With the Memorial Day holiday weekend kicking off the start of summer, the Transportation Security Administration (TSSA) is focusing on safety for a very different travel season amidst COVID-19. TSA has made changes to their security screening process in airports to reduce the potential for cross-contamination security checkpoint, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, TSA has already implemented these changes to safety, with more to be done at airport checkpoints across America by mid-June. In a press release issued 21 May, TSA advised that they’re prepared to recieve summer travelers with updated security measures. Passengers will now be able to travel with up to 12 oz of hand sanitizer with them on airplanes according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
In the interest of TSA frontline workers and traveler health, TSA is making prudent changes to our screening processes that’ll limit physical contact and increase physical distance as much as possible. We continue to evaluate our security measures with an eye towards making smart, timely decisions benefiting health and safety, as well as the traveler experience.”
– TSA Administrator David Pekoske
Over the past couple of weeks, TSA has experienced a steady growth of travelers coming through airport checkpoints. As procedure changes begin to rollout in the coming weeks, travellers can expect to a few changes.
Handle your own boarding passes.
Instead of handing their boarding pass to a TSA officer at the travel document podium, travelers should now place their boarding pass (paper or electronic) on the boarding pass reader themselves. After scanning, travelers should hold their boarding pass toward the TSA officer to allow the officer to visually inspect it. This change reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a passenger’s boarding pass thus reducing potential for cross-contamination.
Separate food for X-ray screening.
Passengers should place their carry-on food items into a clear plastic bag and place that bag into a bin. Food items often trigger an alarm during the screening process; separating the food from the carry-on bag lessens the likelihood that a TSA officer will need to open the carry-on bag and remove the food items for a closer inspection. This safety requirement allows social distancing, reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a person’s container of food and reduces potential for cross-contamination. TSA Precheck members do not need to remove items from their bags.
Passengers should take extra care to ensure that they do not have any prohibited items, such as liquids, gels or aerosols in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces, in their carry-on bags (water bottles, shampoo). In response to COVID-19 safety, TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags. You must remove the hand sanitizer from the carry-on bag before going into X-ray screening.
If your bag contains a prohibited item, you’ll be directed to the divestiture table outside of security to remove and dispose the item. The passenger may also be directed back outside of security to remove, items that should have originally been divested. This includes laptops, liquids, gels and aerosols, and large electronics; you’ll need to resubmit your property for X-ray screening. By resolving alarms in this manner, TSA officers will need to touch the contents inside a carry-on bag much less frequently, reducing the potential for cross-contamination.
Practice social distancing.
Passengers should allow for social distancing to reduce direct contact between employees and travelers whenever possible without compromising security. Noticeable adjustments leading up to the security checkpoint include, increasing the distance between individuals as they enter the security checkpoint, placing visual reminders of appropriate spacing on checkpoint floors and staggering the use of lanes where feasible. No two airports are alike, so this could look a little different at each airport.
TSA officers at safety checkpoints are now using facial protection. Not to mention, you are encouraged to wear face protection as well. Please note, however, passengers may need to adjust it during the screening process. Also, travelers are also encouraged to put removed items directly into their carry-on bags instead of into the bins, like belts etc. This is done to reduce touch-points during the TSA screening process.
Travelers who have not flown since the pandemic are also likely to notice some other changes in TSA. They include:
- Reduced security lane usage due to the reduction in passenger volume.
- All TSA officers at checkpoints wearing masks and gloves.
- TSA officers optionally wearing eye protection and clear plastic face shields at some locations.
- TSA officers will continue the practice of changing gloves after each pat-down.
- Plastic shielding installed at many travel document checking podiums, divest, bag search and drop off locations.
- TSA officers practicing social distancing.
- Routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces in the screening checkpoint area.
Many airlines and airports are also providing specific COVID-19 related guidance to travelers.
Please check with your airline prior to your trip. Additionally, you should arrive earlier since COVID-19 has affected staffing and operations across airports. This will allow adequate time for checking bags, completing security screening, and getting to the departure gate. If you travelled early 2020, you won’t be able to arrive at your security checkpoint right before departure now. TSA recommends that travelers arrive well in advance of their flight with the new safety procedures implemented. Understandably, these changes in airports potentially add time to the pre-flight experience.
For more information on the TSA security screening process during the pandemic, visit www.tsa.gov/coronavirus.