12 Tips for Flying in a Pandemic, According to TSA Directors

Follow this advice from TSA Directors around the country for a safer experience on your next flight.

In mid-October, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it screened more than 1 million passengers in a single day. That is the highest number of travelers to pass through airports since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. While it’s wonderful to see so many people traveling again, officials at the TSA also want people to stay both healthy and secure while on their journey.

To assist future flyers, 12 federal security directors shared their tips to safely travel during the pandemic. Bookmark these tips and keep them handy for the next time you take to the friendly skies.

Tip 1: Wash your hands

“Wash your hands often and bring your hand sanitizer and wipes with you.TSA is currently allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags until further notice. Since these containers exceed the standard 3.4-ounce allowance typically permitted through a checkpoint, they will need to be screened separately. This will add some time to the 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. Bring your wipes along with you too. Travelers are permitted 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.” — John Bambury, Federal Security Director for John F. Kennedy International Airport

A passenger removes his mask as he has his ID checked by a Transportation Security Administration

Tip 2: Wear a mask

“TSA officers are wearing masks and we ask travelers to please wear one as well to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Travelers are allowed and encouraged to wear masks during the security screening process, however a TSA officer may ask the traveler to adjust the mask to visually confirm their identity during the travel document checking process or if their mask triggers an alarm during the screening process. If a traveler who is not wearing a mask triggers an alarm at a checkpoint and requires a pat down to resolve the alarm, TSA will offer that traveler a mask. Per the CDC, masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is why masks are worn by TSA officers and why so many airports mandate the wearing of masks in their terminals.” — Andrea R. Mishoe, Federal Security Director for Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport

Tip 3: Practice social distancing

“Maintain proper social distancing. Procedures to increase social distancing and reduce direct contact between TSA officers and the traveling public have been implemented whenever possible. Passengers can do their part by remembering to practice social distancing throughout their security experience — in the queue, through the screening process, while collecting their items from bins and after going through the checkpoint. TSA and airports have posted signs and floor decals to help remind travelers of the importance of doing so.” — Gerardo Spero, Federal Security Director for Philadelphia International Airport

Tip 4: Remove items from pockets

“As is common practice, travelers need to remove items from their pockets prior to going through a checkpoint scanner. During the pandemic it’s a good idea to place items from your pockets into your carry-on bag instead of into a bin. This reduces touchpoints, an important precaution to take during the pandemic.” — Scott T. Johnson, Federal Security Director for Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International Airports

Tip 5: Put food items in clear plastic bags

If you plan to travel with food, it’s a best practice to pack your food items in a clear plastic bag and place that clear plastic bag into your carry-on bag. When you get to the checkpoint, remove the clear bag containing your food and place that bag into the bin to reduce the opportunity for cross-contamination. Why remove your food at all? Because food items often trigger an alarm, so instead of a TSA officer needing to open a carry-on bag to check on what triggered the alarm, removing the food reduces the likelihood of a carry-on bag needing to be searched. — John C. Allen, Federal Security Director for all airports in West Virginia

Tip 6: Expired license is OK

“If you want to use your driver’s license as your government issued ID at an airport checkpoint and if your license expired, don’t panic. If your driver's license or state-issued ID expired and you are unable to renew it at your state driver’s license agency, you can still use it as acceptable identification at the checkpoint. TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses or state-issued ID one year after expiration, although some additional ID may be required along with additional screening. When getting your license renewed, please consider getting a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license. The new deadline for enforcement of REAL ID is October 1, 2021.” — John Bright, Federal Security Director for all airports in Iowa

Tip 7: Pack smart

“One of the most important things passengers can do to reduce contact at a checkpoint is to pack smart. It’s important to remember that prohibited items are still, well, prohibited. Travelers need to know what is in their carry-on bags and make sure there are no prohibited items inside before arriving at the checkpoint. If not, and their carry-on item triggers an alarm, passengers may be directed to exit the checkpoint, remove the prohibited item and return to the start of the checkpoint to rerun their bag through the X-ray machine.” — Chuck Burke, Federal Security Director for Richmond International Airport and all Virginia airports south of Richmond

Tip 8: Enroll in TSA PreCheck

“Enroll in TSA PreCheck. TSA PreCheck members continue to be eligible for expedited screening procedures, meaning they do not have to remove their shoes, belts, or light jackets. They can also leave their laptops, other electronics, 3-1-1 bags or food items in their carry-on bags, thus reducing touchpoints along the way. During the pandemic, now more than ever, TSA PreCheck is worth the investment.” — Thomas Carter, Federal Security Director for all airports in New Jersey

Tip 9: Prepare before you arrive

TSA also has a special coronavirus page on its website that is helpful to review before heading to the airport. While you’re online, download the free myTSA app to your cell phone. It provides 24/7 access to the most frequently requested airport security information on any mobile device. Doing so can save you time and money with helpful tips for security, including a searchable database of items that can and can’t go in checked or carry-on bags.”—- Karen Keys-Turner, Federal Security Director for all airports in Pennsylvania west of Philadelphia

Tip 10: Everything is cleaner

“TSA has issued guidance to frontline employees to conduct routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces and security screening equipment at the TSA checkpoint. Many airport authorities are also performing additional cleaning of security checkpoints and bins. Passengers who are hesitant to place their items into a bin out of concern for cross contamination can consider bringing along a plastic kitchen trash bag to place in the bottom of the bin to use as a liner before divesting their belongings on top of it.” — Michael Fowler, Federal Security Director for all airports in Nebraska

Tip 11: Scan your boarding pass

We’re looking to reduce touchpoints along the way, so now we invite passengers to scan their own boarding pass — paper or electronic — then hold it up to the TSA officer to visually inspect it. Doing so reduces a touchpoint.” — Robert Duffy, Federal Security Director for LaGuardia Airport

Tip 12: Follow expert guidance

“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. This is fairly simple. If you recently tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, are not feeling well, have recently been exposed to a person with COVID-19 or are running a fever, please postpone your trip and rebook your flight for another time when you are feeling healthy. Many airlines have eliminated rebooking fees, making it much more convenient to ensure you can travel when you are healthy. When you’re feeling better, we’ll be happy to see you. We want you to stay healthy and stay secure.” — Bart R. Johnson, Federal Security Director for all Upstate New York airports

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles