SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Traveling for Thanksgiving and heading back home on a plane on Sunday? Or leaving today or Wednesday?

Be prepared, lots of people will be traveling with you, said Jessica Mayle, a public affairs specialist for the TSA Great Lakes region.

“That Sunday after is when we what we are expecting to be the biggest day in the nation and the region. Nearly everyone is coming back as late as they can on the Sunday. That’s the day when we really see a lot of activity, long lines…,” Mayle said.

The Sioux Falls Regional Airport will be busy on the Sunday after the holiday, said Dan Letellier, the executive director of the airport.

“The Wednesday before and the Sunday after, those are the peak times,” Letellier said.

Thanksgiving travel nationwide is expected to flirt with pre-COVID levels in 2019, Mayle said.

“What we’re looking at, we’re expecting big crowds over the Thanksgiving basically, I don’t think we’re going to hit over our whole holiday period the total volume we were at in 2019, (pre-pandemic). But we are going to get close and we could get certain days where we will be pre-pandemic,” Mayle said.

While Sunday is the biggest air travel day, travel to holiday destinations started as early as Friday, Nov. 18, Mayle said. And the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are three other busiest days.

The TSA counts 10 days of holiday travel from that Friday, Nov. 18 through Sunday, Nov. 27.

TSA could screen as many as 2.5 million passengers at checkpoints nationwide on Wednesday, Nov. 23, and may surpass 2.5 million passengers on Sunday, Nov. 27.

Letellier said the Sioux Falls airport there’s been uptick in daily departures and arrivals. One contributor is the addition of winter season flights on Sunday and Thursday by Allegiant Air, he said.

“Typically a busy day is 1,800 to 1,900. We’re seeing spikes of up to 2,400 a day,” Letellier said.

The TSA, like the overall transportation industry, has staffing challenges, Mayle said. But the TSA is prepared in this region and across the nation to handle the holiday travelers, she said.

“For the immediate term, this holiday season, I want people to feel confident we are ready for you,” Mayle said.

The TSA has been working with airports to determine volume and needs to make sure TSA is staffed appropriately, Mayle said.

TSA strategies to handle the volume include opening the number of lanes that are needed, using overtime for staff, converting part-time employees to temporary full-time, and moving staff from less busy airports to busier airports, Mayle said.

“We can meet the demand as it comes,” Mayle said.

What can travelers do to help during busy season?

Sioux Falls is the largest airport in the state followed by Rapid City. There are also regular flights from smaller airports such as Pierre or Watertown.

Even if people are leaving and returning from a smaller airport or even Sioux Falls or Rapid City, they may have a connecting flight at a larger airport.

Mayle has this advice: Travelers should give themselves plenty of time to park, navigate an airport and get through the process to board.

“Give yourself more time than you would in a non-holiday setting, ” Mayle said.

The increase in travel this Thanksgiving will mean some people are returning to flight for the first time since COVID, Mayle said. Again, making sure they are prepared for busy airports is important.

Travelers can also do several things to make sure they don’t slow themselves and others down.

They should pack smart. What often slows down a security line is a bottle of shampoo that’s too big. Something like that, “slows everyone behind you down,” Mayle said.

Mayle said travelers should check the TSA website for what they can bring in their backs.

“Nobody wants to be re-packing their bag (at the airport),” Mayle said.

Travelers can also save time by enrolling in TSA Precheck.

Mayle said travelers accepted into the TSA Precheck program have shortened wait times.

“More than 90% wait less than five minutes in airports across the nation,” Mayle said. Precheck means people don’t need to remove shoes or take off jackets and similar because there are fewer touch points in security, she said.

Travelers start the application process online and the in-person piece requires fingerprints and documents to prove identity.

It’s likely too late to be enrolled for the Thanksgiving travel season even though most people are accepted within three to five days, Mayle said.

The holiday travel season continues after Thanksgiving

Looking ahead into December, “All airports are going to experience increased travel volume,” Mayle said.

While “Definitely South Dakota is a place where we see increase in the summer because you guys have such a great tourism industry in the summer,” Mayle said, but airports should also experience upticks in holiday travel through the end of the year.

Robert Cyrus will be experiencing his first holiday and winter travel season as the manager of the Watertown Airport.

He hasn’t seen an uptick in travel for the Thanksgiving holiday season, Cyrus said.

He’s been told to expect an uptick in flights to Denver for the skiing season, he said.