With airline passenger boardings now approaching pre-pandemic levels, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is offering tips to reduce delays and avoid points of physical contact at TSA security checkpoints.
“We have started to see an uptick in the number of people who are booking flights, as more people have been vaccinated and are eager to enjoy leisure travel again,” said John Allen, the TSA’s federal security director for West Virginia, who spoke to reporters Thursday at Charleston’s Yeager Airport.
Allen said many Americans haven’t flown since last year’s arrival of the pandemic and are “out of practice, or perhaps forgetful” about what should and should not be placed in carry-on bags.
“We are seeing a lot of individuals with oversized liquids, gels and aerosols in their carry-on bags, and that slows down the checkpoint line,” and increases exposure time to possible pathogens for passengers and TSA officers alike, Allen said.
For those traveling by air this summer for the first time since the arrival of the pandemic, “the checkpoint experience will look and feel somewhat different,” he said.
For starters, the wearing of face masks will remain mandatory, at least through Sept. 13, for everyone inside an airport terminal or traveling on a commercial flight. Social distancing precautions will be in effect at TSA security checkpoints. Allen suggested packing an extra mask or two for each trip, to replace soiled masks
or those with broken elastic straps.
At the TSA booth where identification is examined, passengers will place their own driver’s license or other form of ID on an authentication scanner, avoiding a point of contact with a TSA officer.
Passengers will be asked to briefly remove their masks, to allow TSA officers to match their faces with the photo ID documents they present, but during that time, a transparent acrylic screen will be in place to shield against the possible spread of pathogens.
Allen displayed a plastic tote crammed with TSA-barred items that had been removed from the carry-on bags of passengers at Yeager Airport by TSA screeners Thursday morning. They included cans and bottles of water and soft drinks, oversized shampoo containers, and larger-than-allowed tubes of sunscreen and toothpaste.
“All of those items could have been placed in checked bags and traveled to the passengers’ destinations without problem,” said Lisa Farbstein, the TSA’s regional public affairs officer. “Or people could have bought the same things when they got to where they were traveling.”
One benefit for travelers using smaller airports, like Yeager, is that there often is enough time for travelers to return banned items detected by TSA screeners to their cars and return to the terminal in time for departure.
“You can’t do that at airports where you have to wait for a shuttle to take you to the parking area,” Farbstein said.
Those traveling with food items are urged to store them in a clear plastic bag and place that bag in a carry-on bag. Upon arrival at the TSA security checkpoint, the clear food bag should be removed from the carry-on, and placed in a screening bin. This reduces the likelihood of a bag search, since some foods trigger screening alarms.
The TSA also urges travelers to place wallets, keys, cellphones, coins and other items carried in pockets in their carry-on bags, instead of placing them directly in screening bins, minimizing touchpoints for the possible spread of disease, and reducing the risk of walking away without retrieving the items.
To quickly determine the maximum size of liquid containers allowed in carry-on bags and find out what items may be prohibited, Allen and Farbstein urged travelers to download the free “myTSA” app.