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TSA Recommends 10 Things to Do Before Flying in New Winter Warning

It's shaping up to be an exceptionally busy winter travel season, particularly around the holidays.

Let's face it, travel during the holidays has always been hard—but since the COVID-19 pandemic, air travel at this time of year has reached a new level of stress-inducing. So many of us are flying to see loved ones after we missed gatherings in years past, and even though we know the holiday travel season is consistently busy, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says 2023 is record-breaking in terms of passenger volume.

According to a Dec. 19 press release, over the Thanksgiving holiday period, TSA broke the record for the most passengers in a single day, with over 2.9 million travelers going through checkpoints on Nov. 26. The agency also expects that on Dec. 21, Dec. 29, and Jan. 1, 2024, they will screen more than 2.5 million passengers a day, accounting for a 6 percent increase from last year's numbers.

With these stats in mind, TSA is bracing itself for an influx of travelers. To ensure things run smoothly, they need you to do a few things before flying, too. Read on to find out which 10 items you need to check off your travel to-do list this winter.

RELATED: TSA Issues New Warning About What to Pack Ahead of Holiday Travel.

Start with an empty bag.

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable woman packing her things into a suitcase at home before travelling

To avoid accidentally bringing any prohibited items to a checkpoint, do yourself a favor and start packing with an empty bag, per guidance listed in TSA's Dec. 19 press release.

Not sure if your signature fruit cake can come along with your carry-on? Check out TSA's nifty What Can I Bring? tool, which allows you to search for specific items. (Spoiler alert: Cakes and pies are permitted!)

Get there early.

people arriving at the airport early pulling suitcases
stockphoto mania / Shutterstock

If you're a nervous traveler, chances are you show up at the airport with plenty of time to spare. But if you tend to live life on the edge, the winter holidays are not the time to try and race through the airport. TSA recommends arriving at least two hours ahead of your flight so you have time to park or return a rental car, check bags, and get through security.

RELATED: 7 Airport Security Mistakes You're Making That Add More Time, Experts Say.

Make sure you have an acceptable ID ready to go.

tsa agent checking id
everythingforall / Shutterstock

You'll need an acceptable form of identification to get through security. As a timesaver, if your airport has Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) units, you can just hand your ID over to a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) without worrying about pulling out your boarding pass.

The second generation of CAT, CAT-2 units, are installed at 25 airports, and use a camera and smartphone reader to verify your identity.

Wait to wrap your gifts.

woman unwrapping christmas present
Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock

Some of us really take pride in our gift-wrapping, so if you spend extra time cutting wrapping paper and tying intricate bows, wait to get fancy until you arrive at your destination.

"TSA encourages those traveling with gifts this holiday season to use gift bags that can be easily opened or gift boxes with lids that can be removed, so contents can be inspected if required," the press release reads. "Fully wrapped gifts may need to be opened if deemed necessary by a TSA officer."

If you're checking a bag, wrapped gifts are good to go in there, as are snow globes, which aren't allowed in carry-ons because of the liquid they contain.

RELATED: The 6 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make at Airport Security, Experts Say.

Be ready for new checkpoint screening technology.

traveler putting bag through airport security
Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock

Every airport is a little different when it comes to security, and TSA wants travelers to be aware that you might encounter something new during your travels. Some airports have new Computed Tomography (CT) scanners, which allow TSOs to review 3D images of bags, meaning you don't have to take out liquids or laptops.

Invest in TSA PreCheck ahead of time—and make sure your boarding pass shows it.

TSA airport security lines.

TSA PreCheck can help you save time at the airport, as TSA notes that most members of the program wait less than five minutes at the checkpoint. You can get a five-year membership for roughly $78, but you have to enroll online ahead of time and schedule an appointment for the in-person portion of the process.

If you already have PreCheck or are using it for the first time, make sure that your Known Traveler Number (which you receive when you're approved for the program) is on your boarding pass, along with your correct date of birth.

If you need help at the airport, call ahead.

Man on phone call with doctor's office

The holidays are going to be particularly hectic, especially at the airport. So, if you need help while traveling, make sure you get in touch with TSA Cares at least 72 hours ahead of time. TSA Cares can answer any questions and also arrange assistance for travelers who require special accommodations.

Know how to pack your firearm if you're traveling with one.

gun in storage case
PRESSLAB / Shutterstock

If you're traveling with a firearm this winter, be advised that it can never come through security. If you're stopped at a checkpoint with a firearm, you could end up missing your flight—and even worse, you might end up paying up to $15,000 in civil penalties.

According to TSA, firearms must be unloaded and packed in a hard-sided locked case in checked baggage. They also have to be declared at the airline counter when you check-in.

RELATED: 7 Surprising Items TSA May Flag You for at Airport Security.

Take advantage of TSA's support options.

A close up of a woman sitting at a table and using an iPhone
Shutterstock / Farknot Architect

Air travel can be overwhelming and complicated, so if you have questions, get them answered. Before you venture to the airport, reach out by texting your question to AskTSA (275-872) or communicate your question on social media via X or Facebook Messenger. There's also a TSA Contact Center with staff available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Listen to TSOs.

A TSA agent uses a metal detector to scan a male passenger at an airport security checkpoint

In the press release, TSA points out that some travelers might not have flown recently, so the agency is asking people to follow directions from TSOs at the checkpoint. As the screening process can be confusing, especially with new technology, TSOs "may redirect passengers to ensure we keep people moving through."

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Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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