The travel industry seems to have dusted off the COVID-19 cobwebs, as TSA agents announced that they screened a record number of travelers this year. 

Now, officials are warning travelers that this upcoming holiday season may be the busiest that TSA has ever seen. 

According to an official TSA release, the “holiday season” begins on Friday with the start of Thanksgiving travel and concludes on Nov. 28. 

During that 12-day period, 30 million passengers are expected to be screened at security checkpoints nationwide. 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents help travelers place their bags through the 3-D scanner at the Miami International Airport on May 21, 2019 in Miami, Florida. TSA has begun using the new 3-D computed tomography (CT) scanner in a checkpoint lane to detect explosives and other prohibited items that may be inside carry-on bags. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Historically, the three busiest travel days during this stretch of the holiday season are the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday that follows it, TSA says. 

Preliminary TSA projections indicate that up to 3 million people will pass through security checkpoints on Sunday, Nov. 26, which is scheduled to be the busiest of the three days. 

That number is higher than the current record, which was set on June 30 of this year when 2.9 million passengers were screened by TSA officers in a single day. TSA officials believe that record will be broken this Thanksgiving holiday travel period. 

“In 2023, we have already seen seven of the top ten busiest travel days in TSA history,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said. “We are ready for the anticipated volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to make sure we are prepared for this busy holiday season.” 

Of those busiest days, four of them happened this year within nine days of each other (July 21, July 23, July 28 and July 30, 2023).

Pekoske says that agents will be working as hard as they can to keep wait time standards under 30 minutes for standard screening lanes and under 10 minutes for TSA PreCheck lanes. 

A record-breaking 17.6 million people have enrolled in TSA’s PreCheck program, representing an increase of nearly 4 million from this time in 2022. 

The top 10 busiest travel days in TSA history are: 

RankDateTotal passenger volume
1.June 30, 20232,884,783
2.Dec. 1, 20192,882,915
3.July 30, 20232,815,068
4.July 23, 20232,800,368
5.Oct. 15, 20232,797,326
6.July 7, 20192,795,369
7.May 24, 20192,792,670
8.July 28, 20232,787,676
9.June 16, 20232,785,332
10.July 21, 20232,782,146
Data: Transportation Security Administration

TSA has released a list of recommendations for individuals arriving at airports during this busy travel season: 

  • Pack smart and start with empty bags  

Certain foods, such as gravy cranberry sauce, wine, jam and preserves, must be packed in a checked bag because they are considered to be liquids or gels. If the substance can be spilled, sprayed, spread, pumped or poured, it is considered a liquid and must be packed in a checked bag, TSA says. For more information on prohibited items, visit the TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” page. 

  • Bring acceptable forms of ID  

Travelers must take correct identification documents with them; most airports require a physical copy of a traveler’s ID for verification when a boarding pass may not be needed. 

  • Arrive early  

TSA officials recommend arriving two hours prior to departure to allow for adequate time to check in and go through security. 

  • If traveling with a firearm  

Individuals traveling with firearms must pack them in a hard-sided, locked case inside a checked bag and declare it with the airline when checking in. Passengers are prohibited from packing firearms in carry-on luggage, possessing one in an airport security checkpoint or bringing one onboard an aircraft. Violators can be fined up to $15,000. More information can be found by clicking here.

  • Be aware of new checkpoint screening technology  

Screening protocols may differ from airport to airport; some facilities have installed new Computed Tomography scanners that improve threat detection capabilities for carry-on baggage and reduce the frequency of physical searches. 

  • Consider enrolling in TSA PreCheck 

TSA’s trusted traveler program has more than 90 participating airlines and is available at more than 200 airports. A five-year membership costs $78, and after completing an online application, travelers must schedule an appointment at one of the 500-plus enrollment centers nationwide. Children 12 and younger can join TSA PreCheck family members in the same line, and children ages 13 through 17 can join family members if they are traveling on the same reservation and the TSA PreCheck indicator appears on the child’s boarding pass. For more information, click here.

  • Call ahead to request passenger support 

Travelers or families of travelers who may need assistance are asked to call the TSA Cares helpline at least 72 hours prior to travel with any questions about screening procedures or any assistance for travelers with specific needs. 

  • Reach out to airport officials with any questions 

Travelers can get assistance in real time by texting their question to 275872 (AskTSA), through @AskTSA on X, formerly Twitter, or direct messaging TSA on Facebook Messenger. Travelers can also reach the TSA Contact Center by calling 866-289-9673. 

  • Remain aware at all times 

Report all suspicious activities, and remember “If you see something, say something.” 

  • Show gratitude to frontline workers 

Thank a security officer, a gate agent, flight attendant or someone else who works on the frontlines of the transportation industry.