After six years of looking through other people’s belongings at the Philadelphia International Airport, nothing much surprises Brian Turner.

But, occasionally, a space rock brightens the Transportation Security Administration officer’s day.

“Just last week, I found, in a bag, a rock that was part of a six-billion-year-old meteorite,” Turner said. “You don’t open a bag and think, ‘Oh, of course that’s what that is.’ ... Of course, I open another bag, and there’s six marionettes staring back at me.”

While some surprises for TSA, like the meteorite, are fine, others, such as weapons, are not. When in doubt, Turner said, leave the firearm and hand grenade replicas at home.

“I found a machete once,” he recalled. “You’re just like, ‘What was the mentality behind that one?’”

As a record 46 million people across the United States gear up to fly for the holidays, Philly’s TSA agents are preparing for 35,000 people — and their hopefully machete-free luggage — to pass through the wailing X-ray gates of PHL security each day through the end of the year.

That’s a 6 percent spike in airline passengers from this time last year, the agency said.

Nationally, Friday was expected to be the busiest day of the season for travel, with more than 2.7 million people expected to fly.

Travelers wait for TSA security screening at the Philadelphia International Airport.
Oona Goodin-Smith / Staff
Travelers wait for TSA security screening at the Philadelphia International Airport.

While TSA and other travel-anxiety-fueled passengers may not exactly be the holiday company you were hoping for, here are a few tips to lighten your emotional baggage at the airport.

  • Bringing gifts? Skip the wrapping paper. “We’re not trying to be Scrooges here, but if something sets off our alarms, we’re going to have to, unfortunately, unwrap it,” said Gary Renfrow, the TSA’s Philadelphia federal security director. “That’s why we recommend boxes or bags. Or, you can bring your supplies and wrap them once you’re past security.”  
  • Carrying Grandma’s gravy or can of yams home from the holiday feast? If you can spread it, spill it, spray it, pump it, or pour it, be leery, Renfrow said. The magic number for liquids allowed in carry-on luggage is 3.4 ounces or fewer, preferably contained in a clear plastic bag. That goes for snow globes, too. 
  • Arriving fashionably late doesn’t fly during busy travel times. The agency suggests getting to the airport two hours in advance of your domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. 
  • Although the possibility of a government shutdown remains up in the air, the agency says passenger travel should not be impacted. 
  • If in doubt, you can send photos to the TSA. The agency has a “What can I bring?” website, but you can also tweet pictures of your item in question to @AskTSA, where operators will let you know if you should leave it in your carry-on, check it, or skip packing it.

Electric eyebrow tattoo pen? Good to go. Bindles? Not always. And, great news: Tastykakes and cheesesteaks are cleared for boarding.