The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) anticipates the busiest travel days over the US Independence Day holidays will occur from 29 June through to 5 July, with the peak travel day of the holiday weekend expected to be Friday, 30th June, when the TSA anticipates screening an estimated 2.82 million individuals – and approximately 17.7 million during the whole seven-day travel period. Friday’s travel figure would surpass the current single day travel record since Friday, 16 June, when the TSA screened nearly 2.8 million passengers. The peak Independence Day holiday travel day in 2019 (pre pandemic) was Sunday, 7th July, when TSA screened 2.79 million passengers.
Record numbers of people travelling can make for a stressful time in the airport, especially in the lines for security. However, the TSA is confident it will have appropriate staffing levels at airports, thanks in part to the funding it received in the FY23 Omnibus Appropriations Act, which places all TSA employees on the same pay scale as most other federal employees from July. The TSA says it has already seen an improvement in employee retention, and that it can thus meet passenger throughput standards of 30 minutes or less in standard lanes and 10 minutes or less in TSA PreCheck lanes. The agency claims to have met these standards over 98% of the time so far this year.
Based on some of the most recent trends at the nation’s airports, these top 10 travel tips can help get you through the TSA security checkpoints faster:
Tip 1: TSA PreCheck members: Make sure the TSA PreCheck mark is on your boarding pass
Passengers must ensure that their Known Traveler Number (KTN) along with correct date of birth is in their airline reservation. Teenagers aged 17 and under may now accompany TSA PreCheck enrolled parents or guardians through TSA PreCheck screening when travelling on the same reservation and when the TSA PreCheck indicator appears on the teen’s boarding pass. Children aged 12 and under may still accompany an enrolled parent or guardian when travelling through the TSA PreCheck lanes, without restriction.
Those enrolled in TSA PreCheck enjoy faster checkpoint screening. The five-year membership costs US$78. After submitting an online application, which takes five minutes, applicants must schedule an appointment at any of the 500+ enrollment centres. After a successful visit, most new enrolees will receive their KTN within three to five days. Members may renew membership online up to six months prior to expiration for another five-year term for $70. Most TSA PreCheck members wait less than five minutes at the checkpoint.
Tip 2: Firearms and ammunition are not permitted in carry–on bags, but are permitted in checked bags when properly packed and declared
If passengers choose to travel with a firearm, they are permitted only when properly packed and declared at the airline ticket counter for checked baggage. Airlines may have additional requirements for travelling with firearms and ammunition, so travellers must also contact their airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies prior to arriving at the airport.
Passengers with firearms found in a carry-on bag at a TSA security checkpoint will lose their TSA PreCheck eligibility for five years, which includes current TSA PreCheck members. Additionally, TSA may conduct additional screening for those passengers to ensure no other threats are present. Late last year, the TSA increased the maximum civil penalty for a firearms violation to $14,950. Passengers with firearms found in a carry-on bag at a TSA checkpoint are also subject to applicable city or state laws at that airport, which may include citation or arrest.
Tip 3: Pack an empty bag and know before you go
When airline passengers begin packing for travel with an empty bag, containing no items from previous trips, they are less likely to be stopped at the security checkpoint for having prohibited items. Prior to packing that empty bag, check TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” tool to know what is prohibited. The most common prohibited items at the TSA checkpoint are drinks and foods that are prohibited according to the liquids, gels and aerosols rule.
Tip 4: Give yourself plenty of time
Summer travel is busy, so plan ahead! Passengers should give themselves plenty of time to park, return a rental car, take a shuttle to the airport if needed, check-in with the airline, check bags with the airline and prepare for the security checkpoint. Passengers may save time by removing items from pockets and placing them in their carry-on bag, instead of putting items directly into the bins at the conveyor belt.
Tip 5: Be aware of new checkpoint screening technology
TSA uses a variety of security methods and technologies to secure its transportation systems. Screening protocols can be unpredictable and may vary from airport to airport, depending on available technology and the current threat environment.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scanners: Some airports have installed new state-of-the-art CT scanners, which produce a 3D image of passengers’ bags, significantly improving threat-detection capabilities for carry-on bags and reducing the need for Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) to conduct physical searches of bag contents for prohibited items. Passengers screened in security lanes with CT units do not need to remove their 3-1-1 liquids or laptops, but they must place every carry-on item, including bags, into a bin for screening. Light items should be placed at the bottom of the bin to avoid anything falling out into the tunnel and causing an unnecessary bag jam.
TSA advises travellers not to force larger items into the tunnel but to ask a TSO for assistance, as the opening to the X-ray tunnel on a CT unit is slightly smaller than on a traditional X-ray unit. Passengers are also reminded to bring a maximum of one carry-on bag and one personal item through security screening. If a passenger uses more than one bin, their bins may not come out of the tunnel together, so TSA encourages passengers to make sure they are not leaving anything behind at the checkpoint. As with any new technology, it will take some time for passengers to get used to this new screening technology. Some airports have construction underway to install these new CT scanners, and TSA asks passengers to be patient during the screening process.
Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT): Before passengers go through the AIT, all items such as wallets, cell phones and all light outerwear must be removed. Light outerwear is defined as an outer layer of clothing with a full front zipper or buttons used to fasten the outer garment, excluding button up shirts. Examples include, but are not limited to, windbreakers and vests, suit/sport coats, blazers and light jackets. This includes all standard and TSA PreCheck passengers.
Tip 6: Make sure you have an acceptable ID
Adult passengers aged 18 years and older must show valid identification at the airport checkpoint in order to travel. Below are some technologies TSA may use to validate your identity.
Credential Authentication Technology (CAT): To strengthen identity verification, TSA is deploying CAT units to confirm the authenticity of a passenger’s identification credential, flight details and screening status – without having to scan a boarding pass. With CAT, passengers only need to provide their acceptable photo identification to the TSO.
The second generation of CAT, called CAT-2, is currently deployed at 25 airports and adds a camera and smart phone reader to the other CAT features. The camera captures a real-time photo of the traveller at the Travel Document Checker podium and compares the traveller’s photo on the identification credential against the in-person, real-time photo. Once the CAT-2 confirms the match, the TSO verifies and directs the traveller for appropriate security screening without ever exchanging a boarding pass. TSOs may perform additional passenger verification if needed. Photos captured by CAT units are never stored or used for any other purpose than immediate identity verification. Travellers who do not wish to participate in the facial matching process may opt out in favour of an alternative identity verification process without losing their place in line.
Mobile IDs: Checkpoints at 25 airports currently accept mobile driver’s licences (mDLs) and digital IDs in the participating TSA PreCheck lanes from:
• Arizona, Colorado and Georgia mDLs stored in the Apple Wallet app
• Maryland mDLs stored in the Apple Wallet or Google Wallet app
• Utah mDLs stored in the GET Mobile ID app
• American Airlines digital ID stored in the Airside Digital Identity app
All passengers presenting mDLs or digital IDs must continue to carry and have readily available their physical driver’s license or identification card, or other acceptable ID listed on the TSA website. This physical ID may be required by the TSO to complete ID verification.
Tip 7: Follow TSO guidance
If you haven’t flown recently, it is important to listen to the direction provided by the TSOs at the security checkpoint. There may be information on new technologies that helps reduce touchpoints, or a TSO may redirect passengers to ensure they keep people moving through the screening process. If flying internationally, upon return to the United States, passengers will encounter a Customs and Border Protection officer to clear customs. Listen for their directions as well. Passengers may also need to have their baggage re-screened by a TSO to continue on to their final domestic destination. Airport and airline employees may also give guidance to help throughout the travel process.
Tip 8: Respect TSA and other frontline airport and airline employees
Behave yourself! Violence and unruly behaviour in transportation systems are not acceptable and cause delays at traveller checkpoints. TSOs, along with all frontline airport and airline employees and local law enforcement, are all working together to ensure safe and secure travel. Assaulting a TSO is a federal offence and will result in penalties and/or arrest. Always follow the directions of flight attendants onboard aircraft. They are there for your safety and security.
Tip 9: Contact TSA with if you have questions, complaints – compliments even – or assistance
Travellers with questions have many options for contacting the TSA. AskTSA is available for live assistance from 8am until 6pm ET via Twitter or Facebook by messaging @AskTSA or by sending a text to “272872” (“AskTSA”). For customer service issues, travellers may reach the TSA Contact Center (TCC) at (866) 289-9673. Individuals with disabilities, medical needs or other special circumstances may request passenger assistance at least 72 hours in advance by contacting the TSA Cares passenger support line at (855) 787-2227. Live assistance for both the TCC and TSA Cares is available weekdays, 8am to 11pm ET, or weekends and holidays from 9am to 8pm ET.
Tip 10: School is out. Kids are welcome!
Travelling can be stressful. TSA has made a series of videos specifically to help children understand what they can and cannot bring through security checkpoints. Passengers should double-check the bag their child packed before arriving at the security checkpoint. Formula, breast milk, juice, baby food and even liquid medications in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces are exempt from the 3-1-1 liquids rule. That’s right, when it comes to baby bottles and sippy cups, you are in the clear. Passengers must remove these items from their carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of their belongings. TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when travelling within the United States, but contact the airline regarding specific ID requirements as guidelines may differ.
Checkpoint-ready passengers are instrumental in helping with efficiency at the checkpoint. When passengers arrive with their identification credentials in hand and avoid the delays associated with bringing firearms, oversized liquids and other prohibited items into the checkpoint, it facilitates faster screening for everyone.
TSA encourages all passengers to remain vigilant. If You See Something. Say Something. Those travelling abroad should check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Know Before You Go page to learn about required documentation for your destination.