How Airport Security Will Look Different—and Safer—Nationwide by Mid-June

Photo: Getty Images/APU Gomes
For the vast majority of Americans, the idea of getting on an airplane right now is unappealing at best. Even though the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA's) travel numbers represent a tiny fraction of the millions it was shepherding through the metal detectors last year, the agency's updated travel and airport security procedures (set to be in place by mid-June) are being carefully tailored to the health and safety of those who do decide to travel by air.

In a press release from May 21, the TSA announced its intentions to make tweaks to the airport security process in order to "reduce the potential for cross-contamination at the security checkpoint in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19"—a task the agency says is particularly important now that there's a slow-moving uptick in passengers queueing at checkpoints across the country. (May 22 marked the highest number of passengers—348,673—to go through security in America since March 22 of this year, but still far fewer as compared to the typical 2.7 million daily airline passengers.)

The most obvious change is that the TSA will encourage everyone to wear face masks, while all agents will be required to do so. You'll also be instructed to hold your boarding pass while you scan it—then hold it out to the agent to inspect. "This change reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a passenger’s boarding pass thus reducing the potential for cross-contamination," says the TSA. To minimize contact with the bins—which are one of the filthiest items at airports, even without a pandemic—the administration also asks you to store items that might normally go in bins (like belts and watches) in your suitcase.

You and your fellow passengers will also be practicing safe social distancing as you shuffle through the security line. "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," says the TSA.

Finally, the TSA will relax its usual 3.4-ounce liquid rule, permitting everyone to bring a 12-ounce container of hand sanitizer that they will be required to remove from their bags and place in a bin. This will hopefully give passengers enough of the disinfecting product to last for a vacation in a time when finding a larger bottle of the stuff is rare.

“In the interest of TSA frontline workers and traveler health, TSA is committed to making prudent changes to our screening processes to limit physical contact and increase physical distance as much as possible,” said TSA administrator David Pekoske. “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.”

If you do need to travel, the TSA recommends checking your local airport's website for specific rules related to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in your area to see how you can approach the security line with your health—and the health of other passengers—at front of mind. "No two airports are alike," says the TSA, "so this could look a little different at each airport."

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