Airport security check. Young man holding passport and waiting for x-ray control his luggage.

The TSA, everyone’s “favorite” government agency, which screens passengers at US airports, is changing things up in response to new recommendations for health and hygiene in airports, starting with security.

The main change: it’ll be a less handsy experience, at least for most passengers.

Here’s how all the new rules and restrictions break down, and what to know in advance so you can streamline your way through airport security without having the shuddering feeling of a stranger putting their hands on you, or touching your stuff…

Social Distancing at TSA Security Checkpoints

Coldplay once said “nobody said it was easy”, and that will likely ring true as we find out just how hard social distancing will be to enforce at TSA Checkpoints. The organization says it plans to remind passengers of social distancing measures while in line, and encourage passengers to wear masks, though at this point they won’t be mandatory, because #america.

Airport security check. Young man holding passport and waiting for x-ray control his luggage.Reducing Touch Points With TSA Security Staff

In the world before covid-19, passengers handed over their boarding pass and ID to agents, allowing them to verify matching names, ID validity and other aspects, often resulting in amateur abstract art all over a passengers boarding pass. In the post covid-19 world, TSA ID and boarding pass verification will work like this…

  • Passenger places boarding pass (electronic o paper) onto scanner
  • Passenger then shows TSA agent boarding pass, holding it in direction of agent.

No mention was made of what will happen to ID checks, and whether these will still be handled by TSA staff, or will also be verified from a short distance using UV light and other devices. It’s an important question, since the boarding pass is only half the problem with coming into contact with other peoples things.

Things Need To Be Removed From Bags

Going forward, the TSA states food and any liquid hand sanitizers over 3.4 ounces must be removed from the bag and put through scanners independently. Traditionally, liquids are limited to 3.4 ounces with the exception of maternity needs, like breast milk, but now hand sanitizer over the liquid limit is also approved up to 12 ounces.

Any food items must also be removed from bags, which is worth noting, since many passengers will now aim to self cater to avoid contact with crew and touching items outside of their control. It’s also a great reminder that you absolutely can bring sandwiches, sushi, pasta or any of your other favorites from a local takeaway or home through airport security. Just make sure to put it through the scanner separately, on its own.

people sitting in a terminalTSA PSA About Removing Things From Pockets

Keys, coins, belts and shoes with metal are among the many things which require passengers to return a bad result from body scanners, thus requiring a pat down from an agent. With this in mind, the TSA made a public service announcement reminding passengers to remove belts, coins and basically everything from their pockets and person before entering scanners.

Hot tip: pack your bag, then put any belongings, belts, sunglasses and phones inside your carry on, so it sits on top and you can access it all quickly after security. I never wear my belt to the airport specifically for this reason.

In the press release, the TSA also noted a variety of measures which have changed since covid-19, 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 at 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.

Ultimately, many of these changes are good for travelers and security staff alike, with fewer contact points. No one, except perhaps a few bad apples, enjoys the pat down from TSA, and these reminders should help at least “a” percentage of the traveling public avoid setting scanners off, while maintaining aviation safety.

If you’re planning to travel, do the world a favor and wear a mask, even if it’s your patriotic right not to do so. The world needs travel, and the only way that will happen is if it’s rebooted safely, without causing second waves.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. > everyone’s favorite non-governmental agency

    What does that mean? TSA is directly part of the executive branch, under DHS.

    1. TSA is also contracted to private companies, so depending where you fly from you may not encounter a direct TSA employee, they also can’t arrest you.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *