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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Maria Ramirez, a supervisory officer with the Transportation Security Administration, talks to journalists on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, about items confiscated at TSA checkpoints at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — With a historic volume of travelers anticipated this holiday season, airport security is warning passengers to be prepared and patient as they head to Grandma's house this Christmas.

And please, leave your guns, knives and Tasers at home, and not in your carry-on bags, they noted Friday amid a display of confiscated gear shown at a news conference at the airport.

The Transportation Security Administration nationally and locally expects to screen a record number of travelers during the 2018 Christmas and New Year holiday travel season. Nationally, TSA projects it will screen 6 percent more travelers compared to this same period last year, including at Salt Lake City International Airport.

Already this year, the 15 busiest days ever at the state's largest airport have occurred in 2018, said Mark Lewis, TSA federal security director for Utah.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Transportation Security Administration officer Jonathan Sodoberg assists travelers at a security checkpoint at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018.

"The economy is good, people feel safe and secure and they want to fly and travel," he said. The day after Christmas is forecast to be the busiest travel day of the season with crowds far in excess of the typical 22,500 daily average of passengers the airport usually serves, he said.

"We may be as many as 28,000 or 29,000 the day after Christmas," he added.

At airports across the country, projected passenger volumes for the end-of-year holiday travel season will average about 2.3 million travelers per day, according to a TSA news release. Passenger volumes are expected to pick up next Wednesday, continuing through Christmas Eve, with many travelers planning their return trips starting Dec. 26 through the end of the year.

Nationally, the busiest travel day of the holiday season is projected to be Dec. 21, when TSA expects to screen more than 2.7 million people. This may tie the record for TSA’s busiest day ever, which occurred the Sunday after Thanksgiving last month.

New research data indicated Salt Lake City International is considered the best airport to fly this Christmas season, according to a new ranking by online travel site InsureMyTrip. The rankings were based on flight cancellation rates with Salt Lake City achieving the lowest percentage of canceled flights out of all 75 airports on the list, with New York City's LaGuardia Airport faring the worst.

At Salt Lake City International Airport, the busiest times at the security checkpoints are projected to be from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. with the highest volume of passengers expected in the early morning from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and again from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., then from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the afternoon.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Travelers proceed through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018.

Due to the high volume of travelers, Lewis advised travelers to arrive two hours prior to flight departure to ensure there is plenty of time to complete each step of the airport arrival, including check-in and security process. By arriving early, you will arrive at your gate with time to spare, he said.

Locally, TSA opens the security checkpoint in Terminal 2 at 4:30 a.m., while the security checkpoint in Terminal 1 is open 24 hours a day. Travelers can get to any airline gate from any security checkpoint in the airport, the news release stated.

In order to handle the increased passenger volume on peak days during the holiday travel season, TSA locally and nationally will be fully staffed, using overtime to extend the hours of part-time employees, Lewis said. In addition, TSA utilizes several layers of security, both seen and unseen by the traveling public, he added.

That security is responsible for identifying scores of prohibited items that passengers attempt to bring through the security checkpoints, including weapons of all kinds and even potentially dangerous sports equipment, explained Maria Ramirez, TSA supervisory officer at Salt Lake City International Airport.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
A collection of items confiscated at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at the Salt Lake City International Airport are displayed at the airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018.

"We see lots of knives, we see flashlights that are actually tasers, toy guns and lots of tools," she said. Other items include inert grenades, brass knuckles, firearms, firearm parts, ammunition and martial arts items, she added. There was even a golf club as well as a cane with a retractable blade in the end that was confiscated on display at a news conference Friday at the airport.

"(Travelers) usually say they forgot the (banned) item was in the bag," Ramirez said. "When they come through security, they forget to take them out."

In Salt Lake City, travelers have options to mail the item back to themselves, place the item in their checked baggage, put it in their vehicle, give it to a friend or family member (if available) or voluntarily abandon the item with TSA, she said.

Ramirez advised travelers to check TSA.gov to learn what items are allowed and which ones are prohibited.

"Make sure what you have in your (carry-on) bag is what you really want to take with you through security," she said. "Be aware that we will stop you (if necessary) and it's for your own safety and the rest of the passengers. We're just doing our job."

Security tips

Travel tips to make the security checkpoint experience go smoothly during the holidays – and throughout the year:

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  • Unpack your bag before you pack it — at home. By unpacking your bag fully and repacking it before coming to the airport, you will avoid bringing items to the airport that are prohibited past the security checkpoint. Use the “What Can I Bring” feature available on the TSA.gov website to help determine if an item is allowed in a carry-on bag or if it needs to be checked.
  • Dress for security screening. Wear slip-on shoes to save time. Remember to remove all items from your pockets and secure them in your carry-on bag.
  • Use gift bags instead of wrapping presents.
  • Make sure electronics are accessible in your carry-on.
  • Refresh your knowledge of the liquids rule. Liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes in carry-on luggage must in quantities of 3.4 ounces (100 ml) or less.
  • Ask TSA on social media. Tweet or Message AskTSA weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. MST and weekends and holidays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST.
  • Call TSA Cares. Travelers or families of travelers with disabilities and/or medical conditions may call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 855-787-2227 with any questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint as well as to arrange for assistance at the checkpoint. Calls should be made at least 72 hours prior to traveling.