TSA expects travel at DC-area airports to near pre-pandemic levels for Thanksgiving

Travel volume this year at D.C.- area airports won’t be as high as during Thanksgiving 2019, but it will be notably higher than it has been leading up to this turkey day, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019 was the highest travel day in TSA history, with nearly 2.9 million people screened at security checkpoints nationwide. At Reagan National, Dulles International and BWI Marshall airports, TSA officials are expecting a return to pre-pandemic levels during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, which runs from Friday, Nov. 19 to Sunday, Nov. 28.

“Travelers should expect to see a very busy airport if they are traveling during the Thanksgiving time frame,” said Reginald Stephens, TSA acting federal security director for BWI Marshall.

It’s expected to be the same at Reagan National and Dulles airports in Virginia.

“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 federal security director for Reagan National and Dulles.

Johnson and Stephens said in a statement that the airports are ready to handle the increase in the number of passengers, and they have advice on making sure you breeze through the checkpoints easily.

One of the ways you can help is by knowing what should and should not be packed in a carry-on bag.

“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,” Johnson said.

If an item in a carry-on triggers an alarm, an officer will need to open the bag, and although the search usually takes about two to three minutes, that slows down the checkpoint, the TSA said.

If you’re not sure what you can and cannot place in your carry-on luggage, the TSA has a free app called myTSA that has a feature called “Can I bring?”

“Travelers can type in the name of an item and find out instantly if it should be packed in a carry-on or checked bag,” Stephens said.

OK, so this year you’re in charge of making grandma’s famous sweet potato pie. Where does that go?



Passengers can bring solid foods such as pies, cakes and other baked goods through the checkpoints. However, gravy, cranberry sauce, wine, jam and 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,” the TSA said in a news release.

The TSA said that it does not anticipate that the federal employee vaccine mandate will have an impact on staffing during the Thanksgiving travel period, but Johnson said travelers should get to the airport two hours before their scheduled flight.

If you’re flying out of Reagan National, there are two new security checkpoints in terminals B and C that opened earlier this month, so it may not be how you remembered it if you have not flown out of Reagan National in a while.

Lastly, wear a mask. There is a face mask requirement across all transportation networks in the U.S., including at airports and onboard commercial aircrafts.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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