Airlines consider coronavirus social distancing and face masks

Coronavirus (COVID-19) information

Airlines consider coronavirus social distancing and face masks

The Transportation Security Administration continues to adjust its security operations during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

We established this webpage to provide resources and information to assist passengers who travel during this time.

TSA is ready to meet the current and future security needs of the nation’s transportation systems and remains dedicated to keeping travelers and our frontline workforce healthy and secure.

For the latest press releases and statements related to COVID-19, please visit our media page.

Face Masks Now Required

The Transportation Security Administration has implemented the Executive Order on face masks at airport security checkpoints and throughout the transportation network. For more information, please read our latest press release.

Stay Healthy. Stay Secure

TSA launched the “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.

” campaign, which details proactive and protective measures we have implemented at security checkpoints to make the screening process safer for passengers and our workforce by reducing the potential of exposure to the coronavirus. The campaign includes guidance and resources to help passengers prepare for the security screening process in the COVID environment.

Traveling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Travelers are reminded to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel guidance as well as local and state advisories regarding COVID-19.  Starting February 2, 2021, all airline travelers must wear a face mask throughout the travel experience. You will be asked to adjust your mask for ID verification or if it alarms the security screening equipment.

Travelers are also encouraged to:

  • Maintain a social distance of six feet wherever possible while at the checkpoint.
  • Remove belts and all personal items from your pockets such as wallets, keys or phones before you enter the checkpoint queue and place them in your carry-on bag.  (Does not apply to TSA PreCheck® members).
  • Remove food items from carry-on bags and place in bin for screening. (Does not apply to TSA PreCheck® members).
  • Practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly, including directly before and after completing the security screening process. If it is not possible to wash your hands, please use hand sanitizer.
  • Arrive at the airport early to allow adequate time for checking bags, completing security screening and getting to the departure gate. COVID-19 has affected staffing and operations across the airport environment, potentially adding time to your pre-flight experience.

Employees or travelers who believe they may have been in contact with a person who has COVID-19 should consult with their healthcare provider. Employees or travelers who have tested positive for COVID-19 should seek medical attention and follow the guidance of their healthcare provider and local health department.

Security Checkpoints

While security is TSA’s top priority, the health and safety of our employees and the traveling public is of utmost importance to us.

TSA remains in close communication with medical professionals, the CDC, and various government agencies as we continue to carry out our important mission.

Below are some adjustments TSA has made at security checkpoints to make the security screening process safer.

TSA has implemented procedures to increase social distancing and reduce direct contact between our employees and the traveling public whenever possible – without compromising security.

Adjustments include increasing distance between passengers as they enter the security checkpoint queue and throughout the screening process, placing visual reminders of appropriate spacing on checkpoint floors, and opening more checkpoint lanes where possible to reduce time spent in line.

TSA is implementing a phased installation of acrylic barriers at various points throughout the checkpoint that require interaction between 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 mask and gloves. They may also choose to wear eye protection or clear plastic face shields. In addition, TSA officers change their gloves following each pat-down and upon passenger request.

  • Cleaning and Disinfecting

TSA has increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces throughout the checkpoint including security screening equipment and bins. TSA officers are also required to change Explosives Trace Detection swabs after each use.

  • Medical Exemption for Hand Sanitizer

As a temporary exemption from the 3-1-1 rule, TSA is allowing one oversized liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags. Since these containers exceed the standard allowance typically permitted through a checkpoint, they will need to be screened separately.

This will add some time to your checkpoint screening experience. Please keep in mind that all other liquids, gels and aerosols brought to a checkpoint continue to be limited to 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters carried in a one quart-size bag. TSA’s special procedures for traveling with medication.

New technology continues to be a major priority for TSA. Here are just a few examples of technologies that are changing the way we do business: 1) Computed Tomography (CT) produces high-quality, 3-D images for a more thorough visual analysis of a bag’s contents.

2) Enhanced Advanced Imaging Technology (eAIT) safely screens passengers without physical contact for threats such as weapons and explosives, which may be hidden under a passenger’s clothing.

3) Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) machines automatically verify identification documents presented by passengers during the security screening process.

  • Expired Driver’s License and REAL ID Extension

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.   DHS has extended the REAL ID enforcement deadline to October 1, 2021.Learn more about REAL ID on TSA’s REAL ID webpage.

TSA PreCheck®

TSA PreCheck® benefits are even more valuable in today’s travel climate. TSA PreCheck passengers spend less time waiting in line and keep their shoes, belts and jackets on during screening and laptops, 3-1-1 liquids and food in their carry-ons, reducing overall contact during screening. Visit TSA PreCheck to learn more.

Airport Closures and Flight Cancellations

TSA does not make decisions about flight cancellations or airport closures. These decisions are made locally, on a case-by-case basis, by individual airlines, airports and public health officials. Before traveling, passengers should check with their airline and airports of origin and destination for the latest information on closures and cancellations.

Supporting our Workforce

The health and safety of our frontline workforce is paramount to TSA. In addition to the measures taken to protect our frontline workforce from COVID-19 transmission, we are also using our unique authorities to provide them with the additional support and care they deserve during this unprecedented time. This includes: 

  • Granting paid administrative leave or excused absences (rather than requiring use of personal leave) for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19, need to self-quarantine while awaiting a COVID-19 test result, or have had direct contact with an infected individual.
  • Providing for the maximum use of telework to promote social distancing.
  • Affording new protections and alternatives to employees who are members of vulnerable populations to fit their individual situations.

We will continuously evaluate and adapt our procedures and policies to keep our workforce safe as we learn more about this devastating disease and how it spreads.


Coronavirus Cases Take Off As Thanksgiving Travelers Congregate At DIA

Airlines consider coronavirus social distancing and face masks

But beyond enforcement, some travelers say social distancing is virtually impossible in one heavily traveled route through the airport. In October, Kurt Papenfus, an emergency room doctor in rural Colorado, came through DIA, taking the train to the main terminal. 

“There are people literally inches from me and we're all crammed sardines in this train and I'm going, ‘Oh my God, I am in a super spreader event right now,’” he said.

He estimates he spent 15 to 20 minutes in a crowd funneled through the train up the escalator to baggage. Though people wore masks, “with the construction at the airport right now, you can't just run away and get away from those people … herding altogether in a big little herd with all your COVID from all over the country,” he said.

A week after that, Papenfus tested positive and then was hospitalized with COVID-19. He suspects he caught it at DIA. Papenfus said he has now filed a complaint with the airport and written to Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

“As it stands, DIA is an extremely dangerous place,” reads Papenfus' letter. “This an extremely dangerous problem that needs to be addressed immediately.”

The airport’s spokeswoman declined to comment about Papenfus’ experience. 

But, to avoid crowds, Renteria urges people to walk over the sky bridge to Concourse A, where they can then take the train to the B and C concourses after some of its passengers have disembarked. But there is no way to walk to the two outlying concourses, and no alternative to the train.

Even buses, which would have to pass through areas where planes move about, would be impractical and expensive, and, without more aggressive enforcement than DIA has implemented so far, buses might not have any better infection control than the trains anyway. 

“That would require a lot of buses,” Renteria said. “Think about 50,000 people passing through checkpoints. Think about how many buses that would require.”

She said to help with crowding, DIA added more trains “so there are more trains coming every two to three minutes.”

Renteria said DIA also recently launched a new system that aims to allow a passenger to minimize interactions as they move through the airport.

With the VeriFLY app, a passenger can reserve a specific time to enter a dedicated TSA screening lane, pass through a touchless, electronic gate and access a reserved train car with a limited number of VeriFLY travelers.

Renteria said that ensures a socially distanced ride to the concourses.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR NewsTravelers, airline and airport workers wearing face masks and trying to keep social distancing rules during the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

As coronavirus cases rise, health officials say the safest way to travel may be to not

The holiday travel season arrives as Colorado struggles to contain the pandemic.

The state has revamped its color-coded warning system, while hospitals are seeing record hospitalizations and concerns are rising about staffing shortages.

On Wednesday, according to state data, there were 1,428 hospitalizations. That’s more than 250 patients more than a week earlier and nearly 10 times the number from two months ago.

Denver’s public health director said the city has discussed with airport leadership ways to spread people out at the airport, including on and around the train. But spreading people out in one spot could lead to bottlenecks elsewhere.

“You could have a problem with people backing up, waiting to get on the plane … congregating for longer periods of time than if they just got on the train,” said Bob McDonald, executive director of Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

Meanwhile, public health officials think there’s a better path.

“We would strongly recommend that individuals reconsider their travel plans at this point,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist.

She said the virus is highly transmissible, and in some parts of the state, one in 50 or 60 people is currently infectious.

If traveling by train, bus or plane, Herlihy said “you are going to run into many more people than that and your chances of being exposed to COVID-19, and potentially bringing the virus with you to your loved ones, is quite high.”

Herlihy also warned about testing and false negatives, saying that even if you got a negative COVID-19 test before travel you could still be sick and pass the virus along. 

“A test result is really just a snapshot. So if you have a test result done today, that means you are negative today. It does not mean that you are negative tomorrow or the day that you get your test result back,” Herlihy said. “It's particularly risky if individuals continue to have exposures after they are tested. We also know that tests are not perfect.”

“I'd say that testing as a sole strategy ahead of holidays is really a pretty risky strategy,” she said.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR NewsTravelers, airline and airport workers wearing face masks and trying to keep social distancing rules during the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.

Airline industry workers are getting sick

The overall risk of air travel was spotlighted with news that a TSA agent, who worked at DIA’s security checkpoint, died this week of COVID-19. An agency spokeswoman says it is not known where he contracted it.

Officer Eduard Faktorovich, 49, will be remembered with a moment of silence and the playing of Taps in a noon ceremony Friday at the north TSA checkpoint at the airport.

On a conference call with reporters Thursday, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said 2,981 TSA employees nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, and 557 people of them have not yet recovered, with nine deaths. DIA has had 64 cases among TSA workers since the start of the pandemic, including one death, and 61 of those agents were screening officers who dealt with the public.

Also, about 100 air marshals have tested positive for COVID-19, according to recent reports.

Dr. Mark Johnson, a longtime county public health director in Jefferson County and president-elect of the Colorado Medical Society, said flying on the plane is just one part of the trip.

“The bigger problem is getting to the airport, getting through security, getting to the airplane, getting on the airplane,” Johnson said. “It's not so much sitting on the airplane. It's all of the other things that are involved with the travel that I'm concerned about.”

Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs don’t spread easily on flights, according to the CDC. But social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within six feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase the risk of getting COVID-19.

The agency urges travelers to think about how they get to and from the airport, since public transportation and ridesharing can also increase the chances of being exposed.

Back on the phone from Arizona, Susie Fricona says she currently has no air travel plans, especially through Denver, the lack of distancing she saw.

“I wouldn't get near it. I personally would not, I would not want my family traveling at that time at all through DIA,” Fricona said.


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