This Thanksgiving holiday period, from November 22 through December 2, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened a recording-breaking 26 million travelers. On December 1, the TSA screened more than 2.87 million travelers, making it the busiest day the TSA has experienced in the entire 18-year history of the agency. In fact, the TSA has handled annual passenger growth of roughly 1.4 percent the last few years, and so it's not surprising that 10 of its busiest days have occurred in 2019. But the year isn't over yet. As the December holiday season begins, the trend is set to continue. From TSA and airline preparation to packing tips and how to navigate security checkpoints, here are six things you need to know.
1. High Volume Season Predicted
The TSA has forecast that 42 million travelers will go through airport security checkpoints between December 19 and January 5, which would be a 3.9 percent increase from the winter holiday period last year. The trade association Airlines for America (A4A) has an even higher estimate, with 47.5 million passengers expected to fly on U.S. airlines. A4A anticipates daily volumes of 2.2 to 3 million passengers, with December 26 and 27 among the worst days to fly, while December 24, 25, and 31 are predicted to be the among the lightest traveled days.
2. Airline and Airport Preparation
Airlines will offer 884 more daily flights than normal and 88,000 additional seats daily to accommodate the additional passengers. As was the case for Thanksgiving travel, the TSA is able to monitor where crowds are expected and stands ready to deploy extra staffing and technology where needed. In response to the estimated crowds, TSA administrator David Pekoske said, "Year after year, season after season, [the TSA workforce] rise[s] to the occasion to get each and every traveler securely to their holiday destination, even with increasing volume."
3. Allow Extra Time
As always, the first tip the TSA provides for getting through check in and the security screening process more smoothly is to allow yourself plenty of time. It recommends getting to the airport two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights, but it's also a good idea to incorporate extra time for getting to the airport as well. For the security screening process in particular, the TSA is reminding travelers that they need to place all personal electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening in standard lanes, including laptops, tablets, e-readers, and handheld game consoles. Officials might also ask travelers to separate items such as food and powders for separate screening -- all of which takes extra time.
4. Holiday Packing
The TSA has posted notes on holiday packing on the Travel Tips section of its site, detailing what can and cannot be packed in a carry-on and checked bag, and some of it might be surprising. For example, plants are allowed as a carry-on, as long as they fit under your seat or in the overhead compartment, as are Hanukkah candles and strings of lights. Fruitcake and sufganiyot (Hanukkah jelly doughnuts) are allowed in a carry-on and so are snow globes, although the liquid in the latter must adhere to the 3-1-1 rule. The TSA has an extensive, printable list that distinguishes what items are allowed and the rules for both checked and carry-on baggage. Additionally, you can also send questions to AskTSA on Facebook Messenger or Twitter; AskTSA has also added "a new virtual assistance feature and now is able to provide automated responses to frequently asked questions every day, 24 hours a day."
5. Trusted Traveler Programs
As always, one of the biggest things you can do to get through security checkpoints more quickly is to enroll in a Trusted Traveler program, such as TSA PreCheck and Clear. Using biometrics, Clear provides accelerated screening in those lanes that check IDs and boarding passes before the security lanes. With TSA PreCheck, you can keep your shoes, jackets, and belts on as you go through security, and you get to keep your toiletries and laptops in your bag. Further, for airports that are not offering dedicated PreCheck lanes, the TSA is beginning to offer blended lanes, where PreCheck members can still experience program benefits even though they may be in line with non-members. Every year, Ovation updates an overview and comparison of the most popular Trusted Traveler Programs for our clients; you can download that here.
6. REAL ID Act Reminders
For the past few months, airports have begun posting signs and verbally advising travelers of the importance of the Real ID Act and preparing for its full enforcement, which will occur on October 1, 2020. First passed by Congress in 2005, the Real ID Act establishes minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards. This means that regular driver's licenses will no longer be accepted to get through airport security checkpoints to board planes at that time. For detailed information about the Real ID Act, including compliance status for individual states/territories, TSA-accepted IDs, and the process for getting a Real ID compliant license or state ID, click here.
Finally, as Pekoske stated recently, "I continue to be impressed by [TSA officers'] hard work and dedication to the mission. I am also thankful for our industry partners, including the airports and airlines, who work side by side with us to ensure we [are] prepared not only for this holiday season but every day." And that is certainly something to celebrate.