More Thanksgiving travelers could mean more crowds, confusion at airports

If you’re traveling this holiday weekend, you already know you'll be hitting the crowds. But this year the roads and skies will be even busier than usual — and new rules at the airport could slow things down even more.

AAA is projecting that 50.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 3.3 percent increase over last year and the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005.

“A strong economy and labor market are generating rising incomes and higher consumer confidence, fueling a strong year for the travel industry, which will continue into the holiday season,” said AAA's Bill Sutherland.

12 tips that can get you through the airport as quickly as possible
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12 tips that can get you through the airport as quickly as possible

Apply for TSA PreCheck status

Signing up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry can help save you valuable time, as you can keep your shoes, belts, and light jackets on as you go through security. You also don't have to remove your laptop or any liquids from your bag. 

It will help get you through an expedited line over Thanksgiving weekend as well as each time you travel afterward, making it a valuable investment.

Check in ahead of time.

Give yourself as few tasks to do at the airport as possible. Instead of waiting to pick up your boarding pass, check in ahead of time, either online or on your phone.

You can go paperless at most airport and use an electronic pass on your phone to board.

Download your airline's app.

American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and British Airways are just a few of the airlines that have developed mobile apps to give travelers real-time information on flight delays and gate changes.

That way, if your gate has changed and you're short on time, you’ll know before you even get to the airport.

Wear slippers.

If you're going to have to take your shoes off at security, make them easy ones to remove.

Slippers are a good choice because they'll keep you warm and cozy on your flight without taking too much time to remove at security.

Buy a TSA-approved laptop bag.

Certain laptop bags are specially designed to be approved through TSA security, meaning you won't have to take your laptop out separately when passing through.

Simple cases like this one from Case Logic ($27) are perfectly reasonable. 

If you're bringing gifts, leave them unwrapped.

If you're exchanging gifts over the holidays, ship them ahead of time to avoid having to take them through the airport. Or if you're going to bring them with you, leave them unwrapped, as TSA agents may have to unwrap them.

"Wrapped gifts are allowed, but we recommend waiting until you land to wrap them," it says on the TSA's official blog. "If there's something in the gift that needs to be inspected, we may have to open it … It also slows down the line for everybody else when we have to do this."

Pack shoes foot-to-toe at the bottom of your bag.

Packing your shoes in the bottom of your bag will help to put some weight on the wheels of your luggage and make it easier to remain balanced, especially if you're rushing to your gate. 

Arrive early.

This one seems like common sense, but make sure you leave yourself more time than usual during holiday travels. Brian Ek, a travel expert for, told Fox News that he encourages fliers to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight and three hours for international flights that are leaving early in the morning or late at night.

For normal business-hour flights, he recommends giving yourself another 30 to 45 minutes, just to be on the safe side. 

Keep a bag of essential items ready to go.

Skip the time it would take to transfer your shampoo into a 3.4-ounce bottle and have a bag of toiletries ready to go.

Grab samples of your favorite products, or get travel-size toiletries and store them in one bag so you can simply grab it and go each time you pack.

Have a booking app set up on your phone.

Canceled flights are an unfortunate reality when traveling during the holidays. To help ensure you get the best place to sleep if this does happen, have a booking app set up on your phone so that you can make last-minute hotel reservations or rent a car.

If your flight does get canceled, take advantage of your time and start calling the airline over the phone while you wait in line.

Look for lines toward your left.

According to CNN, looking for lines toward your left side can help you spot the one that's shorter. Studies show that Americans are more likely to turn right than left when entering a building. 

If your flight is delayed, relax at an airport lounge.

Even if you're flying economy, it doesn't mean you can't access airport lounges. Most lounges sell day passes so that anyone can experience last-minute pampering and relaxation. 

You can also get a Priority Pass, which gives you access to more than 1,000 airport lounges around the world. 

Finally, check your credit card to see whether or not it gives you lounge access. Some, like American Express Platinum, have access to Delta and Centurion lounges. 


An estimated 28.5 million passengers are expected to travel on U.S. airlines during the 12-day Thanksgiving air-travel period, also up 3 percent over last year, according to the trade organization Airlines for America.

All those fliers mean more stress and longer lines at airports — and this year, new security checkpoint rules for many passengers might add to the congestion.

All electronics must be screened

In an effort to strengthen screening procedures for carry-on items, in July the Transportation Security Administration began requiring travelers going through the standard (non-TSA Precheck) lanes to remove all electronics larger than a cell phone from their carry-on bags and put those items in the bins for x-ray screening.

In the past, it was mostly just laptops that needed to be removed from carry-on bags.

The new remove-all-electronics policy was tested at 10 airports during the summer and fall, but that rule is now being enforced at 180 airports nationwide, with more on the way. That means security checkpoint lines in many airport may slow down over the holiday as more passengers are asked to fish out the electronics in their carry-on bags and more congestion (and grousing) in the post-screening “recombobulation” areas as travelers spend extra time repacking their bags.

Some of the strangest and most terrifying objects TSA has confiscated
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Some of the strangest and most terrifying objects TSA has confiscated
A Newark (EWR) traveler attempted to take their hoe on the plane. If you need to travel with your gardening hoe, it’ll have to go in your checked bag.
Packing list: Socks. ✅ Toothbrush. ✅ Curling Iron. ✅ Post-apocalyptic bullet-adorned gas mask. ❌ While gas masks are allowed in carry-on bags, replica bullets are not. This was discovered in a carry-on bag at Miami (MIA). Maybe he was catching a one way flight to #FuryRoad?
Talk about deadheading... This crusty ol' chap is actually a prop from the #TexasChainsawMassacre movie. He was brought through a checkpoint at the Atlanta (#ATL) International Airport, where as you can see, he was screened and sent on his jolly way. #TSAOnTheJob
We’re pretty sure this isn’t a letter opener. A bladed dragon claw perhaps??? Whatever it is, it should be packed in checked baggage. It was discovered in a carry-on bag at Atlanta (ATL).
This ornate flask of black powder was discovered in a carry-on bag at Allentown (ABE). While it is a fancy flask, the black powder contained within is an explosive and is strictly prohibited in both carry-on and checked bags.
Attention! This is not a drill… It’s just a really large wrench. Tools over 7” must be packed in checked baggage. Especially 18-inch crescent wrenches like this one that our officers discovered in a carry-on bag at New York Kennedy Airport (JFK). #TSATravelTips
With a simple unsnap and pull, this mild mannered belt becomes BELT KNIFE! Clever idea, but a bad idea to wear it through the checkpoint or pack it in your carry-on bag. Concealed weapons can lead to fines and arrest. Please pack items such as this in your checked baggage. This was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW). #TSAGoodCatch
While some travelers are worried about packing nail clippers (they are allowed), others pack a pair of five-bladed floggers. You guessed it; these are not allowed in carry-on bags. If you’re in a situation where you’re going to need your floggers, they’ll have to be packed in checked baggage. These were discovered last week in a carry-on bag at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas (IAH). #TSATravelTips
#TSAGoodCatch - This knife was discovered concealed in a bottle of pills at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest. Please pack them in your checked bag.
#TSAGoodCatch - This comb dagger was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Lihue Airport (LIH) in Hawaii. Knives are always prohibited in carry-on bags no matter the size. Concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest.
#TSAGoodCatch - This cane sword was detected recently in a passenger’s carry-on property at Las Vegas (LAS). All knives and swords are prohibited in carry-on bags, and concealed items can lead to arrest and fines.
#TSAGoodCatch - This push dagger was discovered in a package of gum at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW). Knives are always prohibited from carry-on bags, but concealed knives can lead to fines and arrest.
#TSAGoodCatch - Another #Batarang was discovered in a carry-on bag. This time it was at the Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD). Next time, leave your batarang in the bat cave, #Batman!
#TSAGoodCatch - A throwing star was discovered in a carved-out compartment in a wooden cellphone case at Ontario (ONT) in a carry-on bag. Concealed items can lead to fines and arrest.
#TSAGoodCatch - This #bejeweled lipstick stun gun was discovered in a carry-on bag at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). All stun guns are prohibited from being packed in carry-on bags or carried on your person.
#TSAGoodCatch - These neon green faux blood adorned machetes and throwing knives were discovered in a carry-on bag at the Portland International Airport (PDX). While machetes and throwing knives are prohibited in carry-on bags, they may be packed in checked baggage that goes in the luggage hold under the plane.
#TBT April, 2014 - An 8.5” knife was discovered inside an enchilada at the Sonoma County Airport (STS). While this was a great catch, the passenger’s intent was delicious, not malicious, and she was cleared for travel. It’s always important to double check your bags and enchiladas.
Agent Neville Flynn would be extremely proud of our officers at the Miami International Airport (MIA). You see, Agent Flynn has HAD IT with snakes on planes, and our officers prevented a young Ball Python from flying the friendly skies this past Sunday. ... A traveler on her way to the Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI) in Barbados attempted to smuggle the snakelet inside of an external hard drive packed in her checked bag. If you think airplane seats can feel constricting, imagine how this little guy felt! Talk about bad memories! … While the python itself posed no danger to anyone on the aircraft, an organic item concealed inside electronics raises security concerns, which is why our officers took a closer look. … The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ( @USFWS ) was notified. They responded and took possession of the snake and cited the traveler. Both the traveler and the snake missed their flight. … Conversationally, this python had not gone full monty. It was wearing a nylon stocking. … #SnakesOnPlane #SnakesAlmostOnAPlane #MIA #BGI #Miami #Barbados
#TBT - May 2014 - This mallet was discovered in a traveler’s carry-on property at the Burlington International Airport (BTV). Items such as sledgehammers and mallets are considered bludgeons and are prohibited from being packed in carry-on bags. Checked baggage is fine.
#TSAGoodCatch - This ice pick concealed inside of a cane was discovered in a traveler’s carry-on property at Newark (EWR). Concealed weapons can lead to fines and arrest.
#TSAGoodCatch - These nunchucks were discovered in a traveler’s carry-on bag at the Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Nunchucks are prohibited from being transported in carry-on bags, but may be packed in checked bags as long as they’re not illegal where you are traveling.
#TSATravelTips - Marijuana was discovered concealed in a jar of peanut butter in a checked bag at San Jose (SJC). As we’ve said before, we’re not looking for illegal narcotics, but we have to report them to law enforcement when discovered. #TSAGoodCatch
#TSAGoodCatch - This key knife was discovered at the Erie International Airport (ERI). All knives are prohibited from carry-on bags. Concealed knives can lead to arrests and fines.
#TBT December 2013 - This loaded 9mm was discovered in a shoe inside a carry-on bag at the Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT). This is one of the 1,813 firearms that were discovered in carry-on bags in 2013. 1,477 of those were loaded. While firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags, you can pack them in your checked baggage, as long as you meet the packing guidelines:
#TBT August 2011 -- Two birds were discovered during a pat-down that was being administered due to bulky clothing at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). They were wrapped in socks and taped to the leg and chest of a woman who was traveling to China. @USFWS officers arrested the woman on suspicion of smuggling and exporting an endangered species out of the United States. #TSAGoodCatch

To help ease some of this congestion, over the busiest holiday travel days TSA will increase checkpoint staffing and put more bomb-sniffing dogs on duty. In many airports, some checkpoints will also be opening earlier than usual.

Another tool that might help move things along at security checkpoints this year is an increase in the number of automated screening lanes. The lanes have bins large enough for roll-aboard bags and allow multiple passengers to load their belongings simultaneously.

The TSA says there are now 86 automated screens at nine airports, including Atlanta (22), Los Angeles (10), Chicago O’Hare (5) Newark Liberty (17), New York JFK (19), LaGuardia (2), Minneapolis-St. Paul (4), Dallas-Fort Worth (4) and McCarran Las Vegas International Airport (3).

As always, “The best way to ensure a quick trip through the security screening process is to prepare, prepare, prepare,” advises the TSA.

And leave your firearms at home.

Firearms are not permitted in carry-on bags at airports. Yet, despite a recent report on undercover tests that found TSA screeners fail to detect a high number of weapons, as of October 31, TSA had found 3,600 firearms in passengers’ carry-on bags. That number already exceeds the record-setting number of 3,391 firearms found in all of 2016.

That tally doesn’t include the 90 firearms (77 loaded) found in carry-on bags at airports during the first week of November, nor the loaded handgun found in the carry-on bag of a Southwest Airlines pilot getting ready to board a plane at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

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