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Arriving This Early Before Your Flight Is Now "Critical," Experts Warn

Amid high demand for travel, airline staffing shortages, and long TSA lines, prepare for a wait.

The many struggles at airports around the country have been well documented in recent months, as major airlines have seen delays and cancellations on a massive scale. In recent weeks alone, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines each canceled thousands of flights in high-profile snafus due in large part to staffing shortages brought on by the pandemic. All of the drama for passengers around the country is only expected to get worse in the coming weeks, with demand for holiday travel surging and airlines trying to beef up their employee rosters and trim their schedules in the hopes of minimizing disruptions. If you are scheduled to travel in the midst of the mayhem, you'll want to make a plan to move through the process as smoothly and proactively as possible to get where you're going. Read on to find out how early experts suggest you arrive for your holiday flights.

RELATED: Another Major Airline Just Said It's Cutting Flights for the Next 2 Months.

Experts recommend arriving two hours early for domestic flights this holiday season.

TSA screening line at airport

The ongoing circumstances mean you should be arriving at the airport with a much larger buffer of time than was necessary in the past, even for domestic flights. Now, both the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport officials around the country say travelers should plan to arrive two hours before a domestic flight.

Experts call this a "critical" tip, citing the huge demand for travel as well as long TSA screening lines. "Passengers should not cut it close or they could definitely miss their flight. We want to avoid any backlog at the TSA passenger screening checkpoint," Thomas R. Stoudt, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, told The Morning Call.

RELATED: The CDC Just Banned You From Bringing This on Flights.

The TSA app can help you gauge airport conditions and wait times.

Airport terminal crowded with travelers

In order to guarantee that you don't miss your flight—and miss Thanksgiving dinner with the family—always give yourself at least that two-hour buffer, experts say. But you can also get some help gauging wait times at your target airport by downloading the MyTSA app. In advance of your scheduled flight, you can check how busy the airport is likely to be on your specific day and time of travel based on historical data.

The holiday travel surge will slam into the airline staffing shortage.

A flight attendant grabbing a plastic water bottle during service on a flight

Consider that TSA data shows that 1,525,948 passengers passed through security checkpoints on Nov. 3, which is nearly two and a half times more than the 636,533 passengers recorded on the same day last year. That's a lot of people going through airports at a time when the whole industry is struggling to find enough workers. A large-scale staffing shortage happened after airlines slashed rosters early in the pandemic, encouraging employees to take buyouts or furlough arrangements. But the demand for travel roared back faster than expected and left a gap at a time when hiring is difficult and job seekers have choices.

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Expect travel disruptions, crowds, and oversold flights this season.

a crowded airport

Airlines are trying to mitigate disruptions through strategies like offering major perks to employees who work throughout the season, CNBC reports. But you're still likely to face hiccups, so pack your patience—and a few strategies of your own. If your flight is oversold, for instance, know how to negotiate: Never take the airline's first offer, experts say.

RELATED: Never Do This When Your Flight Is Canceled, Travel Expert Warns.

Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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