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TSA shares tips for traveling this holiday season

Dec. 24, 2021
5 min read
Passengers proceed through the TSA security checkpoint at Denver International Airport
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The holiday travel period is well underway, so plan on packing your patience.

The Transportation Security Administration estimates that it will screen at least 20 million passengers around the winter holidays, R. Carter Langston, press secretary for the TSA, told TPG in an email.

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According to Langston, this is still a drop in passenger screenings from pre-pandemic 2019, though it's still a pretty substantial increase from 2020, when the TSA screened nearly 18 million people during the same holiday travel period.

In fact, for the first time during the pandemic, the TSA screened more passengers on Dec. 22 than it did on the same day in 2019.

Travelers can expect longer lines at airports across the country, so it's important to be prepared.

Below are some suggestions from the TSA for how you can minimize travel headaches this holiday season.

Get there early and be flexible

An empty security line at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

There is nothing more stressful than running late when you have a flight. To avoid sprinting through the airport, the TSA suggests arriving to the security checkpoint two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.

Related: These are the TSA-approved foods you can — and can’t — bring with you on an airplane

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The TSA says peak screening hours at airports are typically between 5 and 7 a.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m., so you'll want to avoid entering the security checkpoint during these times, if possible, to avoid extended wait times of up to an hour. If you're checking a bag or transiting through a terminal that is notably crowded or under construction, allot extra time to account for additional delays.

Follow U.S. mask and testing protocols

(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

With COVID-19 infections rising and concerns about the omicron variant, one of the most important tips to remember this holiday season is to wear a mask. The federal mask mandate has been extended to March 18, 2022, so all travelers are required to wear a mask at U.S. airports. If you do not have a mask, you'll need to grab one at the security checkpoint.

While testing is not required for Americans traveling within the U.S., as of Dec. 6, anyone flying to the U.S. from overseas is required to have a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of their scheduled departure time, regardless of vaccination status. Some domestic airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Miami International Airport (MIA), Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) and O'Hare International Airport (ORD), will offer tests for returning travelers, though pre-departure tests are not provided.

Related: Things are changing quickly: What to know about traveling right now during omicron

Pack smart

(Photo by AzmanL/Getty Images)

If you’re traveling with gifts, the TSA recommends packing them in bags or unwrapped boxes that can easily be checked. Gifts that are in wrapping paper and activate the security alarm while going through the machine will need to be opened.

Related: Reminder: You can’t drink your own booze on an airplane

Additionally, solid treats like fruitcake, candy canes and holiday cookies can be brought through security, but you’ll have to check eggnog, Champagne, cranberry sauce and any other liquids or spreads greater than 3.4 ounces.

Related: From fruitcakes to frozen drinks, here's what you can bring through security

“During a pandemic, it is important to try to reduce touch points, so now more than ever, it is important to know what should not be packed among your carry-on items,” Thomas Carter, the TSA’s federal security director for New Jersey, said in a press release. “Advance planning and packing properly will facilitate the screening process and ease your travel experience at the airport.”

Know your security checkpoint resources

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

To weave through security lines faster, there are several traveler programs available, including Clear and TSA PreCheck. While TSA PreCheck requires making an appointment at an enrollment center before joining, you can apply for Clear at the airport if you spot a lengthy security line you want to quickly bypass. Fees apply for enrollment in these programs, but remember that multiple credit cards offer fee credits for these services when you use them to pay for memberships.

Related: There’s a new way to get through TSA screening faster. But do you need it?

For real-time answers to general TSA-related questions, you can reach out to @AskTSA on Twitter or by Facebook Messenger on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST and on weekends and holidays between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST. There's also the TSA Cares phone line, which can be contacted by calling 855-787-2227 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST and on weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

Related: Why you should get TSA PreCheck and Clear — and how you can save on both

Bottom line

Related: Unruly passengers to lose PreCheck

Traveling can be hectic, especially during the holidays amid a global pandemic. However, with a little patience and kindness toward other travelers, flight crew, officers and front-line workers, plus these handy tips from the TSA, you'll reduce travel woes this holiday season.

Additional reporting by Christine Smith.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
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  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
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  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more