No, you (still) can't bring fireworks. Yes, masks are required: What to know before flying

Heading to the airport this week for the first time since the pandemic began 15 months ago?

Air travel will look different in some key ways because of COVID-19, but in others its very similar to summer 2019 as vaccinations increase and travel restrictions ease across the country.

Travelers taking off for the July Fourth holiday weekend will notice one thing the second they reach the airport curb: Crowds are back.

The number of people screened by the Transportation Security Administration at airports across the country has topped 2 million on 10 days in June,  the first time that has happened since February 2020, and the numbers are expected to increase as the summer travel surge intensifies in July and August.

Travel volume fell below 100,000 passengers in the early months of the pandemic and didn't top 1 million again until October

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The increase in passengers means long lines are back from check-in through the security checkpoint, and social distancing is mostly a distant dream at the gate, during boarding and deplaning and in baggage claim.

Travelers line up to check in at a ticket counter at the Orlando International Airport before the Memorial Day weekend Friday, May 28, 2021, in Orlando, Fla.

6 things rusty travelers need to know about flying July 4th weekend

• Check, recheck and triple check your reservation and flight status. Airlines still adjusting to the travel resurgence have been changing their flight schedules, sometimes with little notice, frustrating travelers with itinerary changes including a stop where there was none or vastly different departure times. Last-minute flight cancellations and delays have also been a problem because of a variety of factors, including staffing shortages and summer storms, so have a Plan B should your plans go awry.  Can't reach your airline via phone? Reach out to them on Twitter for a (typically) faster response.

Please hold: Airline customer service wait times skyrocket

• Brush up on TSA rules so officers don't confiscate that giant bottle of sunscreen (or fireworks) and you don't slow down the line.

The TSA has been using social media to remind fliers about prohibited items ahead of the holiday, including fireworks and knives. 

Rusty travelers who have questions about whether they can bring a particular item to the airport, whether in a checked bag or carry on, can ask the TSA on Facebook or Twitter.

• Uber and Lyft rides might be hard to find, and pricier than you remember. Blame a lingering driver shortage from the pandemic. So order one in advance, where available, if you need a ride to or from the airport or enlist a friend or family member.

• Masks are a must in the airport and on the plane. Mask restrictions have eased across the country, including at many retailers, since the CDC updated its guidance for vaccinated Americans in May. But the federal mask mandate for transportation has been extended into September. Airlines allow passengers to briefly remove masks while eating or drinking but get ready for frequent reminders that they stay on at all other times. Flight attendants have had to become mask police.

• Get to the airport early if you want to eat, drink, shop or even grab coffee. Long lines are the norm. Some airport concessions are still closed or have limited hours, and those that are open are dealing with staffing shortages.

• Lower your expectations for in-flight food and drink service if you're sitting in economy. Airlines stopped serving or selling most food and drinks during the pandemic, relying instead of prepackaged water and maybe a snack, but have gradually been resuming it. However, two major airlines, American and Southwest, have delayed the return of alcohol sales because of concerns about the role it plays in the rising number of unruly passenger incidents. Don't even think about bringing your own.

No BYOB: Southwest, other airlines admonish fliers

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