TSA prepares for 4th of July travel spike at DC-area airports

It’s Independence Day week, which means travel is picking up across the country and here in the DMV, TSA at our major airports are preparing for higher-than-usual passenger volumes. 

TSA says it’s already been a record-setting summer travel season with the highest number of travelers that the agency has ever seen at airport security checkpoints since the season began Memorial Day weekend. 

Officials say over the past five weeks, TSA has seen several days make it into the top 10 busiest days in the agency’s 22-year history, including the top three days ever.

TSA officials at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) also expect it to be extremely busy and the agency has been working with airport, airline and travel partners to ensure they’re ready for the increased travel volumes.

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On a typical day at BWI, TSA screens 27,000 people but since mid-May, they’ve been screening closer to 33,000 people per day. They say the busiest times of the day at BWI are from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

"My advice to travelers is to get to the airport early because it will be crowded here and at other airports across the country," said Christopher Murgia, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Maryland. "By early, I encourage you to arrive at least two hours in advance of your departure time. It will take you longer to find an available parking spot and you can expect to see a line at your airline check-in counter. And that’s before you head to the checkpoint."

Murgia’s second piece of advice is to "know before you go." 

"Know the contents of your carry-on bag," Murgia says. "It’s best to begin packing for travel with an empty bag, because that way travelers are less likely to see their carry-on bag trigger an alarm. If you start with an empty bag, you know with certainty that you do not have anything prohibited inside."

BWI airport officials say they’ve also installed new screening technology to help keep passengers moving during the busy summer travel period.

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"If you have not traveled recently, we want you to be aware of new checkpoint technology units that we have installed here in time for the busy summer travel period," Murgia added.

TSA has installed automated screening lanes (ASLs) with computed tomography (CT) scanners to improve efficiency and decrease the amount of time travelers spend in the security screening process.

"We are always looking to incorporate innovative technology throughout the terminal to improve the passenger experience while improving upon our security posture," Murgia said. "The new screening lanes offer enhanced security as well as an expedited screening experience."

The CT scanners provide a clear 3-D image of the contents of a traveler’s carry-on bag so TSA agents can get a more complete view of what is inside each bag, so fewer bags are pulled aside and opened. 

The 3-D images also enable TSA to better and more quickly identify any threat items that might be contained in carry-on bags.

TSA also suggests that you put getting a REAL ID on your summer ‘to-do’ list if you plan to travel.