TSA expects travel out of Reagan and Dulles airports to approach pre-pandemic levels

Local Press Release
Wednesday, November 17, 2021

ARLINGTON, Va. – Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials expect travel out of Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International Airports to return to pre-pandemic levels during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period.

Thanksgiving has historically seen the biggest increase in the number of travelers coming through TSA security checkpoints during the year and 2021 is expected to see a continuation of that trend at the two DC-area airports.

“I fully expect that we will see a notable increase in the number of travelers flying out of Reagan National and Dulles airports, and we are prepared to handle the bump in the number of individuals planning to fly during the days leading up to and immediately following Thanksgiving,” said Scott T. Johnson, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the two area airports.

The Thanksgiving holiday period runs from Friday, Nov. 19 to Sunday, Nov. 28 and officials advise travelers to wear a mask, get to the airport two hours before their scheduled flight and be ready to go through the security screening process.

“We encourage people to do their part in ensuring a smooth checkpoint experience by knowing what should and should not be packed in a carry-on bag,” Johnson says. “Please make sure you have no large liquids in your carry-on bags. Finish your energy drink, water or coffee before you get to the checkpoint. And please pack your large containers of shampoo, conditioner, body spray, shaving cream and toothpaste in your checked bag or risk that these items will need to be removed from your carry-on bag at the checkpoint—delaying you from getting to your gate.”

Individuals who are flying out of Reagan National Airport will see two new large security checkpoints in terminals B and C and that means a slightly different path to get to their gates.

TSA officials recommend that travelers take the time to visit the TSA web site, which has a lot of helpful information on preparing for a flight and letting individuals know what to expect.

Typically, the busiest travel days are the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward. The highest travel day in TSA’s history was the Sunday after Thanksgiving of 2019 (pre-pandemic), when nearly 2.9 million individuals were screened at TSA security checkpoints nationwide. Travel volume this year is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels, but it is expected to be notably higher than what was seen in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

TSA does not anticipate that the federal employee vaccine mandate will in any way impact the agency’s ability to staff for Thanksgiving travel. TSA is working diligently to implement the vaccine requirement, including by promoting vaccination and ensuring every TSA employee is uploading their attestation information.

Travelers also need to focus on what can and cannot go in their carry-on bag before they leave for the airport. It is important to know what items should not be packed in a carry-on bag because if a carry-on bag triggers an alarm, it will require a TSA officer to open the bag to resolve the alarm. This means that a TSA officer will have to open the bag and go inside to identify what item may have caused the alarm. It usually takes about two or three minutes to conduct a bag search, and that slows down the checkpoint, Allen said.

Thanksgiving Checked Bag
Thanksgiving checked bag.

Passengers often travel with food items that they want to contribute to the Thanksgiving meal, and it’s important to know which foods should go into a carry-on or checked bag. As always, passengers can bring solid foods such as pies, cakes and other baked goods through the checkpoints. However, gravy, cranberry sauce, wine, jam, preserves, should all go into a checked bag because they are not solids. If you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, then it's not a solid and should be packed in a checked bag.

Unsure if an item should be packed in a carry-on bag, checked bag, either or neither? Download the free myTSA app, which has a handy “What can I bring?” feature that allows you to type in the item to find out if it can fly. Or ask us on Twitter or Facebook Messenger at @AskTSA.

Travelers, TSA personnel and other individuals who work in the airports are required to continue to wear a mask as prescribed by the federal mask mandate when they are in airports, bus and rail stations, as well as while on passenger aircraft, public transportation, passenger railroads, and over-the-road buses operating on scheduled fixed-routes. This means that all travelers must be wearing a mask at TSA airport screening checkpoints, throughout the airport and during their flights. If a traveler does not have a mask, a TSA officer will offer a mask to that individual at the checkpoint.

Individuals who have not traveled recently will notice some changes in the checkpoint screening process. When approaching the travel document checking podium, passengers will see TSA officers wearing masks and gloves. Most will be positioned behind acrylic barriers to reduce cross contamination with passengers. TSA officers will change their gloves between each pat down and they will use a fresh swab if they need to swab a traveler’s hands or their carry-on items.

When travelers approach the travel document checking podium, they will be asked to scan their own boarding pass—electronic or paper—to reduce a touchpoint. They also will be asked to remove their masks for a few seconds so that the officer can match the individual’s face to the photo on their ID.

As travelers place their items into bins along the conveyor belt, they will continue to see TSA officers in masks, gloves and face shields standing behind an acrylic barrier offering guidance and answering questions. TSA officers will be changing their gloves between each pat-down and between each bag search. Travelers may request that a TSA officer put on a new pair of gloves at any time. TSA officers also will be using a fresh swab for each passenger when testing for possible explosive material.

TSA employees will be conducting routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces and security screening equipment at the checkpoints.  

TSA is currently allowing travelers to bring one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice. Passengers can expect that these containers larger than the standard allowance of 3.4 ounces of liquids permitted through a checkpoint will need to be screened separately, which will add some time to their checkpoint experience. Travelers also are permitted to bring individually packaged alcohol or anti-bacterial wipes in carry-on or checked luggage.

To reduce touchpoints, it is recommended that travelers place items from their pockets such as wallets, keys, lip balm, tissues and cell phones into their carry-on bags to be screened instead of putting items from their pockets directly into bins. This minimizes the placing of personal items in a bin that you might hold to your face such as lip balm, tissues and cell phones. It also reduces the chance that travelers will leave something behind in a bin.

Travelers or families of passengers with disabilities and/or medical conditions can call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 855-787-2227 at least 72 hours prior to flying with any questions about screening policies, procedures and to find out what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA Cares also arranges assistance at the checkpoint. The TSA Cares phone lines are  staffed weekdays from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET and on weekends/holidays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. TSA staff can explain the screening process for travelers requiring special accommodations or concerned about the security screening process.

Individuals who are planning to travel this Thanksgiving or Christmas season should consider enrolling in TSA PreCheck®. The popular expedited screening program allows travelers to leave on their shoes, jackets, belts and enables them to keep their electronics and 3-1-1 bags in their carry-on bags.

TSA PreCheck membership is more valuable now than ever before because it reduces touchpoints during the pandemic and puts travelers in security lines that have fewer travelers and move quicker, which encourages social distancing.