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Holiday Travel: TSA Predicts Busiest Days and Offers Seasonal Travel Tips

The American Automobile Association (AAA) says more than 109 million people — an almost 34% increase from 2020 — will travel 50 miles or more as they hit the road, board airplanes or take other transportation out of town between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. AAA predicts that airlines will see a huge 184% increase from last year, as those who put off travels last December make the journey to reconnect with friends and family.

TSA screened just under 21 million travelers during the 10-day Thanksgiving holiday, with the Sunday after Thanksgiving resulting in the highest traveler numbers this year. As Christmas and New Year celebrations beckon, the agency says travelers should expect high passenger volume from Friday, December 17 through Monday, January 3, with the busiest days being Thursday, December 23 and Monday January 3. It is difficult to predict how much of an impact the Omicron variant will have on travel, but an uptick in passenger numbers will be seen nevertheless.

In order to help travel flow smoothly and safely this holiday season, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is reminding passengers to be prepared and take proactive action to avoid delays at the checkpoint.

As well as joining the expedited trusted traveler program, PreCheck, passengers can help by arriving early at the checkpoint – TSA recommends two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight – or by being flexible with their flight bookings and avoiding the busiest periods at airports, which are usually 5am-7am and 4pm-6pm.

Travelers can also help by packing smart. This means checking you don’t have a firearm in your bag when you load it up with festive sweaters and gifts for friends and family, and also being aware that TSA officers may need to unwrap gifts to check the contents. To avoid your expertly curled ribbons being spoiled, and to allow TSA officers access to the items you carry, gift bags and boxes rather than gift wrap are recommended. Also remember the liquid rule. Containers larger than 100ml, regardless of the amount inside, must go in your checked baggage.

Foods may be transported on flights. Solid food items like fruitcake, candy canes and chocolates are solid and may be transported in a carry-on bag. However, liquids and spreadable foods such as egg nog, wine, champagne, maple syrup and preserves are not solid and should be packed in checked bags.

How about snow globes? These should be packed in a checked bag if the globe of water contains more than 3.4 ounces of liquid. As a rule of thumb, if the globe is smaller than a tennis ball, it is less than 3.4 ounces and so it is permitted to be carried through a checkpoint. Just pack those larger snow globes in a checked bag.

Visit TSA’s useful What Can I Bring page before you leave you home if there is something you are not sure about. Travelers can also ask TSA a question on Twitter or Facebook Messenger at @AskTSA.

Finally, travelers, TSA personnel and other individuals who work in the airports are required to continue to wear a mask as prescribed by the federal mask mandate when they are in airports, bus and rail stations, as well as while on passenger aircraft, public transportation, passenger railroads, and over-the-road buses operating on scheduled fixed-routes. This means that all travelers must be wearing a mask at TSA airport screening checkpoints and throughout the airport and during their flights. If you forget your mask, a TSA officer will offer one at the checkpoint.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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