Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
Airports With the Worst Security Lines Over the Holidays [2023 Data Study]
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In a testament to the resilience of the U.S. airline industry, air travel has not only rebounded from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic¹ but has now surpassed pre-pandemic 2019 levels.² As eager travelers prepare to visit family and friends this holiday season, airports are gearing up for a surge in activity not witnessed in years.
Commercial airlines are often busiest³ around the Thanksgiving and winter holidays, and with increasing demand for air travel, longer security wait times could present a major challenge for passengers. Knowing what to expect at TSA checkpoints will help travelers coordinate transportation, minimize disruptions, and even avoid missing flights.
Standard TSA Holiday Wait Times by Airport
Florida, New York, and Denver metros are home to the worst holiday TSA wait times. Image Credit: Upgraded Points
During the 2022 holiday season (Thanksgiving week through the following Monday and the week before Christmas through the observed New Year’s Day), the average passenger waited just under 6 minutes in airport security lines; however, this number varied widely by airport. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the primary U.S. air travel hubs rank among the worst airports for wait times during the holidays. Notably:
- 3 Florida airports ranked among the top 6 worst for wait times: Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) at 12.0 minutes, Orlando International Airport (MCO) at 9.2 minutes, and Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport (FLL) at 9.1 minutes.
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) had average wait times of 11.7 minutes (second worst) and 9.6 minutes (third worst) through standard TSA security, respectively.
- Denver International Airport (DEN) — a popular airport for connecting flights and a destination for visitors to the Rocky Mountains — had travelers waiting an average of 9.1 minutes through standard TSA lines.
On the other hand, San Antonio International Airport (SAT) reported the shortest holiday wait times at an average of just 1.4 minutes. And remarkably, some airports actually saw their wait times significantly decrease during the holiday season compared to the 2022 annual average. TSA wait times at Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Hartford, Connecticut, dropped by 32.8% down to 2.8 minutes, while wait times at Kahului Airport (OGG) in Maui, Hawaii, declined 29.8% over the holiday period.
The Impact of TSA PreCheck on Holiday Wait Times
The Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Wednesday before Christmas had the longest waits through TSA. Image Credit: Upgraded Points
For travelers who are constrained in their choice of airport, acquiring TSA PreCheck is the most effective method to minimize wait times. During the 2022 holiday travel season, the average TSA PreCheck passenger experienced roughly one-third of the wait time compared to the typical standard passenger. Even the days with the worst TSA holiday wait times — the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Wednesday before Christmas — wait times through TSA PreCheck lines are significantly shorter. The same can be said at the nation’s busiest airports: passengers with TSA PreCheck can expect to wait around 3 minutes or less.Hot Tip:
Check out our guide to the best credit cards for complimentary Global Entry and TSA PreCheck!
Airports With the Worst TSA Holiday Wait Times
The following is a full list of the worst security lines among major U.S. airports during the holidays. Researchers at Upgraded Points analyzed wait time data from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Average wait times were calculated using data surrounding Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving week through the following Monday) and winter holidays (the week before Christmas through the observed New Year’s Day).
The data in this analysis was obtained from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). To determine the airports with the worst security lines over the holidays, researchers at Upgraded Points calculated the average wait time at standard TSA checkpoints for all major U.S. airports during the 2022 holiday season. The Thanksgiving holiday was defined as November 17, 2022, through November 28, 2022, and the winter holiday was considered to be December 17, 2022, through January 3, 2023.
Researchers also calculated the average wait time at TSA PreCheck security checkpoints and the percentage change for both standard and TSA PreCheck wait times compared to average, where the average wait time was calculated during January 4, 2022, through January 3, 2023, for consistency.
It’s important to keep in mind that the statistics presented here are averages for the 2022 holiday period and don’t necessarily capture the maximum amount of time any individual passenger could have to wait this year.
Wait times during the busiest days and travel times can be significantly longer than average. Additionally, with air travel in the U.S. now surpassing pre-pandemic levels, commercial airlines are preparing for their busiest holiday season in years. This heightened demand could mean longer wait times across the board, depending on the airport passengers choose.
1. U.S. Department of the Treasury. (November 2023). Airline and National Security Relief Programs. https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/assistance-for-american-industry/airline-and-national-security-relief-programs. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
2. Reuters. (2023, May 30). U.S. holiday air passenger travel tops 2019 pre-COVID levels. https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-holiday-air-passenger-travel-tops-2019-pre-covid-levels-2023-05-30/. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
3. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). November 2023). TSA checkpoint travel numbers (current year versus prior year(s)/same weekday). https://www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-volumes. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
Featured Image Credit: Upgraded Points
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