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The Latest TSA Security Procedures During the COVID-19 Pandemic

You’ll need a mask, and patience, when passing through airport screenings this summer

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent wears a protective mask behind a barrier at Ronald Reagan National Airport

Bloomberg/Getty Images

En español | The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to use a range of procedures to keep contact to a minimum for both TSA agents and fliers who go through security screening as the pandemic continues.

The agency is asking for patience, courtesy and compliance due to the combination of staff shortages and a growing number of passengers passing through security this summer; more than 2.15 million people went through airport security on July 15, for example. That’s still lower than the approximately 2.6 million who did so on July 15, 2019, but it’s a huge leap from the 706,000 who flew on July 15, 2020.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern about traveler behavior, during screening and in the air. The airline industry is calling for more serious prosecution of what appears to be a growing number of passengers who are disruptive, sometimes violently. Since the middle of January, there have been more than 3,270 reports of unruly passengers, at times involving physical assault, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Those include nearly 2,500 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal face mask mandate. (The FAA has a new online video featuring children instructing adults on how to behave maturely.)

By law, passengers over the age of 2 must wear a face mask. Those who fail to comply will be prevented from entering the screening area. The TSA screening officer at the travel document checker station will likely ask you to briefly lower your face mask to verify your identity.

TSA officers will also be wearing masks and gloves (they’ll change them after any passenger pat-downs), and the agency has installed acrylic barriers between officers and travelers. It has also embraced new technology that prevents agents from having to touch bags; computed tomography (CT) units can provide detailed 3-D images of a carry-on bag’s contents.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the TSA has had 8,356 federal employees test positive for COVID-19, and 16 have died after contracting the virus.

For a smooth and safe screening process, follow the TSA’s current protocols.

1. Arrive at the airport early to make sure there’s sufficient time to make your flight in case lines are long due to increased passenger volume and TSA staffing shortages. You’re encouraged to sign up for TSA PreCheck®, which allows for speedier passage through screening (you don’t need to take off your shoes and belt, and you can leave liquids and laptops in your carry-on). Note that those 75 and older can leave on their shoes and light jacket during screening.

2. Remove your belt and personal items from your pockets and put them in your carry-on bag before lining up for screening. (This does not apply to TSA PreCheck members.)

3. TSA officials no longer physically handle boarding passes, so place your paper or electronic pass on the code reader and hold it for the officer to inspect. The agent may ask you to briefly lower your mask to confirm your identity.

4. If you’re bringing food, it may need to be inspected, although in most cases, the TSA says, “food or snacks such as fruit, health bars and sandwiches can stay inside your carry-on bag.” Ask the TSA officer if you are unsure. (See these special instructions for gels and liquids.)


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5. Up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer is permitted through security, but the TSA asks that it be removed from carry-on bags before screening.

6. Personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone need to be removed from your carry-on bag and placed in a bin with nothing on or under them for X-ray screening.

7. Passengers need to continue to practice physical distancing whenever possible. Floor markers indicate appropriate six-foot spacing between those waiting in line, and many reminders are posted.

8. The TSA will accept a driver’s license or state-issued ID up to a year after expiration for those who have been unable to renew them during the pandemic. Note that you now have until May 3, 2023, before you’ll need a security-enhanced Real ID instead of a regular driver’s license in order to get through airport security. The deadline was recently delayed from Oct. 1, 2021.

If you have any questions about the procedures, you can call the TSA’s customer service center at 866-289-9673, or get in touch through Twitter (@AskTSA) or Ask TSA on Facebook. If you require assistance because of medical or disability issues, contact TSA Cares at least 72 hours in advance of your flight at 855-787-2227.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 21, 2020. It's been updated to reflect new TSA procedures.

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