TSA

Travel Tidbits from Airports Near You

Here’s a quick roundup of fun posts and new amenities recently spotted at airports.

New York’s Albany International Airport (ALB) is getting ready for all the travelers who will be arriving for the Belmont Stakes horse race in Saratoga on June 8.

They’ve set up a selfie station with a horse statue just past the security checkpoint.

Party on!

Airports often put together a gate-side celebration when an airline kicks off a new route. But Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) does it especially well.

We’ve been watching these Jabbrrbox workspace pods sprout at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) over the past few months and have yet to try them out. Given how busy the airport is this season, though, we’re sure travelers with work to do or important calls to take will find them useful.

We’re keeping an eye out for the colorful posts from airports in support of Pride Month.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is lighting up its tower with a two-fer in support of Indigenous History Month AND Pride Month.

And we got a kick out of this TSA post recognizing National Hug Your Cat Day. Is that even a real thing?

Self-service security screening? It’s being tested

Self-service checkout works at the grocery store.

So why not self-service screening at the airport?

That’s what the Transportation Security Administration has in mind.

For the next six months, TSA and the Department of Homeland Security will be testing a self-service checkpoint at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas.

Starting in mid-March, travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck will have the option to use TSA’s Innovation Checkpoint at LAS and test out a prototype technology that includes new body scanning technology that lets passengers complete the screening process on their own.

As they do now, travelers will empty their pockets and put all carry-on items into bins that go through the X-ray machines. Then each passenger steps into an enclosed scanning booth.

If, for example, the passenger has left a cell phone in their pocket, the booth directs them to step out, empty their pockets and try again.

The goal, TSA says, is to use this technology to cut down on instances where a TSA agent is required to conduct a pat-down or secondary screening.

Curious about how it works and ready – or not – to give it a try?

Here’s a TV clip from TODAY.

TSA’s firearm tally hits a new record

(‘No Guns on Planes’ photo courtesy TSA)

Pop quiz: Can you take your gun on a plane in your carry-on bag?

The answer is no.

But the message isn’t getting through. No matter how many times and in how many ways the Transportation Security Administration crew tries to remind travelers of that fact.

In 2023, TSA officers found 6,737 firearms in carry-on bags at airport security checkpoints.

That’s up from the 6,542 firearms detected in 2022. And it’s a scary new record.

Even more alarming: of all the guns TSA found in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints nationwide in 2023, approximately 93 percent were loaded.

The TSA didn’t share how many of those loaded guns had a bullet in the chamber. (They used to).

  

Top 10 list of airports where TSA found the most guns

In 2023, firearms were caught at 265 airport checkpoints.

Here’s a TSA chart showing the 10 airports where TSA found the most guns. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) tops the list with a total of 451 firearms. Three Texas airports are on the Top 10 list.

Top 10 airports with guns caught by TSA at checkpoints in 2023
RankAirport (Code)Total
1Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)451
2Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)378
3Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)311
4Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)235
5Nashville International Airport (BNA)188
6Denver International Airport (DEN)178
7Orlando International Airport (MCO)164
8Tampa International Airport144
9Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)135
10Dallas Love Field (DAL)

The numbers have been climbing. This chart shows firearms caught by TSA at checkpoints from 2008 to 2023

YearNationwide
20236,737
20226,542
20215,972
20203,257
20194,432
20184,239
2017 3,957
20163,391
20152,653
20142,212
20131,813
20121,556
20111,320
20101,123
2009976
2008926

Can you take your gun in your checked bag?

The answer is yes. But.

TSA says travelers may pack firearms in checked baggage if they are unloaded and packed in a locked hard-side case.

Ammunition must be in its original box and can be packed inside the hard-side case, next to the firearm. Even if the box of ammunition is not full, the bullets must be in their original case. The case with the firearm should be brought to the airline check-in counter to be declared to the airline representative.

Traveling for Thanksgiving?

Are you traveling over this Thanksgiving holiday?

You won’t be alone. Not by a long shot.

AAA projects 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving holiday travel period. That’s an increase of 2.3% over last year and marks the third-highest Thanksgiving forecast since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000.

AAA expects 4.7 million people will fly over the Thanksgiving holiday.

That’s an increase of 6.6% compared to 2022 and the highest number of Thanksgiving air travelers since 2005.

Airport checkpoints will be busier than ever during this Thanksgiving holiday season, which begins Friday, Nov. 17, and concludes Tuesday, Nov. 28. And during that 12-day period, TSA expects to screen 30 million passengers.

Historically, the three busiest travel days around Thanksgiving are the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward. TSA expects to screen 2.6 million passengers on Tuesday, Nov. 21; 2.7 million passengers on Wednesday, Nov. 22 and 2.9 million passengers on Sunday, Nov. 26, which will likely be the busiest travel day.

TSA PreCheck

TSA says there are now more than 17.6 million passengers enrolled in TSA PreCheck, which represents 3.9 million more TSA PreCheck members than there were this time last year.

So don’t be surprised if the PreCheck lanes seem long at the airports you’ll be flying through this holiday season.

News to use: travel safely during the Mideast crisis

Sea-Tac security line

(This is a story we first reported for NBC News)

Last Thursday the State Department advised travelers from the U.S. to “exercise increased caution” worldwide because of the Israel-Hamas war, citing “the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests.”

The warning “means what it says,” said Jeffrey Price, an aviation security expert and professor of aviation and aerospace science at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Don’t go to areas where they are actively capturing or killing U.S. citizens, and be careful when going to countries where you could be put in harm’s way simply by being there.” 

But what about trips to Barcelona or Singapore or even just Baton Rouge? Here’s what to consider if you’ve got travel plans on the books or are making them now, given the conflict in the Middle East.

All-purpose safety precautions

In addition to telling U.S. travelers to reconsider travel to Israel and the West Bank and to avoid any travel to Gaza, federal officials also recommend staying especially alert in popular locations anywhere tourists gather globally.

They suggest following State Department accounts on social media for updates and joining the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program [STEP] to make it easier for the agency to get in touch with American travelers abroad in case of emergencies.

The State Department has alerts of various levels in effect for many countries because of conflict and other risk factors, but “worldwide caution” advisories are less common. The last one was issued in August 2022 after a U.S. drone strike killed a high-level Al Qaeda leader.

Some national security experts regard last week’s global alert “as one of the most urgent issued in light of the extremely high tensions throughout the Middle East,” said Howard Stoffer, a professor of international affairs at the University of New Haven and a former senior official in the State Department’s Foreign Service.

“This type of alert usually lasts a relatively short time,” he said, but the current one “may last for some period of time.”

What should you do?

If you’re planning upcoming travel, you can monitor the State Department’s travel advisories for any destinations on your itinerary both before and during your trip. The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, also maintains an interactive Global Conflict Tracker that provides additional information for specific areas around the world.

Experts warn against slipping so deeply into vacation mode that you risk losing sight of potential shifts in the political or security situation on the ground.

“Be aware of your surroundings and be sure to cooperate with any increased security measures,” Price said.

Stoffer said, “Stay alert and listen to the news carefully when out there.” Otherwise, exercise the same good judgment you would under any other circumstances, like steering clear of major protests and making sure friends and family back home know where you are.

Air travel

Israeli flag carrier El Al Airlines is the only airline that continues to fly between the U.S. and Israel, although its website notes that “there may be a change in the departure times of some flights.”

Major U.S.-based airlines that previously offered regular service to Tel Aviv, including American, Delta, and United, have issued travel alerts for the Middle East and suspended all flights to Israel.

United has also issued a travel alert for its flights to Amman, Jordan, but service there is continuing.

The suspensions include direct flights out of major hubs such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., as well as connecting flights on partner airlines, said Scott Keyes of the flight deal website Going.

With Delta having already extended the dates of its rebooking provisions, Keyes said, “It’s all but certain other U.S. airlines will extend their travel waivers for at least as long as the escalated hostilities continue.”

At airports and other transportation hubs, “travelers can expect to see a larger law enforcement and canine presence,” said Robert Langston, a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA is operating at a “heightened level of security as a result of world events and the current threat environment,” he said. Officials there and at its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, will continue to monitor the situation and adjust their security measures as needed.

Security checkpoint lines at airports could get longer because of the increased measures, Price said, but “if things are getting out of hand, TSA can also speed up lines by reducing random checks.”

Cruises

A handful of cruise lines have made changes to scheduled sailings in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, said Aaron Saunders, a senior editor at Cruise Critic.

“The changes range from the cancellation of full sailing seasons to adjustments to itineraries that remove select ports,” he said. 

Windstar Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and MSC are among the cruise lines that have pulled all their ships out of the region because of the conflict, Cruise Critic has reported, while Norwegian Cruise Line has informed passengers on a coming Rome-to-Athens cruise that stops in Israel will be skipped.

“Cruise lines have teams dedicated to monitoring the latest news and updates and reserve the right to adjust their plans as they see most fit,” Saunders said.

He encourages anyone with a cruise reservation to watch for emails from the operator for updates on specific sailings, as well as any compensation being offered for significantly affected ones. For those considering a cruise to the region, “we strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance,” Saunders added.

Travel Insurance 

Many travel insurance policies already provide cancellation and interruption benefits in the event a terrorist attack affects a trip, according to published guidelines from the travel insurance comparison platform SquareMouth.

But in most cases, those benefits kick in only for policies purchased before the date of the attack, meaning such coverage would apply for the current conflict only on insurance taken out on or before Oct. 6.

Travelers with coming trips to Israel who have cancellation and interruption benefits may be reimbursed for 100% of their trip expenses if they need to cancel, SquareMouth noted. Travelers planning to visit Israel as part of trips may also be covered if they need to cut their itineraries short.