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New TSA Security Procedures Designed to Prevent Spread of Coronavirus

Updated regulations will reduce physical contact for travelers and agents during airport screenings

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent wears a protective mask and stands behind a protective barrier while screening a traveler.

Bloomberg/Getty Images

En español | The Transportation Security Administration recently implemented new procedures to keep contact to a minimum for both TSA agents and fliers who go through security screening during the coronavirus outbreak. More safety measures are being added for security officers, the agency announced on July 9, after a whistleblower complaint from TSA Federal Security Director Jay Brainard that protections have been inadequate.

Among the requirements are that TSA officers will don face shields or protective eyewear when their job requires close contact with the public and their gloves will be changed or cleaned between passenger pat-downs.

More than 1,000 TSA officers have tested positive for COVID-19, and six have died.
While the number of travelers being screened at security checkpoints is still relatively low — 709,653 passengers passed through TSA checkpoints on July 9, for example, compared with 2,608,209 the same day in 2019 — the number is slowly rising.

There is still no federal requirement that passengers wear masks during screenings, though they are encouraged to do so, and many airports require face coverings.

The current safety measures include:

1. To avoid cross-contamination, TSA officials no longer handle boarding passes. Passengers place their paper or electronic passes on the code reader and hold it for the officer to inspect.

2. Food needs to be placed in a clear plastic bag and taken out of other bags before being put into a bin for inspection. The TSA explains: “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.”

3. Travelers are asked to be extra vigilant about prohibited items. The TSA has long limited liquids to 3.4 ounces, and the agency says it’s even more important to follow this guideline now so that officers can “touch the contents inside a carry-on bag much less frequently.” If there are prohibited items, passengers may be asked to remove them and return through security after throwing them out. Up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer will be permitted through security, but the TSA asks that it be removed from carry-on bags before screening.

4. Passengers need to practice physical distancing whenever possible. There may be markers on the floor indicating appropriate spacing between those waiting in line, as well as other ways to assist travelers in physical distancing.

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5. TSA officers at checkpoints will wear face masks and gloves (and eye protection when close contact is necessary), and travelers are encouraged to wear masks. Officers will also change gloves after each pat-down search of a passenger.

6. Travelers should put loose items into carry-on bags, rather than into bins. Keeping objects such as keys and phones out of the bins will “reduce touch-points during the screening process,” according to the TSA.

7. Passengers should arrive at airports with plenty of time for screening. The new procedures may require extra time for checking in and screening.

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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