PITTSBURGH - The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects to screen a record number of travelers during the 2018 Christmas and New Year holiday travel season, so travelers flying out of Pittsburgh will have plenty of company when passing through the airport.
Nationwide, TSA projects it will screen 6 percent more travelers compared to this same period last year. Locally, TSA at Pittsburgh International Airport expects the increase over last year’s levels to be around 8 percent.
At airports across the country, projected passenger volumes for the end-of-year holiday travel season will average around 2.3 million travelers per day. Volumes will begin to pick-up starting tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 19, and continue through Monday, Dec. 24. Many travelers have planned their return travel starting Wednesday, Dec. 26 through the end of the year. The busiest day of the holiday season is projected to be Friday, Dec. 21 when TSA expects to screen more than 2.7 million people. The local travel trend and peak travel days in Pittsburgh expect to mirror the national trend.
“Here in Pittsburgh, TSA expects to screen up to 17,500 passengers and crew members at our checkpoints per day during the busiest days of the holiday travel season,” says TSA’s Federal Security Director Karen Keys-Turner. “Typically, TSA screens about 14,500 passengers and crew on an average day.”
TSA recommends that travelers arrive at the airport two hours prior to flight departure to ensure there is plenty of time to complete each step of the airport process.
“TSA checkpoints will be fully staffed and will continue to use layers of security, both seen and unseen by the traveling public,” she says.
Many travelers think of TSA as blue-shirted officers at checkpoints as the ones who are providing security for their flights. They are doing just that, however the reality is that, “there is a significant amount of effort that goes into what TSA does to keep the flying public safe. In fact, there are more than a dozen different layers of security that take place every single day here at Pittsburgh,” Keys-Turner says. “The reason for so many layers is to be able to thwart attempts by bad actors who want to cause harm.” If a bad actor is able to bypass one, two or even three different layers of TSA’s security measures, surely that individual will be tripped up by any of the numerous additional security layers in his path.
Airport security starts when someone purchases a ticket. Individuals enter their full name, gender and birthdate, which allows them to be vetted against a watch list. TSA partners with the airport police here at the airport. TSA officers use behavior detection techniques and ticket document checkers to ensure a traveler’s identification is authentic. The agency uses walk through metal detectors and automated image technology scanners. Some airports use canines. Travelers may be randomly selected to have their hands swabbed for any traces of explosives. If someone triggers an alarm at the checkpoint, he or she may be the recipient of a pat-down. X-rays are used for carry-on bags and computed tomography images are used to check the contents of checked bags to ensure nothing prohibited is getting aboard an aircraft. Then, after travelers board their flights, there can be armed pilots and armed Federal Air Marshals who are also on board. That’s about a dozen different layers of security that TSA undertakes to keep the flying public safe.
“Additionally we have a partnership with the airport, the airlines and even the flying public, who we ask to ‘See Something, Say Something’,” she says.
While TSA concentrates on aviation security, passengers can assist by coming to the airport prepared. Below are some travel tips to make the security checkpoint experience go smoothly during the holidays – and throughout the year:
- Unpack your bag before you pack it – at home. By unpacking your bag fully and re-packing it before coming to the airport, travelers will avoid bringing items to the airport that are prohibited past the security checkpoint. This includes knives, power tools and tools over seven inches in length; stun guns; martial arts items and more.
- Dress for security screening. Travelers should avoiding wearing bulky jewelry, scarves, hair accessories and large belts since these types of items are likely to require additional screening. It is important to remember to remove all items from pockets and secure them in a carry-on bag.
- Make sure electronics are accessible. Travelers can organize their carry-on bag so electronics larger than a cell phone can be quickly and easily accessed when at the security checkpoint. All personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone should be placed in bins for X-ray screening with nothing on top or below, to allow for a clear X-ray image, similar to how laptops have been screened for several years.
- Contact TSA to find out what can go in a checked or carry-on bag. Reach out to @AskTSA on social media. Questions about what can be carried through a security checkpoint can be answered if the question is tweeted to @AskTSA or sent via Facebook Messenger AskTSA weekdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET and weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. Or visit www.tsa.gov any time of the day or night to access the “What Can I Bring?” feature on the top right-hand corner of the web page. Travelers can also download the free myTSA app, which also has the “What Can I Bring?” feature right at your fingertips.
- Call TSA Cares. Travelers or families of travelers with disabilities and/or medical conditions may call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 855-787-2227 with any questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint as well as to arrange for assistance at the checkpoint. It is recommended to call at least 72 hours prior to traveling.