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TSA Predicts Busiest Holiday Travel Season Ever. Here’s How to Survive it.

By Lyndsey Matthews and Michelle Baran

Nov 25, 2019

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More than 26.8 million people are expected to pass through TSA checkpoints between November 22 and December 2, 2019.

Photo by Jim Lambert / Shutterstock

More than 26.8 million people are expected to pass through TSA checkpoints between November 22 and December 2, 2019.

Record-breaking crowds will pass through U.S. airports this Thanksgiving. Here’s how to get through airport security quickly with your sanity intact during this peak travel period.

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Following its busiest summer ever, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is preparing for what it predicts will be a record-breaking holiday travel season. Some 26.8 million travelers are expected to pass through the country’s airports this Thanksgiving holiday travel period between November 22 and December 2, 2019, up from 25.6 million passengers last year. On peak days, the agency said it could be screening as many as 2.8 million people in a single day. (The busiest days are predicted to be Wednesday, November 27, and Sunday, December 1, if you’re curious.)

Typically, TSA screens about 2.1 million people a day, but these higher-than-average numbers aren’t expected to go away anytime soon. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released figures last year indicating that the United States can expect 481 million new passengers to head into the skies by 2037, for a total of 1.3 billion U.S. fliers by then.

While this might make you want to rebook your vacation as a road trip, all it takes is a little preparation and some patience to make it through the airport security line quickly with your sanity intact. Here are some tips to keep in mind the next time you fly to make the whole process less stressful.

1. Enroll in TSA PreCheck

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If you haven’t already, the growing throng of air travelers may be the push you need to finally take the plunge and enroll in TSA PreCheck, Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck), and/or the security expediting service Clear. TSA reported in April that 93 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in security lines. Not only do you get access to what are usually shorter security lines, but TSA PreCheck members have the added benefit of not needing to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, or light jackets from their carry-on bags. You can apply for TSA PreCheck online, and the application fee is $85 for a five-year membership. You will need to complete an in-person interview at an enrollment center, and once approved you will have access to the TSA PreCheck lanes at the more than 200 airports that currently have them.

Wondering Why It’s Taking So Long to Get Your Global Entry? We Have Some Answers.

2. Know what you can bring through security

By now, you know you can only carry on liquids in containers 3.4 ounces or smaller, but did you know that if you freeze grandma’s gravy you can bring it on board? Check AFAR’s in-depth “TSA Holiday Food Rules” list to make sure what you’ve packed in your carry-on can pass through security. As of June 2018, foreign airports placed heavier scrutiny on travelers flying into the United States with more than 12 ounces of powder in their carry-on bags, per TSA’s advice. Skip the added screenings and check large amounts of powders, or leave them behind when flying internationally.

3. Get to the airport earlier than you’d think

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For travel this holiday season, the TSA recommends arriving up to two hours before domestic flights and up to three hours before international flights to give yourself enough time to get through long security lines. Even if you are a traveler who typically cuts it close, you may want to consider padding your airport arrival time.

4. Chug your water and make sure snacks are easy to remove

It’s easy to forget that you have a water bottle in your carry-on. Before getting into the airport security line, chug or dump that water to prevent additional delays. Travelers should also be prepared to be asked to remove all of their food from their carry-on bags for extra screening. The TSA implemented a new policy in 2017 intended to help X-ray operators get a clearer view of the contents in travelers’ carry-on bags; it allows them to ask fliers to remove food from their bags. If you’re traveling with any food, make it easy to remove from your bags in case you are asked to.

5. Thoroughly check your bags before leaving the house

The TSA recommends that travelers fully empty their bags prior to packing to make sure that they don’t accidentally bring something to the airport that they didn’t intend to bring, which could cause further delays.

This article originally appeared online on July 6, 2018; it was updated on June 19, 2019, and again on November 25, 2019, to include current information.

>> Next: How Early Should You Actually Get to the Airport?

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