Tips to prepare for busy Thanksgiving travel at airports

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, an estimated 53.4 million people will hit the road or catch a flight this Thanksgiving, up 13 percent from 2020 and bringing the volume to within 5 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

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TSA expects to screen about 20 million passengers during the Thanksgiving holiday. With the increase of travelers, TSA is preparing new enhanced detection technology to help lines move quicker. 

"We anticipate that travel may be very close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday, and we are staffed and prepared for the holiday travelers. We have deployed technologies that enhance detection capabilities and reduce physical contact. It's equally important that passengers are prepared with travel tips for the most efficient checkpoint experience," said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. "With overall vaccination rates improving nationwide and greater confidence in healthy travel, there will be more people traveling, so plan ahead, remain vigilant and practice kindness."

Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are usually the busiest travel days at airports, along with the following Sunday. 

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Travel volume this year is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels, but it is expected to be notably higher, TSA notes.

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. Wear a mask. Travelers, TSA personnel, and other aviation workers must wear a mask as prescribed by the federal mask mandate. Everyone in airports, bus and rail stations, passenger aircraft, public transportation, passenger railroads, and over-the-road buses operating on scheduled fixed-routes must wear masks. If a traveler does not bring a mask, a TSA officer will offer a mask to that individual at the screening checkpoint.
  2. 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.
  3. It's okay to bring hand sanitizer. TSA is currently allowing travelers to bring one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice. Passengers can expect all containers larger than 3.4 ounces will need to be screened separately, which will add some time to their checkpoint experience. Travelers also are permitted to bring alcohol wipes or anti-bacterial wipes in a carry-on, checked luggage, or both.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Get your questions answered before you head to the airport. Ask TSA. Travelers can get assistance in real-time 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.