Contributing Writer Taylor Kocher, Travel Age West
Travelers should expect changes in their airport experience, from check-in and security to boarding, as well as while in-flight.
With the right information, travel advisors can help prepare their clients for these changes.
“I think the most important thing is to familiarize yourself with the new policies, so you know what to expect when you get to the airport,” said Zach Wichter, aviation industry reporter for The Points Guy.
One of the major changes in the security screening process is that travelers will now scan their own paper or electronic boarding pass, instead of handing it to a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer. After scanning, travelers will show the officer their boarding pass for a visual inspection.
Masks are allowed to be worn during the screening process, but passengers may be asked to adjust the mask to verify their identity.
TSA is also enforcing rules about food. “You will be asked to remove your food from your carry-on bag and put it in a bin,” said Lisa Farbstein, a spokesperson for TSA. “With that said, to reduce touchpoints, we recommend placing food into a clear bag at home. Put that clear bag of food into your carry-on bag. Then, at the checkpoint, put the clear bag into the bin. Otherwise, your food will touch the bin. You don’t have to put your food in a clear bag, but it’s the smart way to do it.”
For liquids, a single hand sanitizer bottle (up to 12 ounces) per person is allowed in carry-on bags. The bottle must be taken out of the bag to be screened separately. However, advisors should be sure to remind clients not to bring prohibited items, such as other liquids greater than 3.4 ounces, and to follow rules about removing items from carry-on bags during screening.
Otherwise, they still may be asked to go back outside security to dispose of things such as water bottles, or to take out items (including laptops) to be put through the scanner again.
In order to reduce touchpoints, TSA is also advising travelers to store items including belts, wallets, keys and phones in carry-on bags. This prevents the requirement of placing loose items in bins.
Social distancing will also be enforced with visual markers and staggered lanes. Other steps TSA has taken to help stop the spread of the virus include the use of face protection by all TSA officers. Travelers are also encouraged to wear masks; however, they are not required to do so.
In airports, travelers can also expect to see more routine cleaning and disinfection of popular touchpoints in the security screening areas, as well as newly installed plastic shielding in many locations.
“I think the most important thing will be whether or not TSA rigorously enforces social distancing while passengers are waiting to go through the checkpoint,” The Points Guy’s Wichter said. “We know that proximity is a big factor in the spread of COVID-19, so it will be important to make sure people are able to stay apart in places where lines used to be pretty condensed.”
While travelers should become familiar with the abovementioned changes, the overall security experience will not be very different.
“I don’t think these policies will have a major effect on most travelers,” Wichter said. “For now, these minor tweaks coupled with low passenger volumes should mean that security is very similar to how it was pre-COVID.”
However, Wichter says travelers should expect to see a health screening component in the future.
“Most, if not all, of the experts I’ve spoken to believe there will be some mandatory health screening in the future for all travelers,” he said. “Exactly what that looks like — and what will be effective — remains an open question for now. In the short term, it could be temperature or COVID-19 checks at airports. But it seems likely to evolve into some kind of proof of immunity or immunization for travel in the future.”
No decision has been made on temperature checks at this time, says TSA’s Farbstein. However, individual airlines such as Frontier Airlines have started to implement health screenings, and many individuals airlines are requiring employees and passengers to wear facial coverings from check-in to deplaning.
Transportation Security Administration