The CDC says fully vaccinated people can travel. If you’re flying, you need to be aware of and comply with TSA’s COVID-19 pandemic rule changes put into place at their airport security checkpoints.
Since early last year, while some Americans continued to travel for essential purposes, most Americans stopped traveling due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. While we stayed home, driven by the realities of COVID-19 transmission, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) made changes at its airport checkpoints.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally agreed with outside public health analysts and experts that fully vaccinated people can travel. They cautioned, however, as I did in my March article, Why does the CDC tell fully vaccinated people to delay travel?, that fully vaccinated travelers must remain vigilant while in public and with others who may be unvaccinated, by wearing face masks, socially distancing, sanitizing surfaces and using good hand hygiene.
If you’re among the fortunate Americans who are already fully vaccinated, you may be booking your next journey now. If that trip includes flying, here are some of the changes you’ll encounter at TSA airport security checkpoints. They were made to both protect the flying public and TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSOs).
Whether you like the new TSA rules or not, you’re better off complying with them if you want to get through TSA security quickly and easily.
Food from home:
It’s okay to bring food from home to eat during your flight. It must be packed in clear plastic bags so TSOs can easily identify it. Use plastic wrap, not aluminum foil. You don’t want a TSO handling your food to inspect it. Unless you’re in a TSA PreCheck line, remove the food from your bag and put it in a bin.
Some popular face masks, including ones with exhalation valves, aren’t acceptable at TSA airport security.
Face Masks & Social Distancing:
TSA has implemented the presidential executive order that requires all air travelers over the age of two to wear face masks in airports. There are specific health and safety exceptions permitted in the face mask rule that affect a tiny fraction of travelers. Social distancing is also required at TSA checkpoints. Most airports have installed floor markings for TSA checkpoint lines. If you don’t use them, you may be “gently” asked to follow them. If you ignore the request, you’ll likely find yourself sent to the end of the line.
Wear your mask so it covers both your nose and mouth. According to TSA, “Masks can be either manufactured or homemade. They should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures.” If you object to the face mask rules, I strongly suggest that the airport isn’t the place for a political protest by refusing to comply with them. TSA is empowered to deny you entrance to the secure area of the airport, which will cause you to miss your flight.
TSOs no longer touch boarding passes, but, unfortunately, they continue to handle passenger photo IDs.
Boarding Pass Scanning:
When you get to the entrance of the TSA checkpoint, don’t hand your boarding pass to the TSA TSO. Scan it yourself. Then hold it up for the TSO to inspect it without touching it. You’ll need to give the TSO your photo identification as they need to check if it’s a forgery and match the photo to your face.
In order to identify you, it’s possible that a TSA TSO may ask you to remove or pull down your face mask. If asked, do yourself a big favor and immediately comply with the request, then put it back up when finished.
REAL ID compliant photo IDs aren’t currently required at TSA airport security, but they will be required as of October 1.
As always, TSA requires U.S. citizens to show a valid federal or state government-issued photo ID to fly. Last year, the implementation of the REAL ID law for air travelers was postponed until October 1, 2021. So, at this time your photo ID doesn’t have to be REAL ID compliant. Beware, however; it’s extremely unlikely the law will be delayed again.
An exception to requiring valid, unexpired state-issued IDs remains in place for now. Last year, many states shut down their driver’s license agencies for several months, due to the pandemic. As a result, TSA continues to accept state-issued driver’s licenses and non-driver’s identification up to a year after expiration. This exception will undoubtedly end no later than October 1, or possibly sooner.
If you don’t have a REAL ID-compliant identification, get one soon.
3–1–1 Liquids Rule:
The TSA 3–1–1 liquid rule is still in place, but two exceptions have been added due to the COVID-19 pandemic. TSA currently permits you to pack, in your carry-on, a single 12-ounce container of liquid hand sanitizer. Plus, carry as pre-moistened sanitizer wipes in whatever quantity you desire. A TSO may ask you to take them out of your carry-on for inspection. Neither of these items impacts the 3–1–1 liquids quantity restriction. If you’re traveling internationally, please note that many other countries haven’t instituted these exceptions.
TSA’s rules say their TSOs must change their gloves prior to every passenger patdown.
TSA TSO gloves:
TSOs are required to wear face masks and gloves. They’re required to change their gloves upon traveler request and before passenger patdowns. Since TSOs started wearing gloves, I’ve never hesitated to ask them to change their gloves before they gave me a patdown. Sometimes they hand-checked my carry-on. I’ve not had a problem when I’ve made the request.
If you want to get through TSA security checkpoints with a minimum of delay and hassle, I suggest that you comply with the new rules and protocols without complaint. Air travel is difficult enough without self-inflicted problems at TSA airport security.
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. Before entering the corporate world, Ned worked as a Public Health Engineer for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.