However, the agency did not announce passenger temperature screenings, something that airlines have been pushing for.
The changes are oriented around reducing contact between screeners and passengers, and promoting social distancing.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced several changes to the airport screening process on Thursday, part of an effort to implement safety measures through the entire travel process during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
However, a program to implement temperature checks for passengers, widely expected to be introduced in the coming days, was not included in the changes.
"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 press release. "We continue to evaluate our security measures with an eye towards making smart, timely decisions benefiting health and safety, as well as the traveler experience."
The new procedures are expected to be rolled out nationwide by mid-June, the TSA said. Most of the protocols involve fairly simple changes aimed at promoting social distance, and decreasing touch points between screeners and passengers.
The administration highlighted five changes:
Passengers will keep possession of their boarding passes, rather than handing them to a screener. Passengers will be asked to place the passes on the barcode scanner themselves, and to hold them up for screeners to read.
People traveling with food should place it into a plastic bag, and should put it in a separate bin before it goes through the X-ray machine. According to the TSA, 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."
While passengers can continue to take up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer through checkpoints, other liquids are still restricted to 3.4 ounces. If a bag is found to contain a prohibited item, passengers may be sent outside of security with their bag to dispose of the item, instead of opening their bag and having it inspected by a screener. This is to reduce contact between screeners and bags' contents.
The TSA will ask passengers to practice social distance while in line for security, and will start marking appropriate spacing on the floor, as well as staggering checkpoints where possible.
Passengers are encouraged to wear facial coverings while in the airport and at security, though may need to briefly pull it down to be identified at the screening checkpoint. US airlines are requiring passengers to wear masks while on board.
The TSA also said that passengers who have not flown during the pandemic may notice a few changes before their next flight, including:
Reduced security lane usage due to the reduction in passenger volume.
All TSA officers at checkpoints wearing masks and gloves.
TSA officers optionally wearing eye protection and clear plastic face shields at some locations.
TSA officers will continue the practice of changing gloves after each pat-down.
Plastic shielding installed at many travel document checking podiums, divest, bag search and drop off locations.
TSA officers practicing social distancing.
Routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces in the screening checkpoint area.
Air traffic demand has fallen dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic, with fewer than 90,000 passengers traveling per day at the lowest point in April, down from about 2 million the year prior.
In recent weeks, demand has slowly increased, with the TSA reporting between 165,000 and 250,000 daily passengers — still a significant drop from 2019.
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