The best way to assure smooth sailing through airport security this week: Don’t bring a prohibited item.
The second best: Don’t get caught in line behind someone who does.
The Transportation Security Administration drove home the point Monday with a demonstration at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where half a million passengers are expected to pass through screening over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The TSA set up a checkpoint with volunteer “passengers.” A line of 13 people with no prohibited items got through in 3.5 minutes. The same passengers including three with prohibited items — a gun, a throwing star, a bottle of water, along with a laptop left in a bag — took nearly 12 minutes to process.
The difference could be magnified this year. Airport officials say record numbers of passengers, coupled with efforts to tighten security, will produce the longest lines in recent memory. They advise getting to the airport 2.5 hours ahead of departure time on peak holiday travel days.
Wait times at main terminal checkpoints were 10 to 20 minutes Monday afternoon, according to the airport website.
The TSA said the number of people screened each day rises about 40 percent during the holiday period. A record 88,000 are expected to be screened on Sunday, typically the busiest day of the Thanksgiving rush.
As if to underscore its demonstration, the TSA said an actual passenger tried to go through a checkpoint just before 7 a.m. Monday with a .22 revolver. More than 130 people have been caught with guns at Atlanta airport security checkpoints so far this year.
Whenever a gun, explosive or other dangerous weapons are caught, TSA officers halt screening in the lane and call Atlanta police to the checkpoint.
Jan Lister, an airport guest relations manager who participated in Monday’s demonstration, was given the throwing star to keep in her bag through while going through security. It took more than 7 minutes to be cleared after police were called to respond.
“It felt like a lot longer,” Lister said. “It felt like we were just standing there for the longest period of time.”
The TSA aims to get about 150 passengers through a security lane per hour, but that is slowed when passengers are stopped for improperly keeping laptops in bags or having bottles of water in their carry-ons. The most common prohibited items are liquids larger than the 3.4 oz size allowed, according to the TSA.
The complete list of prohibited items: