want to write more on being here once I have... gotten a fuller and more balanced picture. I'll just put some travel advice on going to the States; please pass it along to whoever (whomever?) you think it may be useful.
TRAVEL ADVICE ON FLYING TO AND ENTERING THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA POST-AUG 10, 2006
*disclaimer: this is only based on my personal experience, travelling via United Airlines through Singapore, Hong Kong, Chicago and South Bend. It may not apply to everyone else, or at other times. Nevertheless, in case it may relate to you or your friends, I note them here.
1. Calling the airlines will result in very over-cautious advice on your luggage, including putting your iPods and cameras in checked-in luggage - which of course, will be risky for your valuables. As far as I noted for my flight, iPods, cameras, and laptop computers had no problems entering the United States, though at some checkpoints (like Singapore), you may be required to turn on your laptop in front of a security official.
2. Know your rights as to what you can carry with you in hand-luggage as well as carry-on luggage. Click on the Transportation Security Administration's website here. Note that if you have a Zippo lighter, keep it in checked baggage.
3. However, some airports may be a little tighter than this - such as carrying cough syrup within the regulations (less than 120ml for non-prescriptive medication). In such cases, be polite, but firm, and you may offer to drink a sample to verify that it isn't a harmful substance.
4. If you are provided a piece of paper stating the new regulations by the TSA/American security measures, usually published by the airlines, keep it handy and show it to the people at the gate if you have problems.
5. Have a roller-bag as a carry-on, that fits the regulation size. It'll be a real life-saver.
6. If may be best to have a lot of time in-between connecting flights. There are not only likely, but should be expected. Don't fly to Hong Kong if you can.
7. Take all the time you need at security check-points and ensure all your things are repacked properly. In Singapore, there will be at least three rounds of security and you may be asked to open your hand-luggage. Offer to open one section at a time and recommend to them the next section, eg. "This is the side compartment, where I have...". That way you are in control of the order in which your bag is checked, and can make sure it is in a way that you can put things back easily.
8. Note the names of customs officials that allow your baggage through eg. my 300+ CDs, and the time, in case some other official questions you.
9. Have the most important documents - passport, ID, university documents, tickets/boarding passes - on your person at all times. Not even in hand-luggage.
10. Have a complete change of clothing in your hand-luggage in case your baggage gets lost - more on this in a separate posting.
11. You will be allowed to carry a musical instrument in addition to your hand luggage, though if you are doing so it may be best to have your hand-carry include your laptop, if you have one. If you are carrying a musical instrument and don't want the case to bump up and down before and after the X-ray, inform the security official, and they will put it in such a way that it will generally be ok. Even in Hong Kong. In any case, put your hand-carry before your instrument, onto the X-ray.
12. Musicians, you may want to be cautious about rosin, metronomes and chromatic tuners. Or at least be prepared to demonstrate their use at checkpoints. At least for the rosin, it would be best in check-in, it's hard to prove what it is to people who don't know.
13. If you are a student in the States, be ready to write on the back of your I-94, even though it says that you shouldn't (you may be instructed upon arrival to write your I-20 or DS number in two places marked Intenary and Changes to...). Best advice? On the plane, ask for a second form and fill it out as such, then you're prepared either way at the port of arrival.
14. If you're asked to line up in row 32, pay attention to the other rows, where officials may yell at you to enter their rows instead.
15. Air stewards and stewardesses in this stressful period may be curt and perhaps even downright rude. Breathe deeply and let it pass. Then press the call button ten thousand times and ask them for whatever that exists in the pantry and beyond.
That's all I have for now. Take care, everyone.