The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it is prepared for sustained higher passenger volumes during the winter holiday travel season and expects airport security checkpoints to be busier this year compared to last year. To help travelers avoid security issues and lessen wait times, the agency also provided its top 10 tips to keep in mind before arriving at the airport.
The official end-of-the-year holiday travel period starts Thursday, Dec. 21, and will continue through Tuesday, Jan. 2. The busiest days are projected to be Thursday, Dec. 21; Friday, Dec. 29; and Monday, Jan. 1; when the agency will screen more than 2.5 million passengers each day, which is a 6% increase from 2022. The busiest day last year was Dec. 29, when TSA screened nearly 2.4 million passengers.
TSA screened nearly 30 million passengers during last month’s 12-day Thanksgiving holiday period and broke the record for most passengers in a single day on Nov. 26, screening more than 2.9 million passengers at security checkpoints nationwide.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said, “TSA’s continued success during this record year for travel is a direct result of teamwork, planning and professional execution across the agency, from our frontline employees to those behind the scenes; partnerships with airports and air carriers; and innovative checkpoint technologies that improve security effectiveness, efficiency, and the passenger experience.”
Top 10 Travel Tips
1. Pack smart by starting with an empty bag. Passengers who start packing with an empty bag are less likely to bring prohibited items through the checkpoint, which include firearms, explosives, fireworks, flammables, knives, razors, and replica weapons. To see if an item is prohibited, check the TSA website under “What Can I Bring?” or just text @AskTSA. If you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it, or pour it, then it is subject to the 3.4-ounce liquids rule limitation. As always, passengers may bring solid foods such as cakes and other baked goods through the TSA checkpoint, which are subject to screening.
2. Arrive early. The airport will be busy, so arrive two hours prior to your scheduled flight to allow for adequate time to park your car, return your rental car, or arrive via public transit or rideshare; check bags with the airline; and go through security screening before arriving at the gate.
3. Bring an acceptable ID and have it out in the screening lane. Before heading to the airport, travelers must make sure they have acceptable identification. At many checkpoints, the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) may ask you to insert your physical ID into one of the TSA’s Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) units, where a boarding pass is not needed.
The second generation of CAT, called CAT-2, is currently deployed at 25 airports and adds a camera and smartphone reader to the other CAT features. The camera captures a real-time photo of the traveler at the podium and compares the traveler’s photo on the identification credential against the in-person, real-time photo. Once the CAT-2 confirms the match, the TSO verifies and directs the traveler for appropriate security screening without ever exchanging a boarding pass. Photos are never stored or used for any other purpose than immediate identity verification. Passenger participation is voluntary, and if passengers choose not to have their photo taken, they may have their identity verified manually instead without losing their place in line. For more information on how TSA is using facial recognition technology to enhance security effectiveness, improve operational efficiency, and yield a more streamlined passenger experience, click here.
4. Ensure gifts are unwrapped and can be inspected. 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. Fully wrapped gifts may need to be opened if deemed necessary by a TSA officer. Another option is to place your unwrapped gifts in your checked bag. This includes snow globes, which are popular at this time of the year.
5. If you plan to travel with a firearm, you must properly pack it in a hard-sided, locked case in your checked bag and declare it with the airline at the ticket counter when checking in. Passengers are prohibited from packing firearms in carry-on luggage and bringing them to the airport security checkpoint and onboard aircraft. Bringing a firearm to a TSA checkpoint is expensive and time-consuming and can cause delays. The maximum civil penalty for bringing a firearm to a TSA checkpoint is nearly $15,000. Additionally, it will result in the loss of TSA PreCheck eligibility for up to five years. For more information on transporting firearms, click here.
6. Be aware of new checkpoint screening technology. TSA uses a variety of security methods and technologies to secure U.S. transportation systems. 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. CT units give TSOs the ability to review 3-D images of passengers’ bags, so passengers screened in security lanes with CT units do not need to remove their 3-1-1 liquids or laptops. With CT units, all travelers must place every carry-on item, including bags, into a bin for screening.
7. Travel with ease with TSA PreCheck and ensure you have the TSA PreCheck mark on your boarding pass. TSA’s traveler program now has more than 90 participating airlines, is available at more than 200 airports, and has two authorized enrollment providers. Those enrolled enjoy the benefits of faster checkpoint screening, typically waiting less than five minutes. For more information about the TSA PreCheck program, click here.
8. Call ahead to request passenger support. Travelers or families of passengers who need assistance may call the TSA Cares helpline toll-free at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours prior to travel with any questions about screening procedures and to find out what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares also arranges assistance at the checkpoint for travelers with specific needs.
9. Text or direct message the agency @ AskTSA. Get your questions answered before you head to the airport. Travelers can get assistance in real time by texting their question to #275-872 (“AskTSA”) or through @AskTSA on X (formerly known as Twitter) or Facebook Messenger. An automated virtual assistant is available 24/7, while staff is available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET daily, including holidays and weekends. Travelers may 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.
10. Follow TSO guidance. Some people may not have traveled recently, so it is important to listen to the direction provided by TSOs at the security checkpoint. There may be information on new technologies that help reduce touchpoints, or a TSO may redirect passengers to keep people moving through the screening process. If flying internationally, upon return to the United States, passengers will encounter a Customs and Border Protection officer to clear customs. Listen for their directions as well. Passengers may also need to have their baggage re-screened by a TSO to continue on to their final domestic destination. Airport and airline employees may also give guidance to help throughout the travel process.