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TSA updates airport screening procedures amid coronavirus


SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Memorial Day weekend is just days away, and although the world is in the midst of a pandemic, some people may be kicking off the summer travel season nonetheless.

That’s why the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is revising its security screening process and is implementing all changes at airports nationwide.

“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,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement  Thursday. “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.”

What are some of the new changes?

Travelers should expect the following:

  • Boarding passes: Travelers are now advised to place their boarding pass on the boarding pass reader themselves as opposed to handing it to a TSA officer. Then, travelers are expected to hold up their pass so an officer can inspect it without needing to touch it.
  • Food: Place carry-on food items into a clear plastic bag and place that bag into a bin for X-ray screenings.
  • Social distancing: Keep an increased distance between people “without compromising security.” Visual reminders about appropriate spacing are also placed on checkpoint floors.
  • Face masks: TSA officers are using face masks, and travelers are strongly advised to do so, too.
  • Abide by the rules: Making sure you “pack smart” (no prohibited items in your bag, etc.) helps reduce time in the screening process. If a prohibited item is found, travelers may be directed outside of security to remove the item before being re-screened in order to reduce the number of TSA officers needing to touch the contents of someone’s carry-on. 

Safety measures that are already put in place include reduced security lane usage, some TSA officers wearing eye protection, TSA officers changing gloves after each pat-down, plastic shielding at many podiums and counters and routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces.

In March, the TSA announced other coronavirus-prompted changes, including relaxing the 3.4 ounces or less carry-on liquid requirement for liquid hand sanitizer. Instead, travelers are allowed up to 12 ounces per passenger. 

The number of people traveling on airlines is scraping along at levels not seen in decades, and there are only about 17 passengers on the average domestic flight. But that’s just an average.

The number of people passing through airport security checkpoints has been rising since mid-April, but it is still down 93% from a year ago.

In some cases, airlines are creating the crowds by canceling other flights and packing passengers on the few remaining planes. Carriers say, however, that they are taking action to ease passengers’ fears about coronavirus contagion. Some are blocking middle seats — or letting passengers pay extra to guarantee an empty seat next to them. They are also starting to require passengers to wear facial coverings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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