As if carry-ons and airlines weren’t enough of a hot mess, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it anticipates that security checkpoints across the U.S. will be busier than ever this Thanksgiving travel season.
And the rush will happen earlier than you might think, too. The agency says that the travel season actually kicks off this Friday, Nov. 17 and runs for nearly two weeks, through Tuesday, Nov. 28. During that period, TSA expects to screen 30 million passengers.
The spike in TSA screenings is forecast to happen on the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward which is expected to be the busiest day overall.
The need for speed
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said his agency is equipped for the rush and is shooting for wait time standards of under 10 minutes for TSA PreCheck® lanes and under 30 minutes for standard screening lanes.
That goal is well and good, but anyone who has TSA PreCheck and who’s flown lately has no doubt noticed that the PreCheck lines are getting longer and longer. Pekoske said there are now more than 17.6 million passengers enrolled in TSA PreCheck, which is 3.9 million more members than there were this time last year.
Travel efficiency requires more than just the TSA, though. When it comes to the airports with the most delays, a new travel study suggests that there are 10 airports where travelers should plan on getting to early.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) tops the list of the “most delays” followed by McCarran International (Las Vegas) (LAS), Orlando International (MCO), Baltimore/Washington (BAL), Chicago Midway (MDW).
In the “busiest” category, it’s Atlanta (ATL), Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW), and Denver (DEN), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), and Los Angeles International (LAX).
Ensuring success at the airport
Travelers also have to take into consideration that how they approach their trip is also a factor. Anyone traveling over the holidays should keep in mind several things before arriving at the airport.
What goes in carry-ons and what doesn’t. If you plan on taking Aunt Edna’s cranberry sauce, gravy, wine, jam or jelly, those foods must be packed in a checked bag because they’re considered liquids or gels. If you try to get them through TSA, it’s a safe bet that they’ll wind up in the trash bin, so remember this: If you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, then it is a liquid and must be packed in your checked bag. Conversely, if it’s a solid food, like a pecan pie, then you can take it through the TSA checkpoint. Check for prohibited items by using the “What Can I Bring?” page on TSA.gov. or just ask @AskTSA.
More technology is being used, but that doesn’t always ensure perfection. TSA is employing more tech than ever, beginning with its Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) units, where a boarding pass is not needed. However, as ConsumerAffairs witnessed recently, technology at airports can malfunction and further delay the process. That’s one more reason to get to the airport at least two hours early.
Get the airline’s app. The airlines’ mobile apps are getting more and more efficient and are the best way to monitor boarding times, seat assignments, changes, and even have a barcode of your ticket that can make getting through the airport screening easier. And if you're flight is delayed or canceled, the app usually gets that information to you faster.
If you’re flying Southwest, you now get an in-app benefit about your bags, too. Now on Southwest.com and the Southwest mobile app, travelers can view the status of their checked bag across three different milestones of each checked piece of luggage: when bag tags are printed, when bags are loaded, and when unloaded from the aircraft.
Southwest also recently launched a new capability for travelers to add checked bags digitally at the time of their check-in, up to 24 hours before arriving at the airport. It's another timesaver that eliminates the steps to print bag tags at kiosks.
One important thing to remember about an airline’s app and TSA PreCheck is this: Just because you’re enrolled in PreCheck doesn’t guarantee your membership has been automatically connected with your ticket.
If you have PreCheck and get in the PreCheck line thinking all is good, it may not be. Three days (72 hours) before you leave, double-check that your ticket actually lists you as a PreCheck member beforehand. If it doesn’t, then, you need to take these steps:
First, check that your membership has not expired by looking up your account here.
If still active, confirm with your airline that your Known Traveler Number, name, and date of birth are accurate and that your airline participates in TSA PreCheck. If you still do not have a TSA PreCheck indicator on your boarding pass, please call the TSA Contact Center at (866) 289-9673, submit an online form, or contact us at @AskTSA on Twitter and Facebook Messenger.
Call ahead to request passenger support. If you’re part of a group that will require assistance, such as a wheelchair, you need to contact the TSA Cares helpline toll-free at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours before travel to find out what to expect at the security checkpoint.
Don’t think anything will happen, but if it does…
Need another reason to get your departure act together days in advance? Remember Murphy’s Law – "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong and at the worst possible time."
Interestingly enough, Murphy’s Law actually has its roots in aviation and even though airlines have gotten better about things and there are fewer meltdowns than there were a year ago, don’t think that it’s a perfect system yet.
In an email to ConsumerAffairs, Going.com’s Scott Keyes said that past performance is no guarantee of future results. “I certainly wouldn’t bet my savings on airlines avoiding widespread disruptions, especially considering meltdowns are unpredictable black swan events. But I would bet something that we won’t see disruptions anywhere near last year’s scale,” Keyes said.
If your flight does get delayed or canceled, remember that you do have rights and the TSA is on your side. YourRichBFF explains what on your side means in this video: