What To Expect When Flying This Holiday Season

If you’re flying this holiday season, it’s going to be almost as busy as your last pre-pandemic holiday flight. However, there will be several differences that can result in unexpected delays or changes in your packing routine.

Long Security Lines

The TSA PreCheck and CLEAR lines can be longer than usual because of potential staffing shortages, but the agency is hiring additional help for the holiday travel season. Shortages can vary by airport and the travel day. It’s an excellent idea to check the current wait times by using the My TSA Mobile Application. Your departure airport may also publish the wait times on their website or social media channels.

Experts recommend arriving at least two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights. Previously, you may have been able to arrive approximately one hour early for domestic flights if you were only bringing a carry-on.

In addition to the potentially longer security lines, it may also take longer for the TSA agent to inspect your carry-on baggage because of these two new rules:

  • Each passenger can bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in a single container
  • Food must be in a clear bag and separate from the luggage

These new guidelines are in addition to removing your electronics and shoes.

Reduced Airport Services

While more people are flying than just a year ago, many in-airport merchants have reduced hours and amenities. Some of the temporary closures can include:

  • Airport lounges
  • Stores
  • Restaurants

If there’s a particular place you want to visit pre-flight or during a layover (like a Centurion Lounge or a Priority Pass Lounge), check the merchant website or the airport page.

Airline check-in counters may also be minimally staffed. As a result, you may need to use a self-service kiosk. Elite status flyers may also find themselves not getting the same personalized assistance as usual.   

Social Distancing Measures

Wait times for airport transit and snagging a table at a concourse restaurant can also take longer because of capacity limitations and standing at least six feet apart from other travelers. 

In regards to food and beverages, more places are offering take-out as an alternative. If you have a short layover, you might also bring extra snacks instead of trying to find a restaurant with minimal waits. If you find a restaurant, you can enjoy your snacks later in the journey. 

As the transit buses and trains may have reduced seating capacity, these activities can take longer:

  • Getting from a parking lot to the check-in dropoff
  • Switching airport terminals
  • Going from baggage claim to an off-site rental car agency

Wearing A Mask

It’s a federal law for any traveler age two or older to wear a mask during commercial travel and while inside a public transit hub, regardless of vaccination status. This means you will need to wear a mask at all times in these places:

  • Airport terminal
  • On a commercial airplane
  • Public transit

The mask must cover your nose and mouth. If you don’t have a suitable mask, free ones might be available at the gate or security lines. Vending machines may also sell masks and other hygiene items such as hand sanitizer.

Burnt Out Airline Crews

Being a pilot or flight attendant is challenging, but it’s even more tedious during the ongoing pandemic with additional responsibilities and crew shortages. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more common to see news reports about unruly and violent passengers.

Be hospitable to your aircrew, airport staff and fellow passengers. While circumstances are improving, patience in many individuals remains thin and verbal disputes are more likely than before the pandemic. 

Potential Travel Delays

You can be more prone to travel delays and rescheduled flights when flying at Thanksgiving because of the narrow travel window and the possibility of early winter weather. Crew shortages and reduced travel schedules can also impact operations throughout the holiday season. 

Consider building extra time in your schedule to provide some cushion if you get delayed. Airlines are offering fewer flights than usual, and space can be limited on alternative flights.

It’s also a good idea to review your credit card travel insurance and trip delay benefits before you head out. You might be able to get reimbursement for essential purchases (i.e., replacement clothing, food, lodging and toiletries) and non-refundable travel purchases above and beyond the airline compensation for extensive delays. For pricey trips, you may also purchase a standalone travel insurance policy for additional peace of mind. 

Traveler Health Forms

Depending on your destination, you may need to complete a traveler health form providing your travel plans, personal contact information and basic health questions to determine if you need quarantine or delay your travel itinerary. 

Hawaii requires this form for all tourists and returning residents along with a negative diagnostic test or proof of vaccination to waive the 10-day self-quarantine. Other municipalities may also require you to complete a form, including Los Angeles. However, most states and cities dropped this requirement earlier in 2021.

If your destination doesn’t require a form, the airline may still have you complete a quick health questionnaire affirming you’re not symptomatic and are unaware of recent Covid-19 exposure. When returning to the United States from an international flight, any passenger age two or older must have a negative test result.  

In-Airport Testing Centers

If you’re flying abroad for the holidays, most international travel guidelines require a negative pre-arrival test. A negative test is also necessary for the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated to fly to Hawaii restriction-free.

It’s possible to arrive at the airport early and get the test before boarding your international flight. If your departure airport offers this service, you can book an appointment and upload your test results before takeoff.

Emphasis On Cleanliness 

Airports and airlines are striving to provide a cleaner environment in the airport terminals and aircraft. You can expect numerous hand sanitizer stations and regularly scheduled cleanings of public seating areas.

There will be contactless stations to present your boarding pass or drop off your checked and carry-on luggage when possible.


This holiday season is going to have near-normal travel volumes. Hopefully, you will have smooth flying, but preparing for the unexpected can be more vital than before. Allotting extra time, bringing extra provisions and being patient can help make your trip a success.

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