As the COVID-19 health crisis lingers into the Memorial Day weekend – the traditional start of the summer travel season – the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has introduced changes to the security screening process that aim to reduce the potential for cross-contamination at the security checkpoint in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. TSA has already started implementation of these changes and more are slated by mid-June.
The new procedures that travelers should expect include holding onto their boarding passes (paper or electronic) at the screening checkpoint and separating food for X-ray screening. Instead of handing boarding passes 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, hold the boarding pass toward the TSA officer to allow the officer to visually inspect it.
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. Note: TSA Pre-Check members do not need to remove items from their bags.”
“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 release issued by the agency. “We continue to evaluate our security measures with an eye towards making smart, timely decisions benefitting health and safety, as well as the traveler experience.”
In addition to these new practices being implemented by TSA, here are some more helpful reminders if you are traveling by air in these times:
Wear facial protection: Effective until the conclusion of the COVID-19 crisis, all passengers and Philadelphia International Airport personnel are required to wear a face covering the covers the individual’s nose and mouth while on airport premises. Exceptions are granted while eating or drinking. Many airlines including American are now requiring passengers to wear face coverings on board. Travelers are allowed to wear masks during the screening process, but a TSA officer may ask the traveler to adjust the mask to visually confirm their identity during the travel document checking process or if the mask triggers an alarm during the screening process.
Practice social distancing: Passengers should allow for social distancing to reduce direct contact between employees and travelers whenever possible without compromising security. Adjustments leading up to the security checkpoint include increasing the distance between individuals as they enter the checkpoint, visual reminders of appropriate spacing on checkpoint floors and staggering the use of lanes where feasible.
Know what you can and cannot bring through the security checkpoint: Passengers should take extra care to make sure 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. The TSA has temporarily modified its rule limiting liquids to allow travelers to bring one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice. Passengers are required to move the hand sanitizer from the carry-on bag before being submitted for X-ray screening. Note: Keep in mind that disinfecting SPRAYS are NOT permitted in either carry-on or checked bags because they are flammable. Disinfecting WIPES ARE permitted in carry-on and checked bags.
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 it. In addition, passengers may also be directed back outside of security to remove items that should have been divested such as laptops, liquids, gels and aerosols and large electronics and resubmit their belongings for X-ray screening.
Unsure about what you can and cannot bring in your carry-on bag? Check https://tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/all or ask @AskTSA via Twitter or Facebook Messenger.
A few other important things travelers need to keep in mind:
Arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to your departure: Travelers coming through PHL should take particular care not to be lulled into thinking they can skirt on the 2-hour lead time. Due to the reduced schedules, TSA has in turn consolidated its operations into 2 checkpoints (Terminals B and D/E), down from the usual six. This means that it may take passengers longer than anticipated to clear security, especially during peak times (Mondays and Thursdays are the busiest), and it may take longer to reach their departure gate if they are flying American Airlines. American flights depart from 5 terminals at PHL. If American passengers are coming through security at Terminal B and their flight departs from a different terminal, they need to make sure they allow enough time to walk to their departure gate; if the flight is leaving from Terminal F they’ll need to take the shuttle from Terminal C to F.
In addition to the 2-hour arrival guideline, travelers should also know their airline’s carry-on bag policies in order to avoid showing up at the security checkpoint with over-size bags. Carry-on bag policies can be found on the airline’s website.
Also, 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 ID a year after expiration or 60 days after the duration of the emergency, whichever is longer.
More information on the new TSA guidelines can be found here: https://www.tsa.gov/news/press/releases/2020/05/21/tsa-prepared-summer-travelers-updated-security-procedures
More TSA travel tips can be found here: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips
Travelers should follow the guidance issued by the CDC and practice good hygiene, such as washing their hands.
For updated TSA checkpoint hours at PHL, visit https://www.phl.org/flights/security-information/checkpoint-hours