As we head into the Memorial Day holiday and a slight uptick in air travel, the Transportation Security Administration rolling out some new rules for the security checkpoint screen area in response to COVID-19.
Some of these strategies are already in place. Others will show up at checkpoints by mid-June.
Scan you own boarding pass
Still no word about TSA taking passenger temperatures, but TSA officers will now ask passengers to place their paper or electronic boarding pass on the ticket readers themselves. TSOs will still examine your document, but they won’t touch it.
Clear bags for food
TSA also now asks passengers to put any carry-on food items in a clear plastic bag and place that bag in a bin at the checkpoints.
“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,” TSA says in a statement.
“This allows social distancing, reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a person’s container of food, and reduces the potential for cross-contamination. TSA Precheck members do not need to remove items from their bags,” TSA adds.
If you haven’t flown since the pandemic arrived, you’ll see TSA checkpoint officers wearing facial protection and gloves. Passengers are also asked to wear masks at checkpoints as well and be prepared to lower their masks if requested. At many airports, masks are now required throughout the terminals and on the planes.
(Our story about TSA workers helping airport workers during the pandemic first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version.)
The steep decline in air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered layoffs, furloughs and shortened work hours for many airport employees, including wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, janitorial crews and concessions staff.
But in a growing number of cities their co-workers from the Transportation Security Administration, who continue to receive paychecks, are stepping up to help. They’re hosting temporary food pantries in airports around the nation and providing free lunches and dinners to their struggling colleagues. They’re also donating their time to make masks and other essential items for communities in need.
Unite Here, a union representing hospitality workers, estimates that 42,000 of its members in the airport industry are currently out of work. Most of those lost jobs are in airport concessions and airline catering, where wages range from $9 to $16 an hour.
That’s just Unite Here members. The Airport Restaurant and Retail Association (ARRA) estimates 120,000 to 125,000 airport employees are currently out of work.
Some of those workers may eventually get called back. But for now, their incomes are disrupted, and many could use some help.
Food pantries to the rescue
As a thank-you for the support they received while working without paychecks during the 2018/2019 partial government shutdown, TSA officers at Denver International Airport on April 30 hosted a food pantry in support of airport and air carrier colleagues working with reduced hours or partial paychecks.
“Our team rallied to collect thousands of non-perishable items for the pantry,” said Larry Nau, TSA Federal Security Director for Colorado, “133 airport employees shopped the pantry and took home items for a total of 538 family members fed.”
On April 24, Transportation Security Administration employees at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) opened a free food and toiletries pantry to assist airport employees laid off or working with reduced hours or paychecks.
TSA officers are donating cash, products and gift cards to keep the pantry stocked with items such as cereal, evaporated milk, soup, pasta, toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, feminine products, diapers and deodorant.
And in early April, TSA employees at Dulles International Airport (IAD) opened a free pantry for affected airport community members that is stocked with everything from donated dried and canned goods and toiletries to toys for employees who have kids at home.
Twice in early April, TSA officers at Rhode Island’s T.F. Green Airport (PVD) chipped in to buy and deliver pizza dinners for fellow airport workers, including airline employees, wheelchair attendants and housekeeping staff.
“Providence is a small airport and the employees who work here are like family,” Christopher Primiano, TSA stakeholder liaison at PVD Airport, told CNBC, “We know this could go on for some time so we’re looking into what else we can do, from donations and food drives to bake sales. We want to help and give back as much as we can.”
On April 10, TSA employees at PDX bought pre-made lunches for around 300 airport employees. They did it again on April 21, partnering with local employees from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to donate lunch and supplies to an equal number of airport workers.
As part of its “TSA Gives Back” program, early last month TSA officers at Green Bay-Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB) in Wisconsin chipped in to buy and deliver pizza, dessert and balloons to airline and car rental employees at the airport who are experiencing shrinking paychecks.
And, at McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Knoxville, Tennessee, TSOs are collecting donations and arranged for Second Harvest, the community food bank, to supply food boxes to about 300 airport employees.
Following instructions from an online video, TSA officers at EWR made 200 face masks out of 100 pairs of brand-new socks purchased with funds donated by TSA employees. Each sock-mask was placed in a separate plastic zippered bag along with an instruction card and all 200 masks were delivered to two area homeless shelters.
TSOs at Newark Liberty Airport have also used their downtime at the checkpoints to make home-made get-well cards and write notes of support for health care workers and COVID-19 patients in isolation at a nearby medical center.
During the partial shutdown of the federal government in 2019, many TSA employees continued to show up for work despite missing paychecks.
To help them out, airport employees, airlines and airport concessionaires around the country joined with social service agencies and the local community to stock pantries with food and goods.
Now at some airports, TSA workers are returning the favor by setting up food pantries and special meals for airport employees who have had hours cut or who have been put out of work because there are so few passengers in airports.
And at T.F. Green International Airport (PVD) in Rhode Island, TSA officers chipped in and bought pizza dinners – twice so far – for their fellow airport workers, including wheelchair attendants and airline employees.
We’ll update this list of good-deeds as we hear of my examples.
So Transportation Security Administration officers are among the workers who must still show up for work.
Unfortunately, it turns out TSA workers aren’t immune to COVID-19 and there are have been some TSA officers who have tested positive for the virus. So it’s possible some passengers may have been exposed to the virus by these officers at some airports.
As of March 23, TSA said 25 screening officers had tested positive for COVID-19. An additional five non-screening employees who TSA says “have relatively limited interaction with the traveling public,” have tested positive for the virus as well.
Here’s the list of where TSA officers tested positive for the virus:
Newark-Liberty International Airport (EWR)
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CVG)
Cyril E. King International Airport (STT; St. Thomas, VI)
Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Norman Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood Int’l Airport (FLL)
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
TSA says it continues to work with the CDC and state and local health departments to monitor local situations.
In the meantime, passengers will find that at some airports TSA has closed some checkpoints and is staffing others with reduced hours.