Holiday travel is back in full swing after over a year of pandemic restrictions that left last year’s trips uncertain and even canceled. This year, however, airports are seeing many more passengers, so you’ll want to have a plan to cope with the crowds.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport expects a few busy days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday and through the weekend after. There are also still COVID-19 safety protocols in place at the airport and on your flight.
Here’s what to know before heading to Sky Harbor Airport for your Thanksgiving trip.
Masks must be worn in airports and on planes
A federal mandate still requires masks in terminals and on aircraft. The Transportation Security Administration has extended the mask requirement through Jan. 18, 2022. Masks are also required on other forms of public transit, including buses and rail systems.
If you approach security without a mask, the TSA agent will ask you to put one on. If you don’t have one, they will provide one. You won’t be allowed to board your flight unmasked and you could be banned from future flights if you violate the policy in flight.
Check with your airline for any additional requirements prior to your trip. Travelers also can check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for more COVID-19 guidance.
You can get a COVID-19 test at Sky Harbor
Most COVID-19 travel restrictions in the U.S. have been lifted — Hawaii is a notable exception and requires vaccination or a negative test. If you’re traveling internationally, your destination might require testing.
You can get tested at the XpresCheck clinic in the Drugs & More store on Level 3 in Terminal 4. It’s open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. An airline ticket is not required to get tested.
You can get either a polymerase chain reaction test (results take 48-96 hours) or blood antibody test (results in about an hour). Book an appointment at https://www.xprescheck.com or walk in. (If it’s busy you might have to wait.)
Xprescheck recommends passengers get tested three hours before their flight. The length of testing time can vary but according to the testing company, to be seen can take around 20 minutes, plus another hour for the test and results.
What are the busiest Thanksgiving travel days?
According to Eric Everts, public information officer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the airport will be busy the Tuesday before Thanksgiving through the Monday after the holiday.
Everts notes that travelers should keep road traffic in mind as well.
“The Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be especially busy on our roadways. We encourage travelers to give extra time and check their flight status with their airline before coming to the airport,” he said via email.
For those planning to park at the airport, Everts recommends reserving a parking spot in advance at https://www.skyharbor.com/parkphx. The airport offers up to 50 percent off if you book early online. Multi-day parking discounts during the week and weekends are also available.
What if I am picking up or dropping off at the airport?
You don’t have to drive into the airport if you’re dropping off or picking up passengers. Drop them off at the PHX Sky Train Station at 44th and Washington streets in Phoenix.
“We highly recommend using the 44th Street PHX Sky Train Station for dropping off and picking up travelers,” Everts said. “Our roadways and terminal curbs are going to be especially busy. Using the 44th Street Station can help drivers avoid that traffic and congestion.
“There is a free cellphone waiting lot there as well as short-term parking meters. Travelers can ride the free PHX Sky Train to the terminals. Additionally, we have two other cellphone lots on the east and west sides of the airport.”
Can I fly with an expired drivers license? What about REAL ID?
According to TSA.gov, if your drivers license or state-issued ID expired on or after March 1, 2020, and you have been unable to renew, you may still be able to use it as identification at the security checkpoint. TSA will accept expired drivers licenses or state-issued IDs a year after expiration.
If you have a valid license but it isn’t REAL ID compliant, don’t worry. The Department of Homeland Security has extended the REAL ID deadline for upgraded drivers licenses until May 3, 2023.
The rules for driving with an expired Arizona drivers license are different, however. There is no longer a grace period for driving with an expired license, according to Doug Pacey, assistant communications director for the Arizona Department of Transportation.
“The license is no longer valid after its expiration date,” Pacey said in an email. “You will want to reach out to verifying entities like TSA, airlines, rental car companies, etc. for their policies on accepting an expired driver license.
“ADOT MVD encourages people to check that their credentials, driver license or state-issued ID card, are valid before embarking on travel. If a customer loses their driver license while traveling, they should contact MVD.”
What restaurants are open at Sky Harbor?
Due to staffing issues brought on by the pandemic, shops and restaurants at Sky Harbor may be operating on limited hours. If you are flying early in the morning or late in the evening, don’t be surprised to see closed establishments. Visit the airport’s online map for hours the day you’ll be there.
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Everts said many airport shops and restaurants have coronavirus protocols in place.
“For many, this includes additional signage, barriers and queueing markers, increased sanitation, limiting the number of people in stores, and encouraging touchless transactions,” he said.
What can you bring through security?
Thinking of bringing food gifts or Thanksgiving leftovers? There’s an entire food page on TSA’s website that tells you what’s allowed in your carry-on and checked luggage.
The general rule of thumb is anything liquid, gel or spreadable must be checked or be less than 3 ounces to go in your carry-on. There is one exception. TSA is still allowing travelers to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer through security.
Ways to make security less stressful
Don’t want to take off your shoes, your belt, your gadgets when you go through the line? Apply for TSA PreCheck and get expedited screening. The agency says it typically takes three to five days to get an approval notification, although it could take as many as 60.
If you have a medical condition or disability, the TSA Cares program helps people who need extra support navigating the security process. Call 855-787-2227 to get information about what to expect at security. You can also complete a screening here: https://www.tsa.gov/contact-center/form/cares.
Why it’s smart to download your airline’s app
Airline apps do more than just download your boarding pass. Airlines are adding more features to make traveling more efficient and enjoyable.
For instance, airlines including American and Southwest send push notifications when your flight starts boarding. That means you can wait in a less busy part of the airport and still know when to board.
Are Sky Harbor Airport lounges open?
Here are your lounge options at Sky Harbor. Check their websites for admission fees and who is eligible to get in free.
- American Airlines Admirals Club: The club near gates A7 and A9 is open 4 a.m.-8:30 p.m. The club between gates A19 and A21 is temporarily closed. The club above gates B5 and B7 is open 4 a.m.-7:15 p.m. p.m. https://www.aa.com.
- Centurion Lounge: 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; across from gate B21. https://thecenturionlounge.com.
- Escape Lounge: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; across from gate B21. https://escapelounges.com.
- The USO: This center for military members and their families is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. It is before security on the east end of Level 2. https://www.skyharbor.com.
- Delta Sky Club: 4:45 a.m.-midnight; near gate F8. https://www.delta.com.
- Escape Lounge – The Centurion Studio Partner: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Tuesdays and Saturdays); on Level 4 past security and next to Passage by Hudson. https://escapelounges.com.
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