Guns, long lines, unwrapped gifts? Are you prepared for the changes going through TSA checkpoints?

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The agency offers special assistance to those with disabilities, but needs to know about it 3 days in advance

If you’re flying somewhere over the holidays, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says you should be prepared for changes going through security. And, you should be prepared for more fellow travelers than you’ve seen since before the pandemic.

“We are prepared for the increased volume and expect to meet our wait time standards of 30 minutes or less in standard lanes and 10 minutes or less in TSA PreCheck lanes. However, there may be some situations where the capacity of a checkpoint is exceeded,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. 

ConsumerAffairs went through the TSA’s laundry list of suggestions and found some things that travelers might not be aware of.

Flying on Thursday, Dec. 22 or Friday, Dec. 30

If you’re going anywhere on Dec. 22 or Dec. 30, get to the airport early and be prepared for crowds. Those days may be among the most hectic of the holidays. Plenty of patience may be required. 

Trying to get a gun through security could cost you dearly

Travelers and firearms have become a major pain point for the TSA. This year, TSA officers intercepted a record 6,301 firearms – more than 88% of those were loaded. Passengers who attempt to bring a firearm through a checkpoint can expect to receive a fine up to $15,000, plus they’ll lose eligibility for TSA PreCheck, and local law enforcement will be called in.

In addition to firearms, there are other items not permitted at the checkpoint. These include explosives, flammables, knives, razors and replica weapons. To see if an item is prohibited, check the TSA website under “What Can I Bring?”

But, if you baked a cake for Aunt Annie, you can bring that along. As always, passengers may bring solid foods such as cakes and other baked goods through the TSA checkpoint.

Make sure gifts are unwrapped

You’ve already wrapped the gifts you’re taking? Sorry. TSA says you might have to unwrap those – especially ones with lids – so they can inspect those items if they’re curious about the contents. Instead, the agency prefers travelers place their unwrapped gifts in their checked bags as opposed to carry-ons.

Is your ID 'acceptable'?

ID requirements have changed a bit, as have how to show your ID. At many airport checkpoints, a security officer may ask you to insert your physical ID into one of the agency’s new Credential Authentication Technology units. 

There’s a special new perk for people who live in Arizona, Colorado, and Maryland when it comes to showing their IDs. They can use their Apple mobile device to store their ID in Apple Wallet and use their mobile device in certain TSA PreCheck lanes at participating airports.

Ask for help – in advance

If you’re traveling with someone who is disabled or has a particular medical condition, you should contact the TSA Cares helpline at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours prior to travel. TSA Cares can help with any questions about screening procedures, help you find out what to expect at the security checkpoint, and even arrange for assistance at the checkpoint for travelers with specific needs.

Since most of us have taken to texting, the TSA has, too. If you have questions that you want quickly answered, you can get assistance in real time by submitting your questions and comments to @AskTSA on Twitter, Facebook Messenger and via text message using any mobile device to “AskTSA” (275-872). 

As a word of caution – when ConsumerAffairs tried out the text option, we found out that you need to use simple, short phrases such as “damaged passport.” Asking a question got us nowhere and you’re likely to experience the same

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