How to fly smart over the busy holiday travel season

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If you’re planning to fly with grandma’s fruitcake or bottle of homemade maple syrup over the holidays, the Transportation Security Administration has some tips to make the busiest travel days of the year go smoother.

The official end-of-the-year holiday travel season is underway and will continue through Jan. 2. The TSA projects higher-than-usual travel volumes at airports nationwide, and is reminding passengers to arrive at the airport early and prepared. At Salt Lake City International Airport, the agency expects to screen more than 429,000 people through the security checkpoint during the holidays.

The busiest days of the holiday season locally and nationally for air travel are projected to be Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, as well as Dec. 28 and Dec. 29. The busiest times at the security checkpoint are 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“We at TSA have a solid plan in place to ensure that passengers who are traveling during the end-of-the- year holiday season will experience a smooth and efficient security screening process. We have coordinated our efforts with airport stakeholders to ensure a successful holiday travel period,” Matt Davis, TSA federal security director for Utah, said in a press release. “While passengers can expect to see checkpoints staffed and lanes open, we ask all travelers to take a few minutes to prepare for the airport travel experience.”

During the screening process at the security checkpoint, travelers are reminded to remove items from their pockets such as phones, keys or loose change. Those items should be secure in their carry-on bags instead of placing them in bins. That simple step will prevent items from being left behind in the checkpoint and ending up in the local lost and found.

The most common thing that slows down screening at a TSA checkpoint is having a prohibited item in a carry-on bag. That will guarantee that the traveler will experience a bag search at the checkpoint, slowing down the passenger as well as the overall screening process.

Two of the most common prohibited items TSA officers encounter are knives and liquids, and gels and aerosols in excess of 3.4 ounces.

Since 2006, TSA has limited the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols a traveler can bring into the cabin of an airplane to 3.4 ounces. Any liquid in a quantity greater than 3.4 ounces such as lotions, shampoo, toothpaste, sunblock and hair gel should be placed in a checked bag. As for knives, if you must travel with them, they must be placed in your checked bag, according to the TSA.

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Travelers go through security at Salt Lake City International Airport on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

5 things the TSA suggests travelers do

  • Pack smart and use TSA resources. To avoid bringing prohibited items in carry-on luggage, unpack your bag before you pack it. By starting with an empty bag or suitcase, you are less likely to bring a prohibited item to the security checkpoint. If you aren’t sure how to travel with an item, visit TSA.gov or download the MyTSA app and use the “What Can I Bring?” feature. Another option is to snap a picture of an item and send it to @AskTSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger for real-time assistance. Travelers can also send a question by texting “Travel” to AskTSA (275-872).
  • Place gifts in gift bags instead of wrapping them. Wrapped items are screened just like any other item. If a wrapped item alarms the security screening technology whether in carry-on or checked luggage, a security officer may have to unwrap it to determine what the item is and confirm it does not pose a security threat.
  • Download your Utah digital ID. Travelers who are screened through a Salt Lake airport security checkpoint can use their Utah mobile driver license for identity verification. Earlier this year, the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Driver License Division began offering residents the opportunity to download their mDL to an Android or iOS device. Travelers can use the Utah mDL in lieu of handing over their physical photo ID to the TSA security screening officer when entering the checkpoint.
  • Make a plan for traveling with holiday foods. Solid food items like fruitcake, candy canes and chocolates may be transported in a carry-on bag. However, liquids and spreadable foods such as egg nog, wine, champagne, maple syrup and preserves are not solid and should be packed in checked bags.

A helpful tip: If you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it and it is larger than 3.4 ounces, it needs to be packed in a checked bag.

  • Confirm your known traveler number in your airline reservation. If you have enrolled as a trusted traveler, make sure your number and correct date of birth are in your airline reservation so you will be eligible for TSA PreCheck screening. There are more than 90 airlines that participate in TSA PreCheck and TSA offers the TSA PreCheck experience at every airport nationwide. Travelers 17 and under can use the TSA PreCheck lane when traveling with a TSA PreCheck-eligible parent or guardian on the same itinerary.
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A woman goes through security at Salt Lake City International Airport on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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