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Transportation Security Administration

TSA releases 2018 holiday travel outlook, provides travel tips for passengers departing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Local Press Release
Tuesday, December 18, 2018

SEATTLE - The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) nationally and locally expects to screen a record number of travelers during the 2018 Christmas and New Year holiday travel season. Nationwide, TSA projects it will screen 6 percent more travelers compared to this same period last year. Locally, TSA at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) expects to screen 11 percent more departing travelers than during last year’s end-of-year holiday season.

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 rapidly begin to pick-up Wednesday, Dec. 19, and continue through Monday, Dec. 24. Many travelers have planned their return trips starting Wednesday, Dec. 26, through the end of the year.

The two busiest travel days of the holiday season nationally are projected to be Friday, Dec. 21, and Wednesday, Dec. 26, when TSA expects to screen more than 2.7 million people each day. These days may tie the record for TSA’s busiest day ever, which occurred the Sunday after Thanksgiving on Nov. 25, 2018.

Current projections for SEA show that departing passenger volumes begin to increase Wednesday, Dec. 19, with the busiest day expected to be Thursday, Dec. 20. Below is a table with day-by-day projections of the number of passengers TSA at SEA expects to screen through the end of next week.

DateProjected number of passengers
Wednesday, Dec. 1958,300
Thursday, Dec. 2063,300
Friday, Dec. 2162,800
Saturday, Dec. 2260,200
Sunday, Dec. 2355,400
Monday, Dec. 2448,000
Tuesday, Dec. 2550,400
Wednesday, Dec. 2660,600
Thursday, Dec. 2757,600
Friday, Dec. 2857,700

The busiest times at the security checkpoints are projected to be:

  • 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., with the highest volume of passengers expected from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and again from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
    2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Operations are expected to remain busy throughout the evenings, so please plan accordingly.

TSA will staff five security checkpoints this holiday season at SEA. Security checkpoints 1 and 4 will offer dedicated TSA Pre✓® screening for eligible travelers. Security checkpoints 2, 3 and 5 will offer general screening. Please look for signage in the airport that will direct you to the correct screening checkpoint.

Due to the high volume of travelers, TSA strongly advises travelers to 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 including arrival, parking, check-in, security and flight departure process. By arriving early, you will get to your gate with time to spare.

In order to handle the increased passenger volume on peak days during the holiday travel season, TSA locally and nationally will be fully staffed, using overtime to extend the shifts of TSA officers. In addition, TSA utilizes several layers of security, both seen and unseen by the traveling public.

While TSA concentrates on aviation security, passengers can assist by coming to the airport prepared. Here are some helpful 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, you will avoid bringing items to the airport that are prohibited past the security checkpoint. This includes knives, firearms, firearm parts and ammunition, stun guns, and martial arts items. Use the “What Can I Bring?” feature available on our website to help determine if an item is allowed in a carry-on bag or if it needs to be checked.
  • Dress for security screening. Simplify your screening experience by avoiding bulky jewelry, scarves, hair accessories and large belt buckles since these types of items are likely to require additional screening. Wear slip-on shoes to save time. Remember to remove all items from your pockets and secure them in your carry-on bag.
  • Use gift bags instead of wrapping presents. Wrapped gifts are screened just like any other item. If a wrapped gift alarms the security screening technology, a TSA officer may have to unwrap it to determine what the item is. Consider traveling with unwrapped gifts or placing them in a gift bag for easy access and resolution.
  • Traveling with foods. Baked goods (including fruit cake!) and other solid foods are allowed in carry-on luggage. This includes breads, cookies and meats like ham and turkey. Traveling with jams, sauces, gravies or other liquids? Quantities of 3.4 ounces (100 ml) or less are fine in carry-on luggage; anything over 3.4 ounces needs to be placed in a checked bag.
  • Make sure electronics are accessible in your carry-on. Organize your carry-on bag so electronics larger than a cell phone can be quickly and easily accessed when at the security checkpoint. All electronic devices larger than a cell phone should be placed in bins for X-ray screening with nothing on top or below, similar to how laptops have been screened for several years.
  • AskTSA on social media. Question about what you can bring through the security checkpoint? Tweet or Facebook Message AskTSA weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. PST and weekends/holidays from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. PST.
  • Traveling with medically necessary liquids and medical devices? When traveling with medically necessary liquids over the 3.4 ounce (100 ml) limit, please inform a TSA officer prior to putting them through the X-ray. Separate the liquids – and all other medical accessories including freezer packs, IV bags, pumps and syringes – from your other belongings and place them in a bin. Remove electronic medical devices from your carry-on luggage and place in a bin. This will allow the X-ray operator to get a clear view of the device during the screening process.
  • 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.
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