The summer season is officially here, featuring sunny weather, beach days and the return of ice cream trucks. It also means an increase in travel plans and, unfortunately, an increase in crowds and the propensity for tension headaches at airports. This year, the TSA announced they are expecting a record amount of passengers over the course of the season, with an estimated high of 2.5 million passengers screened per day over the busiest periods, such as the July 4th holiday coming up this weekend. But while the notion of busy airports during the summer isn't really anything new, there are a number of contributing factors at work that are unique to 2017, with the potential to create a "perfect storm" of crowds and frustration.
Here, then, are 3 issues you need to be particularly aware of while flying:
Record Highs. Along with the TSA's predictions, AAA is also forecasting a "record-breaking" amount of travelers during the July 4th holiday weekend. They estimate 44.2 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home during this time, which is an increase of 1.25 million more travelers than the same time period last year. While this number represents car and water travel in addition to flying, the important point is that all forecasts agree that there will be record numbers of travelers. More people means more traffic, whether it's on the road or on foot waiting in line to get through an airport security checkpoint.
Travel Ban to Go into Effect (In Most Cases). On Monday, the Supreme Court lifted the stay on the Trump administration's January 27 executive order barring citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days. However, there is an exception to the ban. The ruling states the executive order "may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States." This means the ban will not apply to people with current green cards and students, for example. Last week, President Trump stated the ban would go into effect 72 hours after being cleared by courts, which would coincide with the July 4th holiday if that still holds. Obviously, this news is still breaking and will take a long time to sort out. But it's safe to say there will be a lot of confusion and emotion in the coming days and weeks, not to mention an increased number of lawyers and news crews at airports.
TSA Testing New Procedures. Recently, the TSA announced they will be testing new screening procedures that require passengers to remove more items from their carry-on luggage while proceeding through airport security. In particular, all electronics larger than a cell phone will be placed in a separate bin for additional screening, with testing to be conducted at 10 airports including Boston, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Puerto Rico. Earlier this month, the TSA tested procedures that required the removal of books and other paper products from their carry-ons at airports in Missouri and California. While there are no certainties about the extent or expansion of these tests, travelers should be prepared for the possibility of encountering them.
And now, here are 3 ways to combat these issues and to minimize the stress of summer airports:
Trusted Traveler Programs. I signed up for the TSA PreCheck and Global Entry programs as soon as they were available, and I never pass up a chance to sing their praises. With TSA PreCheck, you get to keep your toiletries and laptops in your bag, and you don't have to take off your shoes. 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. A similar program is Clear, which is privately owned but sanctioned by the TSA. Clear is $179 per year, and members have their identity verified by fingerprint or iris scans before moving on to metal detectors and bag scanners. Clear also has the added bonus of being available at select baseball stadiums around the country. TSA PreCheck is currently available at over 180 airports nationwide, Global Entry at roughly 60 airports globally, and Clear at 20 airports nationwide, with the numbers for all three choices going up all the time.
Check What to Pack. If you are stuck waiting in a long security line, there isn't too much you can do to speed up the process. But one thing you can do is make sure you don't slow it down further. Even though the TSA is testing new procedures at some airports, it's important to remember that there are no changes to what is allowed in bags. Not only that, but it's easy to find out what is allowed, both in a carry-on and in checked luggage. The TSA has an extensive, printable list, and will also answer questions through Facebook or Twitter. If you are in doubt about an item (and consider what you might be bringing home as a souvenir, particularly if traveling internationally), don't be afraid to ask!
Allow for Extra Time. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to budget some extra time into your travel plans. Think it takes 2 hours to get to the airport and through security? Give yourself 2.5 hours. The TSA website, and their My TSA mobile app, allows you to check security wait times at various airports, and you can also crowd-source and use social media to check wait times. Also, sign up for flight updates. Or better yet, download an app like TripCase, which is a great all-in-one tool that helps you organize and manage all your trip information in one place, including any last-minute itinerary changes.
The bottom line is that a little extra planning and a little extra time goes a long way. That, combined with some extra patience, can make all the difference in the world.