Even though air travel passenger numbers are down significantly when compared to last year, all because of COVID-19, you will still likely face significant crowds at airports during this holiday season. Americans love to fly “home for the holidays” as well as head off to holiday vacation destinations, after all, and this last Thanksgiving travel period validated this truism, with TSA screening a record more than 3 million air travelers. So what can you do to make your holiday air travel easier this year, especially when it comes to going through TSA security checkpoints? Read on to find out.
Visit the TSA Website First
Before flying by air, or taking any form of commercial transportation, you should always consult the Transportation Security Administration website for the latest security updates and requirements. TSA always releases a list of winter travel tips in time to kick off the holiday travel season, and this year it’s more timely and important than ever, considering we’re all traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following those TSA trips will help you save time as well as reduce the possibility of being selected for additional or enhanced security screening should you try to go through one of the security agency’s checkpoints loaded down with Christmas gifts and extra carryon luggage.
Use TSA’s Free Travel Tools
Staying up to date with all of TSA’s travel rules as well as the latest information on flight delays and which security lanes offer expedited screening for registered PreCheck members is easy. Simply download the free MyTSA app to your smartphone or other mobile device, such as a tablet, and you’re all set. Signing up for the federal security agency’s PreCheck program will also help speed you through certain airport security checkpoints, as TSA offers expedited screening services for PreCheck members traveling through many of the nation’s airports. Those travelers don’t have to remove their shoes or belts as well as some types of jackets and they also don’t have to take electronics or liquids out of their carryon luggage.
Don’t Wrap Gifts
TSA is perfectly fine with air travelers packing gifts in carryon luggage or otherwise bringing them through one of their security checkpoints as long as they follow a few simple rules. Whenever possible, avoid wrapping paper for your gifts and instead either wait until you’re safely at your ultimate holiday travel destination to wrap them or place them in a gift bag that allows them to be inspected by TSA screening officers. If you do wrap a gift and it triggers an alarm at a TSA security checkpoint you’ll have to unwrap it so that agency officers can inspect it to determine it doesn’t present a security threat.
Wear Your Mask
Under COVID-19 rules, masks are required in airports and on airliners and those passing through a TSA security checkpoint are also required to wear them. Not wearing one will also definitely delay or even prevent your being screened by TSA, meaning you won’t be able to fly until you do have a mask. You’ll also be asked to quickly remove that mask for visual identification purposes and then don it once again. Plus, to help protect you as well as the agency’s screening personnel, TSA has installed acrylic barriers. Lastly, screening officers may also be wearing goggles or full face shields in addition to masks and gloves.
Pack Safety Essentials
A mask is a must-have item for flying during this holiday travel season and so are disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. TSA is also allowing air travelers to bring up to 12 ounces of sanitizer during the COVID-19 emergency, which is an exception from its normal limit of 3.4 ounces per container for all other liquids. Just remember that you still have to remove any allowable liquids, including sanitizer, from your luggage before you go through the actual TSA screening process and then place them in separate agency provided tubs so that screening officers can check them out.
Because many states are still limiting access to government identification issuing offices you may find yourself with photo identification that’s expired. Don’t worry, though: TSA has said passengers should still bring their ID with them even if it’s already expired and you haven’t been able to renew it due to COVID-19 and the problems it’s caused in getting renewal appointments.
The Transportation Security Administration is doing everything it can this holiday travel season to help ease travelers’ passage through its airport security checkpoints. Air travelers can help themselves greatly when it comes to their screening experience by keeping up with the agency’s COVID-19 travel rules as well as this season’s holiday travel tips. Don’t let failure to follow some basic TSA screening requirements keep your air travel plans uncertain.
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 450-plus commercial airports.