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Holiday Travel and Your TSA Experience

By Kelly Hoggan

TSA expects to see record numbers of passengers going through its security lines this year.

Americans love Christmas and they especially love to visit friends and family during the holidays. This year, 2019 will be no different when it comes to our love of Christmas and New Years travel. In terms of flying somewhere, the Transportation Security Administration expects a record-breaking number of travelers to go through its security screening checkpoints this holiday season.

Another Record-Breaking Travel Year

How busy will TSA screeners be, you might wonder? Well, consider that for the 2018 December 19th through January 5th Christmas travel period about 41 MILLION passengers went through the TSA screening process before boarding their flight, which was a 6 percent increase over 2017. This is like TSA screening the entire population of California PLUS Wyoming and Hawaii in just 17 days, and it’s a stupendous achievement for the nation’s premier transportation security agency no matter which way you look at it.

Busiest Air Travel Days

With Christmas this year falling on a Wednesday, the American Automobile Association and Expedia both predict Saturday, December 21st to be the busiest day of this holiday season’s peak travel period. AAA also expects the 22nd and 23rd to be not that far behind, so if you’re planning to fly during those three days you need to do it smartly. For starters, if you can you might want to consider flying on Christmas Eve, which the experts at the very popular Kayak travel website say will see fewer flyers and also feature the lowest median airfare.

Travel like a Pro

Business travelers and frequent flyers quickly learn the ins and outs when it comes to dealing with crowded airports and getting through a TSA security checkpoint with the minimum of fuss. Traveling during the holidays requires thinking like a business traveler if you want to get through security and onto your plane with little trouble. Here are some tips for doing so:

1. Pack Smart -- Always prepare your carryon luggage so that it presents no problems for TSA screeners. For one, make sure you aren’t carrying any prohibited items, either on your person or in your carryon bag. TSA says that it’s also fine for passengers to bring pies, cakes and other baked goods through its checkpoints, but take care to put any liquids or gels such as maple syrup or holiday eggnog in your checked luggage.

2. Follow the Liquids Rule -- Any liquids in your carryon luggage must follow TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids rule. The security agency allows you to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carryon bag, but each is limited to 3.4 ounces or less per item. You should also separate this bag from your carryon luggage and place it in a separate TSA tub as you go through the screening process.

3. Know What You Can Bring – Save yourself the trouble of being selected for additional screening by TSA when you go through its checkpoints by bringing along only permitted items. There’s a handy “What can I bring?” tool at the website which allows you to type in an item to find out if you can bring it in your carryon luggage, checked luggage, either or neither.

4. Have Proper ID – Before heading out the door to the airport check that the identification you’re carrying is acceptable for TSA security purposes, because adults 18 and over must present ID to fly. For domestic flights, a current driver’s license or state ID card, valid U.S. passport or valid U.S. military ID card is all that’s needed for TSA screeners to match ID with an airline boarding pass. TSA and the Department of Homeland Security also allow alternate forms of ID, so check with your airline or visit the TSA website to learn more.

The Best Travel Stress Reduction Method

Regardless of the season, the best travel stress reduction method of all is to obtain a TSA Pre-Check membership, which is good at more than 200 U.S. airports across the country. Pre-Check is the agency’s trusted traveler program and flyers enrolled in it don’t have to remove shoes, computer laptops, belts, liquids and light jackets before being security screened. You can enroll online for TSA Pre-Check, the cost is only $85 for a five-year membership and you can also pair it with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program membership to greatly speed your reentry into the United States after traveling abroad.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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