TSA announces updated security protocol, new requirements for travelers in response to coronavirus pandemic

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has once again updated its security procedures in response to the coronavirus health crisis, informing travelers of several new efforts to increase physical distancing and decrease physical contact at airport security checkpoints.

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“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 in a press release issued Thursday morning. “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.”

The TSA's latest policies are designed to increase physical distancing and decrease physical contact at airport security checkpoints.

The TSA's latest policies are designed to increase physical distancing and decrease physical contact at airport security checkpoints. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The new procedures, which have already taken effect at some airport checkpoints, are expected to be introduced nationwide by mid-June, the TSA says. Most of these protocols simply build on previous preventive measures announced by the TSA over the last few months, though some of the more noticeable changes appear aimed at limiting cross-contamination and officer intervention.

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TSA highlighted five particular updated procedures:

  • Travelers will be expected to keep possession of their boarding passes for the entirety of screening, which means placing their own paper or e-tickets on the scanner located at the checkpoint entrance, and then holding it up for touch-free inspection by the TSA officer stationed at the scanner.
  • Food items should be packed in a separate, clear bag prior to screening, and passengers will be expected to remove the bag from their carry-on and place it in a bin, separate from their other luggage. (TSA Precheck members will not be required to remove their food items.)
  • Travelers who fail to remove prohibited items, such as liquids in larger containers than allowed, may be directed back out of the security checkpoint, with their bags, to dispose of the items. Passengers may also be directed back outside to the divestiture table for failing or forgetting to remove laptops, liquids, gels, etc., from their carry-on baggage before the luggage screening. As previously announced, the TSA is still allowing each passenger to bring one 12-ounce container of liquid hand sanitizer in carry-on bags, although this container must be removed from the bag and placed in a bin prior to 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,” the TSA wrote. Travelers are also being advised to place any items they need to remove from their person — keys, phone, belt — be placed in their carry-on prior to screening, rather than into the bins, in order to “reduce touch-points” during the process.
  • Passengers should continue to practice social-distancing in the checkpoint lines as well as with TSA officers, although the TSA notes that one “noticeable adjustment” to this protocol will be increased distances between passengers at the screening entrances. Some airports may also be installing markers to indicate where travelers should stand, while others may “stagger” the use of security lanes.
  • As the TSA previously announced, passengers are still encouraged to wear facial protection at checkpoints, though they may be asked to adjust or lower their masks/face coverings during screening. Officers are also still required to wear facial protection at checkpoints.

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The TSA also identified several other, previously instituted procedures for those “who have not flown since the pandemic” in its press release.

Noticeably absent from the TSA’s list of updated protocol is any requirement for temperature checks, though it is rumored that proposals for such plans are reportedly under review by the White House, according to sources for the Wall Street Journal.

When asked whether they intended to implement temperature screenings, the TSA directed all queries to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). A representative for the DHS would only say the agency was "exploring the use of technologies" to protect travelers.

"As part of our ongoing screening efforts, DHS and our interagency partners are exploring the use of technologies through a phased, multi-layered approach to protect our nation from transmittal of potential health threats and illnesses, including the coronavirus, through travel," said a DHS spokesperson in a statement shared with Fox News. "Until the virus is defeated, the Administration will continue to take decisive and unprecedented action to help slow the spread, restore our way of life, and save lives."

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Further information on the TSA’s coronavirus policies, as well as information concerning the airports where TSA employees have tested positive, can be found on the agency’s “Coronavirus (COVID-19) information” webpage.