TSA Coronavirus Changes: What to expect when traveling this summer

Changes made to security screening processes to prevent the spread of coronavirus

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced updated security procedures that will be implemented across the country this summer in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced updated security procedures that will be implemented across the country this summer in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Air travel slowed significantly as the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, showing a reduction of 2 million less travelers each day. Though the number of travelers is still lower than before the pandemic, there has been a recent increase in travelers as the pandemic evolves.

The chart below shows the number of air travelers amid the pandemic compared to the number of people traveling last year:

TSA is preparing to implement changes to the security screening process to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as more people choose to travel.

Here are the new TSA protocols you can expect when traveling this summer:

Boarding passes

Travelers will be expected to place their boarding passes (paper or electronic) on the boarding pass reader instead of handing it to a TSA agent. The traveler will then hold up the boarding pass for an agent to inspect it. These steps will reduce the potential for cross-contamination.

Traveling with food

Travelers are asked to place carry-on food items in a clear plastic bag and place in a bin for x-ray screening. Officials say food items often trigger alarms during the screening process and would required an agent to remove the items and more closely inspect them. The new approach will reduce the frequency of additional inspections and the potential for cross-contamination.

Packing liquids, hand sanitizer

Travelers are reminded to only pack liquids weighing 3.4 ounces or less in their carry-on bags. Liquids weighing more are prohibited in carry-ons and an agent to handle and inspect the luggage, and potentially dispose of the items. Following TSA packing guidelines will reduce agents’ need to interact with travelers’ luggage and reduce the potential for cross-contamination.

TSA will now allow travelers to pack hand sanitizer in their carry-on bags in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each traveler is allowed one container of liquid hand sanitizer of up to 12 ounces.

Social distancing

TSA expects passengers to follow social distancing protocols to reduce contact between employees and travelers as much as possible. Visual reminders of appropriate spacing will be placed on the floors leading up to security checkpoints. Lanes will be staggered wherever feasible to increase the distance between travelers.

Officials say that these measures may look different at each airport as no two airports are alike.

Wearing facial protection

All TSA agents will wear facial protection at security checkpoints. Travelers are encouraged to wear face coverings but should know that they may need to adjust them during the screening process.

TSA also encourages travelers to place items like belts, wallets, keys and phones directly into their carry-on bags to reduce “touch-points” during the screening process.

Officials say these changes should be fully implemented at airports nationwide by mid-June.

TSA officers are already wearing masks and gloves, practicing social distancing and changing gloves after each pat-down in response to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Airports have also implemented more frequent sanitization in screening areas and installed plastic shielding at many podiums, bag search and drop off locations.

TSA officials advise travelers to arrive at the airport earlier than usual as staffing has been affected by the pandemic. Individuals are encouraged to review airport-specific guidance related to COVID-19 before traveling.

Visit TSA’s website here for more information.

Click here to read our latest coverage on the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the Authors:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.

Hank Winchester is Local 4's Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV's "Help Me Hank" Consumer Unit. He works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off metro Detroiters.