Next week, I am venturing back out into the friendly skies and I discovered changes in the TSA screening process. The TSA had been working on updating the screening process to deal with Covid-19. One of the new procedures deals with snacks and other food that is brought through the screening checkpoints. Apparently, the organic material in food can trigger an alarm for explosives in the X-ray scanner. This post has a comprehensive list of changes that just went into effect in mid-June.
“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.”
“Not only will this measure make the screening process faster, but it’ll also make it safer.” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “food items are organic, as are some materials used to make explosives, which is why snacks can trigger an alarm on the X-ray machine. If this red flag happens, a TSA agent will need to sort through your bag, thus holding up the queue and making it difficult to social distance.”
The Coronavirus (Covid-19) information that the TSA used to update screening procedures can be found here.
Changes That You Will See
Keep possession of your boarding passes. Instead of handing your 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. This change reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a passenger’s boarding pass thus reducing the potential for cross-contamination.
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. This requirement allows social distancing, reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a person’s container of food and reduces the potential for cross-contamination. TSA Precheck members do not need to remove items from their bags. The TSA does recommend that PreCheck travelers do place “to-go meals” in a plastic bag to avoid cross-contamination by TSA screeners.
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 (water bottles, shampoo). 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 (such as laptops, liquids, gels, and aerosols, and large electronics) and resubmit their property for X-ray 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.
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. Please note, however, 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. They 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.
- TSA officers will continue the practice of changing gloves after each pat-down.
- 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.
Reduced TSA Staffing Levels
Here is another reason to allow plenty of time at the airport. Since air travel levels have dropped, TSA has reduced staffing levels. There may be times when some TSA security checkpoint locations will be closed due to staffing. These staffing changes can be determined by the TSA based on the airport, day of the week and time of day. In the case of TSA security areas being closed, signs will indicate your closest open screening area.
The TSA has reacted and responded to the new dynamic of screening passengers amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. I have TSA PreCheck and I am for anything that will get me through the screening process faster. Following the guidelines in this post should help ease you and your fellow passengers through the process. I have seen entire security locations that were closed due to staffing shortages so be prepared by allowing extra time for the screening process.