TSA

How sad it is out there in the world of travel?

You know that the current health crisis has caused people to cancel trips and airlines to temporarily slash flight schedules to the bone.

Here are few other measurements that underscore how bad it is right now.

TSA screening numbers hit record low

On Tuesday, April 7, the Transportation Security Administration screened just 97,310 passengers and flight crew members at all airports across the country.

That’s a record low for TSA and down 95% from the 2,091,056 passengers screened at airports a year ago on the same weekday.

TSA screening officers also continue to test positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, April 8, TSA reported that in the previous 14 days, 43 screening officers and 7 non-screening officers who’d had limited interaction with travelers tested positive for COVID-19.

TSA is updating that list daily. The agency is also posting the airport, last day worked, checkpoint location and shift times for each TSA officer who tests positive. So you can check to see if you may have been exposed.

Hotel occupancy rates way down

Hotels around the country are experiencing shocking year-over-year declines, according to data from STR.

Comparing the week of March 29 through April 4, 2020 with the same time period last year:

Occupancy across the country is down 68.5%, to 21.6% and average daily rates (ADR) are down 41.5% to $76.51.

When you look at the Top 25, the numbers are worse:

The Top 25 markets were down over 74 %, to 19.4%, with the Oahu, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and Seattle markets getting hammered the worst.

In some cities, hotels are renting rooms to local governments to house health care workers, first responders, military personnel, people who have been ordered to quarantine, infected patients and homeless people at risk from the virus.

Travel Tidbits from an airport near you

SFO Airport consolidates international flights to a single concourse

So many international flights have been temporarily canceled that some airports are closing down parts of concourses and terminals.

Courtesy SFO Airport

One example: San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Because the schedule for international flights from SFO will be reduced by 52% by April 1, the airport will temporarily close one part of the International Terminal.

On April 1, and through at least through the end of May, SFO will close Boarding Area A (Gates A1 to A15) in the International Terminal and consolidate all international flight departures to Boarding Area G, which houses Gates G1-G14.

The SFO Medical Clinic (in the Int’l Terminal Main Hall, by the A Gates); the Grand Hyatt at SFO and the Int’l Parking Garage A will still be open, but this will allow SFO to close a security checkpoint and consolidate Custom & Border Protection staff.

Consolidation is going on at other airports as well. So if you are traveling, be sure to check the airport and airline websites.

TSA’s COVID-19 Count Keeps Increasing

Over the weekend, TSA updated its map and its list showing which states and which airports have TSA screening officers who have tested positive for COVID-19.

On Saturday, March 28, TSA reported that over the past two weeks 55 TSA screening officers have tested positive for COVID-19.

TSA says 19 others who had “relatively limited interaction with the traveling public” tested positive as well.

We hope those officers recover quickly, of course. But if you’ve traveled through an airport in one of the blue states on the map during the past few weeks, be sure to check this list to see which airports are affected.

The list includes the last date the officers worked, the checkpoints they were stationed at and their shift hours.

If you think you may have passed through the checkpoints where these officers were stationed, please be sure to check with your doctor about what steps to take next.

TSA maps its COVID-19 cases

Airports are getting quieter and quieter, but some people are still flying.

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.

But which airports?

TSA has put together a map and is keeping a list.

Here’s what it looked like on March 23, 2020.

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.

Fewer flights, but TSA + airports still fighting germs

Pretty much every airline is spooling out schedule cuts in response to reduced passenger demand, concerns about coronavirus and government-imposed restriction.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Etihad, Norwegian and Singapore Airlines are just a few carriers that have made serious schedule adjustments in the past few days.

Fewer planes will be in the skies, but airports remain open.

And the Transportation Security Administration, which recently confirmed that three of its officers at Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, is finally getting into gear with security checkpoint-specific advice for travelers.

TSA is reminding travelers that it is OK to bring individually packaged alcohol or anti-bacterial wipes in carry-on or checked luggage. Jumbo containers of hand wipes are also allowed in carry-on or checked luggage, says TSA, as are liquid hand sanitizers.

For safety reasons, savvy travelers already know to put personal stuff such as wallets, keys, phones, loose change, etc., inside their carry-ons and not loose in the bins going through the x-ray machines.

But those bins don’t get cleaned very often – if at all – and are full of germs.

So, TSA is reminding travelers to keep their personal items from touching the bins and to wash their hands as soon as possible after going through the screening process.

Airports are continuing their efforts to stay extra clean as well.

How are airports & the TSA dealing with COVID-19 fears?

All the head-spinning news about the Coronavirus (COVID-19), may have you wondering what to do if, like us, you have plane tickets and travel plans booked for the next few days, weeks or months.

If your airline cancels your flight or your organization cancels its event, your decision about whether to go or stay home may be decided for you. Then, getting refunds, credit for future travel or an itinerary for a different destination may be what keeps you busy.

If you’re in the wait-and-see mode and decide to pack your bags and go, here’s what some airports and the TSA are doing to help you – and their employees – stay safe.

Airport security checkpoints

During normal travel times, airport security checkpoints are germy places and now is certainly not the time to walk barefoot through the metal detectors or put your shoes in the bin on top of your coat.

To avoid germs – and leaving stuff behind – we always recommend putting whatever you can, including your coat, the contents of your pockets, a purse, your lunch and anything you’re carrying, into your carry-on instead of into the bins. And put your shoes on the belt, not into a bin.

There are always bottles of hand sanitizers at the checkpoints. Now there are more. Your tax dollars pay for those, so don’t be shy about really cleaning up in the recombobulation area post-security.

A TSA spokesperson says the nitrile gloves officers usually wear when patting you down or looking through your stuff adds a layer of protection against germs and that, for now, TSA has authorized personnel who come into close contact with travelers to wear surgical masks – if they want.

Fighting germs in airports

In general, airports across the country say they are increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning efforts in washrooms and other areas.

Airports are also encouraging passengers to follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s advice on washing hands, covering coughs and otherwise trying to prevent the spread of germs by staying home if not well. 

And airport officials say they’re monitoring the impacts of the coronavirus and working closely with local and federal partners and airlines to reduce the risk to passengers.

Denver International Airport (DEN) is adding sanitary wipe stations in jet bridges so passengers can sanitize their seats on planes and putting extra bottles of hand sanitizers at the security checkpoints and information booths.

DEN notes that it is one of the airports that use checkpoint screening trays with antimicrobial treatments.

As you may imagine, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and its passengers are on high alert.  SEA is keeping its Traveler Update page very up-to-date with advice for travelers and the latest COVID-19 news.

Airport spokesman Perry Cooper said the airport is doing additional cleaning and has been increasing those efforts as the situation has progressed.

“We have reviewed and updated the type and strength of cleaners to be even more efficient,” said Cooper, “And have also added over 50 new hand sanitizer stations in the international areas as well as increasing them in the general areas of the airport.”