How to prepare for busy Thanksgiving travel at airports

Nearly 55 million people will hit the road or catch a flight this Thanksgiving, up 1.5% percent from 2021 and getting close to levels seen before the pandemic.

As some of the busiest travel days are upon us, the Transportation Security Administration expects airport security checkpoints nationwide to be busy during Thanksgiving week.

According to AAA, nearly 55 million people will hit the road or catch a flight this Thanksgiving, up 1.5% percent from 2021 and getting close to levels seen before the pandemic. 

"This year is projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000," AAA said in a statement. 

TSA says that travel volumes have been notably higher leading up to the holiday, and they expect them to reach pre-pandemic levels. 

"We expect to be busier this year than last year at this time, and probably very close to pre-pandemic levels," said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. "We are prepared to handle the projected increase in travel volumes next week."

Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are usually the busiest travel days at airports, along with the following Sunday. As many as 2.5 million passengers are expected to be screened at airports nationwide on Wednesday, Nov. 23, and may surpass 2.5 million passengers on Sunday, Nov. 27.

Travelers are urged to arrive early and prepare for long lines. TSA recommends travelers get to the terminal with plenty of time before their scheduled flight. Airports like Denver International Airport are notifying flyers to arrive three hours early due to long lines and short staffing. 

TSA provides these tips to keep in mind while traveling:

  1. Pack smart. Prepare for security when packing and ensure that there are no prohibited items in baggage. Know which foods should go into a checked bag. Gravy, cranberry sauce, wine, jam, and preserves should all go into a checked bag because they are not solids. If you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, it's not a solid and should be packed in a checked bag. As always, passengers can bring solid foods such as cakes and other baked goods through the checkpoints.
  2. Enroll in or renew your TSA PreCheck membership. Individuals who obtained TSA PreCheck five years ago can now renew their membership online at a discount. Individuals who do not have TSA PreCheck should enroll now to get TSA PreCheck benefits, available at more than 200 U.S. airports. Travelers enrolled in a trusted traveler program, like TSA PreCheck, do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. TSA PreCheck membership is more valuable now than ever because it reduces touchpoints during the pandemic and puts travelers in security lines with fewer travelers and moves quicker, which encourages social distancing. Use the DHS trusted traveler comparison tool to find the trusted traveler program that best suits your travel needs.
  3. Request passenger support. Travelers or families of passengers with disabilities and/or medical conditions may call the TSA Cares helpline toll-free at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours before flying with any questions about screening policies, procedures, and finding out what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares also arranges assistance at the checkpoint.
  4. Get your questions answered before you head to the airport. Ask TSA. Travelers can get real-time assistance by submitting their questions and comments to @AskTSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger. Travelers can also reach the TSA Contact Center at 866-289-9673. Staff is available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends/holidays, and an automated service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  5. Ensure you have a proper ID. Before heading to the airport, travelers should make sure they have acceptable identification. Identity verification is an essential step in the security screening process.
  6. Remain aware. As a reminder, public awareness is critical for supporting TSA's security efforts. Travelers are encouraged to report suspicious activities and remember: If You See Something, Say Something.