TSA Issues New Travel Guidance Ahead of "Busiest Ever" Holiday Season
The agency has a few reminders for travelers flying over the next couple months.
There are few places that strike fear in our hearts more than the airport over the holidays. Security lines and planes become even more crowded than usual, as an overwhelming rush of passengers venture out to gather with loved ones. But while it's a known fact that the holidays are tough for travel, the 2023 holiday season is likely to be the "busiest ever," according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). To prepare passengers, the agency issued new guidance ahead of the Thanksgiving travel period, which begins this Friday, Nov. 17. Read on to find out what TSA wants you to know.
Nov. 26 is slated to be the busiest travel day.
The Thanksgiving travel period spans 12 days, running through Nov. 28—but typically, most travelers fly on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Turkey Day and the Sunday after, per a Nov. 13 press release. This year, TSA anticipates that the post-Thanksgiving Sunday, Nov. 26, will be the busiest, with 2.9 million passengers screened at U.S. airports.
If these predictions are accurate, it would dethrone June 30, 2023, which currently holds the record for heaviest passenger screening volume in TSA history.
"We expect this holiday season to be our busiest ever. In 2023, we have already seen seven of the top 10 busiest travel days in TSA's history," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in the press release. "We are ready for the anticipated volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to make sure we are prepared for this busy holiday travel season. We will also do our best to maintain wait time standards of under 10 minutes for TSA PreCheck lanes and under 30 minutes for standard screening lanes."
He continued, "I am grateful for our dedicated employees who continue to remain vigilant and focused on the mission during this holiday travel season and beyond."
While TSA is doing its part to prepare for the influx of travelers, if you're planning to fly out for Thanksgiving, make sure you take a few steps before arriving at the airport.
Be mindful when you're packing.
Do you tend to frantically pack at the last minute? You might want to get an earlier start than normal this holiday season.
TSA recommends beginning with a completely empty bag, which means you're less likely to accidentally bring prohibited items. If you're packing something for the Thanksgiving feast, keep in mind that you can't bring anything that might be considered a liquid, namely cranberry sauce, wine, gravy, jams, and preserves.
If you're traveling with a firearm, the agency also reminds you that it needs to be stowed "in a hard-sided, locked case" and kept in checked luggage. When you get to the airport, you must declare the firearm with the airline at the ticket counter when you check in.
Taking a firearm through security "is expensive and time-consuming and can cause delays," TSA warns, noting that it could leave you with a maximum civil penalty of $15,000 and a loss of your TSA PreCheck eligibility for five years.
Get there early and be prepared for new screening procedures.
Because the airport is likely to be busier than usual, TSA suggests arriving earlier—about two hours before your scheduled flight. This will also give you extra time at the security checkpoint, where you might be met with new screening technology.
"Screening protocols vary from airport to airport, depending on available technology and the current threat environment," the press release reads. "Some airports have installed new state-of-the-art Computed Tomography (CT) scanners which significantly improve threat detection capabilities for carry-on bags and reduce physical searches of bag contents for prohibited items."
The agency adds that these units capture 3D images, meaning you can leave your liquids and laptop in your bag.
Make sure you have a valid ID.
Regardless of the airport you're flying out of or the airline you're flying with, double-check that you have proper identification out and ready to go. You might be asked to put your physical ID in a Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) unit. If your airport has CAT-2 machines (the second generation), you might also be prompted to have your photo taken, with the real-time image used to compare against the photo on your ID.
TSA notes that photos aren't stored and the process is voluntary—you can decline to have your photo taken and instead have your identity verified manually without losing your place in line. Also, if you're enrolled in TSA PreCheck, make sure that your Known Traveler Number (KTN) and your date of birth are included on your airline reservation to ensure you don't run into any verification issues.
Ask questions ahead of time—and show your thanks while at the airport.
TSA makes it fairly simple to get answers or request assistance before you travel. If you require passenger support or help going through the checkpoint, you can call the TSA Cares helpline at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours ahead of your flight.
For other questions, text TSA at #275-872 (AskTSA), reach out on Facebook Messenger, or pose your query on X and tag @AskTSA. If you prefer to call, you can reach the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673.
When you do get to the airport and interact with airport employees, take a second to say thank you, per TSA's suggestion.
"[Transportation Security Officers] complete about 200 hours of training to become certified and are committed to transportation security while ensuring all travelers are treated with respect and courtesy," the release reads. "Pack an extra dose of patience, especially during higher passenger volume travel days, and show gratitude to those who are working diligently over the holidays and every day to get everyone to their destinations safely."