Changes at TSA: Travelers can wear face masks while waiting in line for security screening

Apr 21, 2020

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Major changes are coming to TSA — including face masks and lots of sanitizer.

It’s just one of the ways the novel coronavirus has changed life as we know it, with the world of commercial aviation among the most affected.

Related: TPG’s comprehensive guide to coronavirus-related news and information

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been well known for these longstanding security screening regulations, implemented in response to the 9/11 attacks: No liquids over 3.4 ounces in carry-ons, nothing obscuring your face when going through security and nobody being let through with expired identification.

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Now, the new threat of COVID-19 is prompting some of those measures to be temporarily reversed.

Related: 7 ways coronavirus could forever change the way we travel


MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 21: Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents help travelers. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents help travelers through security screening in Miami. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The TSA says airline passengers can now wear cloth face coverings while waiting in line for security screening. Travelers must still briefly lower their masks in order for the TSA officer to verify their identity, but they can stay protected throughout the rest of the process.

The TSA’s coronavirus hub page states, “Travelers are reminded to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel and prevention guidance regarding COVID-19.”

Of course, a face mask won’t keep you completely protected from the novel coronavirus, especially if you’re wearing a fabric mask instead of a full-fledged medical mask. But according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), any type of covering over your nose and mouth serves as additional protection from virus-carrying droplets like those in a sneeze, helping to prevent the disease from spreading from you to others around you, and vice versa.

Related: Should you use your airline sleep mask as a makeshift face mask?

This isn’t the first move toward more customer-friendly policies in response to the coronavirus outbreak. In mid-March, the TSA announced that travelers would be allowed to carry on up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer, although TSA cautioned that larger bottles would be subject to separate verification and could result in a slight travel delay.

Travelers who cannot renew expiring ID right now are also able to use state driver’s licenses which expired after March 1, 2020, as acceptable identification at security checkpoints. “TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses a year after the expiration date, plus 60 days after the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency,” the agency stated in late March. Real ID compliance has also been pushed back from its original date in October 2020.

Related: Everything you need to know about Real ID

(Photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images)

Of course all this comes at the time of a severe collapse in demand for air travel. The TSA reports security screenings are down as much as 96%. Earlier this month, TSA screened fewer than 100,000 passengers in a single day — its lowest number ever. One year earlier, on the same day, that figure was 2 million passengers.

It is likely to take years for airline traffic to return to pre-Covid-19 levels, with effects being felt throughout the industry. Airlines are offering lowered requirements for earning elite status, while change and cancellation fees are temporarily non-existent.

Related: TSA screenings had already fallen by 90% late last month

Featured photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy. 

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