2018 is shaping up to be the year of record-breaking travel. During the summer travel season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 253 million passengers, including over 2.6 million per day at its height, which was roughly 6% more than the same time period in 2017. And now it looks like the same thing is happening with Thanksgiving, as the TSA is predicting the busiest travel season on record. From November 16th - 26th, the TSA is expecting 25 million passengers, an increase of 5 percent from last year. The busiest day is projected to be Sunday, November 25th, when an estimated 2.7 million passengers are expected to travel, followed by Wednesday, November 21st. The lightest travel day during the Thanksgiving holiday period is Thanksgiving itself: Thursday, November 22nd.
Earlier this week, TSA Administrator David Pekoske, as well as executives from Airlines for America, Airports Council International-North America, the American Association of Airport Executives and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport held a briefing on what to expect during this Thanksgiving (and ongoing winter holiday) travel season. They announced statistical forecasts, shared preparations, provided updates on the latest procedures and offered tips to travelers. Here, then, are 6 things you need to know:
TSA, Airline and Airport Prep. Multiple agencies, groups and companies are working together collectively to focus on passengers. The TSA is adding over 1,200 officers and over 80 Passenger Screening Canine teams to support the surge. They will also be placing officers at the beginning of non-PreCheck security lanes in order to assist non-frequent travelers that may need extra guidance facilitating the security process. Additionally, airlines will provide representatives at checkpoints in order to provide support and answer questions. Plus, airlines are adding 158,000 seats every day in order to accommodate the increase in travelers.
New Screening Technology. There are a number of new screening technologies in place that are designed to enhance both security and the travel experience. Right now, over a dozen airports have automated screening lanes, which cuts down on the time travelers have to spend in security, and 16 airports have computed tomography, which uses 3D scanners that allow officers to rotate color images digitally, in order to inspect an object without unpacking a carry-on bag. Finally, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has become the first U.S. airport to utilize biometric technology, which is designed to reduce the need for physical forms of identification by using facial images and fingerprints to verify passenger identity.
Enhanced TSA Procedures. Since this summer, a number of enhanced screening measures for carry-on baggage have taken effect. These measures require travelers to place all personal electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening in standard lanes, which include laptops, tablets, e-readers and handheld game consoles. The TSA may also ask travelers to remove food from their carry-ons for extra screening, and have also increased focus on powders, such as baby powder, powder makeup, protein or energy powders and dry spices. Like food, these powders could be subject to extra screening and travelers should be prepared to remove them from their bags.
Biggest To-Dos Involve Time Management. As is the case during every busy travel period, the biggest tip is to give yourself extra time. Extra time to get to the airport. Extra time to park the car and/or take the AirTran. And of course, extra time to get through security. And one of the biggest things you can do to get through security more quickly is to enroll in a Trusted Traveler program, such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. With TSA PreCheck, you don't have to take off your shoes, jackets or belts, and you get to keep your toiletries and laptops in your bag. TSA PreCheck is $85 for 5 years and is good for domestic travel, and if flying internationally, Global Entry is the way to go. Global Entry costs $100 for 5 years and offers a similar expedited process to get through customs. Furthermore, if you get Global Entry, then TSA PreCheck is included.
Traveler Preparedness. Conversely from the above, one of the biggest hold-ups in security lines comes from travelers bringing things through security that are not allowed - not only does it cause the process to slow down, but it also creates a lot of anxiety for travelers. The best thing you can do is to contact the TSA ahead of time and ask questions. The TSA has an extensive, printable list that clearly distinguishes what items are allowed and the rules for both checked and carry-on baggage. You can also snap a picture or send a question to AskTSA on Facebook Messenger or Twitter - as a bonus, they tend to respond in less than 30 minutes.
Security Wait Times and the Future. Not surprisingly, the biggest complaint in recent years is the length of time spent in line at airport security checkpoints. But recent initiatives (such as all of the above) are starting to pay off. This summer, the average wait time in non-PreCheck lanes was less than 20 minutes. And while the lines in PreCheck lanes can sometimes be longer than non-PreCheck lanes, it's important to remember that they move faster.
Plus, in the Q/A period for the TSA briefing, David Pekoske stated that, after the holidays, the TSA expects to increase the speed of PreCheck lanes by doing things like adding more lines where possible and/or changing internal procedures. Who knows - by this time next year, our holiday travel predictions may focus less on stress and more on the fun of travel. That would really be something to be thankful for.