The No. 1 Thing Travelers Should to Do Speed Up Security This Holiday Season, According to a TSA Admin

A TSA Assistant Administrator shares tips with T+L for seamlessly navigating airports as the holiday travel season approaches.

<p>Ting Shen/Getty Images</p>

Ting Shen/Getty Images

Airports are gearing up for a busy — and even record-breaking — holiday season, which inevitably means slower security lines and frustrated passengers. But there are a few things travelers can do to speed up the process.

First thing’s first: Travelers should expect longer and likely slower Transportation Security Administration lines, Gary Renfrow, the agency’s assistant administrator for international operations, told Travel + Leisure during the 2023 World Travel & Tourism Council Summit. The warning comes as the TSA expects to screen a total of 30 million passengers from Friday, Nov. 17, to Tuesday, Nov. 28, part of what the agency called the busiest holiday season ever.

Ultimately, Renfrow told T+L the most important thing for travelers — especially those who travel infrequently — is to be aware of all signage.

“They can read [the] signs, and I say this with all sincerity because for many people, the holidays represent the actual infrequent time they fly,” Renfrow said. “This is no one’s fault, it's just the reality of things over the holidays.”

Getting to the airport extra early will also minimize stress levels and help things move more efficiently as a result.

“You can help yourself with that by not being late,” Renfrow said. “Please put your patience in as part of your packing list.”

Being aware of how to pack items will also help speed up security over the holiday period. Gifts, for example, should remain unwrapped in case a TSA officer needs to see inside and unwrap it. And certain foods, like liquids, including gravy, cranberry sauce, and wine are better off in a checked bag. However, solid foods like pie are fine to bring in a carry-on.

Travelers unsure about what to bring can check the “What Can I Bring?” page on the TSA’s website or ask the agency by texting a question to 275-872 or messaging the agency with the @AskTSA handle on X, formerly known as Twitter, or through Facebook Messenger.

Here's an extended list of food items that the TSA will allow travelers to bring through.

Travelers with TSA PreCheck will likely get through security faster, but the program’s growing popularity means longer and longer lines. As of March, the TSA PreCheck program has 15 million active members, according to the agency’s data.

When things get too busy, Renfrow said the TSA tries to open up more PreCheck lanes if the airport’s infrastructure and staffing allow. The breaking point is typically a wait of 10 minutes or longer.

“We really try to keep the wait times in PreCheck to be about 10 minutes or so, or less. So if it starts getting up to that number and they have the ability… they'll open additional lanes,” he said. “It’s a value to us to open a lane when we can because that’s more people moving faster in totality.”

Of course, the TSA encourages travelers to join its Trusted Traveler programs like TSA PreCheck since it does speed up security. With the program, travelers are not required to take off their shoes, belts, or light jackets, or take their laptops or liquids out of their carry-on bags.

“The more [enrollees] we have, the better off the entire population is,” Renfrow said. “It’s secure because we know much more about the traveling public, which allows us to expedite them through a process that typically would take a little longer. But the benefit of that is the entire population has reduced the overall wait time because they got out of a lane faster.”

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