TSA Continues to Ensure Safety of Travelers as Flights Increase One Year into Pandemic

May 11, 2021 | Defense Transportation Journal, DTJ Online

More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) remains vigilant in maintaining world-class security while doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the virus. The pandemic that has profoundly impacted all of our lives has affected the way TSA provides security.

After a massive decrease in air travel during the initial lockdown a year ago, the number of flights to and from US airports is steadily increasing. More people are getting vaccinated, while new cases of COVID-19 continue to fall nationally. However, while the pandemic shows signs of subsiding, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified new COVID-19 variants, the effects of which won’t be known for a while.

TSA has made significant changes to the screening process during these challenging times to fulfill its critical security mission and keep the traveling public safe. The agency is making sure the passenger experience remains as smooth as possible through state-of-the-art technology, stringent health and safety procedures, and programs like TSA PreCheck, which saves passengers time and eases the screening process.

Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.
TSA’s “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” campaign highlights the agency’s airport checkpoint enhancements to contain the spread of COVID-19, comply with CDC guidelines, and support healthy and secure travel. Since the beginning of the pandemic, TSA has required employees to social distance, wear masks, and frequently wash hands and disinfect surfaces. Keeping passengers secure while minimizing health risks is a massive undertaking but has been a big success.

As spring break and summer vacation plans become more top of mind, TSA reminds travelers to follow the CDC travel guidance, as well as local and state COVID-19 advisories. All airline travelers must wear face masks and social distance throughout the travel experience. For more information, see TSA’s What to Know Before You Go website.

TSA’s “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” campaign highlights the agency’s airport checkpoint enhancements to contain the spread of COVID-19, comply with CDC guidelines, and support healthy and secure travel.

While security is TSA’s top priority, the agency remains committed to the health and safety of the traveling public. TSA’s enhancements to make the security screening process safer are expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Social Distancing
In response to the pandemic, TSA increased social distancing and reduced direct contact between employees and the traveling public whenever possible—without compromising security. TSA increased the distance between passengers as they enter the security checkpoint queue and throughout the screening process. Visual reminders of appropriate spacing can be seen throughout the checkpoint. TSA also opened more checkpoint lanes where possible to reduce waiting times and create social distancing.

“We’ve placed more officers at our checkpoints than we otherwise would, given the lower passenger volumes, to ensure travelers are able to move quickly through the screening process,” said Jim Gregory, TSA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Strategic Communications and Public Affairs. “We know travelers want to be assured they are safe every step of their trip, and we want to do what we can to help restore traveler confidence.”

Reduced Physical Contact
TSA placed acrylic barriers throughout the checkpoint in areas where passengers and TSA officers frequently interact. To protect both passengers and TSA officers, travelers should keep possession of their boarding pass, place it on the document scanner, and show the boarding pass to the TSA officer for visual inspection while at the travel document checking station.

Personal Protective Equipment
TSA officers are required to wear face masks and gloves and may choose to wear eye protection or clear plastic face shields. Face shields are also required for all employees in close contact with the public unless they are protected by an acrylic shield barrier. In addition, TSA officers are required to change their gloves following each pat-down and upon passenger request.

Cleaning and Disinfecting
TSA has procedures in place to ensure the cleanliness of commonly touched surfaces. We have increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces throughout the checkpoint, such as security screening equipment and bins.

More Touchless Technology
Cutting-edge technology continues to be a major priority for TSA. Here are just a few examples of technologies that are changing the way the agency does business by reducing contact between passengers and officers.

  • Computed Tomography produces high-quality, 3D images for a more thorough visual analysis of a bag’s contents, lessening the number of bag searches required by officers.
  • Advanced Imaging Technology includes improved algorithms that safely screen passengers without physical contact for threats that may be hidden under a passenger’s clothing.
  • Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) automatically verifies identification (ID) documents during the screening process. Self-service CAT machines allow passengers to scan their own ID rather than handing it to the TSA officer.

TSA PreCheck®
TSA PreCheck is an expedited screening program that enables low-risk travelers to enjoy a smart and efficient screening experience at more than 200 US airports. TSA PreCheck may be more relevant today than ever before because it allows passengers to travel with ease by providing convenience, less stress, and the least amount of physical contact.

TSA PreCheck members do not have to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 items (liquids, gels, and aerosols), belts, light jackets, and/or food items from carry-on bags.

TSA PreCheck® and Department of Defense
TSA offers free TSA PreCheck benefits to US Department of Defense (DOD) civilian employees and all active-duty members of the US armed forces, including those serving in the US Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guard, as well as cadets and midshipmen of the US Military Academy, Naval Academy, Coast Guard Academy, and Air Force Academy.

To ensure TSA PreCheck appears on your boarding pass, enter the 10-digit DOD ID number located on the back of the Common Access Card in the “Known Travel Number” field when making flight reservations or when updating your Defense Travel System (DTS) profile for official travel.

If you are a federal civilian employee and would like to participate in TSA PreCheck, you must opt-in at milConnect to activate your benefit. For future airline reservations, automatically include your DOD ID number and save it in your DTS profile. You may also save your DOD ID number in the frequent flyer program profiles of participating airlines. US military members do not need to be in uniform and may enjoy TSA PreCheck while on personal or official travel.

If you are leaving military service and want to continue to enjoy TSA PreCheck benefits when you travel, consider enrolling at www.tsa.gov/precheck. Traveling spouses or companions are encouraged to enroll directly. Many credit cards and loyalty programs cover the cost of the TSA PreCheck application fee, so check out TSA’s website to see if your credit card participates.

Expired Driver’s License and REAL ID Extension
The REAL ID Act establishes minimum security standards for driver’s licenses. Secure driver’s licenses and identification documents are a vital component of our national security framework.

If your driver’s license or state-issued ID expired on or after March 1, 2020, and you are unable to renew at your state driver’s license agency, you may still use it as acceptable identification at the checkpoint. TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs up to one year after expiration.

Good news for DOD members as well: DOD IDs, including IDs issued to dependents, are acceptable alternative forms of identification to board aircraft in case your driver’s license is not REAL ID compliant. The new deadline for enforcement is October 1, 2021. To learn more, visit TSA’s REAL ID webpage at www.tsa.gov/real-id.

TSA is Hiring
In anticipation of increased travel trends in 2021, TSA recently announced plans to hire over 6,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs). TSOs are the backbone of TSA and play a vital role in keeping air travel safe. Nearly one in five TSA employees is a veteran or still proudly serving. If you know someone who is interested in a career that offers benefits like health care and retirement and where you work alongside a diverse and inclusive team, the TSO position can offer a great next step in one’s federal career. To view open positions for TSOs around the country, visit TSA.gov/TSO.

Final Thoughts
As the US shows signs of recovery, TSA is ready to meet the current and future security needs of the nation’s transportation systems. TSA employees and travelers need to continue wearing masks, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently. We are all responsible for following CDC guidance to protect ourselves and our communities. Please visit TSA’s COVID-19 webpage for more information about TSA’s response to the pandemic.


By Mike Frandsen and Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs

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