The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it has implemented changes to the security screening process to reduce the potential for cross-contamination at the security checkpoint in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). The TSA has already begun implementation of these changes, with more to be implemented at airport checkpoints nationwide by mid-June.
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, travelers should expect to:
Keep possession of their 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.
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. TSA Precheck members do not need to remove items from their bags.
Pack smart. 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. In response to COVID-19, TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags. Passengers are required to remove the hand sanitizer from the carry-on bag before being submitted for X-ray screening. If a bag is found to contain a prohibited item, passengers may be directed to return to the divestiture table outside of security with their carry-on bags to remove the item and dispose of the item. The passenger may also be directed back outside of security to remove items that should have originally been divested and resubmit their property for X-ray screening.
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.
Wear facial protection. TSA officers at checkpoints are now using facial protection. Travelers are encouraged to wear face protection to the checkpoint, as well. Note: Passengers may need to adjust it during the screening process. Travelers are also encouraged to remove items, such as belts and items from their pockets like wallets, keys and phones, and put them directly into their carry-on bags instead of into the bins to reduce touch-points during the screening process.
Travelers who have not flown since the pandemic are also likely to notice some other changes. These 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
- 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. Travelers are encouraged to arrive at the airport early as COVID-19 has affected staffing and operations across the airport environment. This will allow adequate time for checking bags, completing security screening and getting to the departure gate. As individuals who were traveling in the early months of the pandemic became accustomed to arriving at the security checkpoint shortly before their flight departure time, the TSA now recommends that travelers no longer do so (or arrive well in advance of their flight) since more people are flying and new procedures add time to the pre-flight experience.