In response to COVID-19, procedure changes rolling out nationwide by mid-June

Washington | May 21, 2020– With the Memorial Day holiday weekend kicking off the start of summer, the Transportation Security Administration is preparing a very different travel season given the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. TSA has implemented changes to the security screening process that reduce the potential for cross-contamination at the security checkpoint in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. TSA has already begun implementation of these changes – with more to be implemented at airport checkpoints nationwide by mid-June.

“In the interest of TSA frontline workers and traveler health, TSA is committed to making prudent changes to our screening processes to limit physical contact and increase physical distance as much as possible,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “We continue to evaluate our security measures with an eye towards making smart, timely decisions benefiting health and safety, as well as the traveler experience.”

Over the past couple of weeks, TSA has experienced a steady growth of travelers coming through airport checkpoints. As procedure changes begin to rollout in the coming weeks, travelers should expect to:

Keep possession of their boarding passes. Instead of handing their boarding pass to a TSA officer at the travel document podium, travelers should now place their boarding pass (paper or electronic) on the boarding pass reader themselves. After scanning, travelers should hold their boarding pass toward the TSA officer to allow the officer to visually inspect it. This change reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a passenger’s boarding pass thus reducing potential for cross-contamination.

Separate food for X-ray screening. Passengers should place their carry-on food items into a clear plastic bag and place that bag into a bin. Food items often trigger an alarm during the screening process; separating the food from the carry-on bag lessens the likelihood that a TSA officer will need to open the carry-on bag and remove the food items for a closer inspection. This requirement allows social distancing, reduces the TSA officer’s need to touch a person’s container of food and reduces potential for cross-contamination. TSA Precheck members do not need to remove items from their bags.

Pack smart. Passengers should take extra care to ensure that they do not have any prohibited items, such as liquids, gels or aerosols in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces, in their carry-on bags (water bottles, shampoo). In response to COVID-19, TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags. Passengers are required to remove the hand sanitizer from the carry-on bag before being submitted for X-ray screening. If a bag is found to contain a prohibited item, passengers may be directed to return to the divestiture table outside of security with their carry-on bags to remove the item and dispose of the item. The passenger may also be directed back outside of security to remove, items that should have originally been divested (such as laptops, liquids, gels, and aerosols, and large electronics) and resubmit their property for X-ray screening. By resolving alarms in this manner, TSA officers will need to touch the contents inside a carry-on bag much less frequently, reducing the potential for cross-contamination.

Practice social distancing.  Passengers should allow for social distancing to reduce direct contact between employees and travelers whenever possible without compromising security. Noticeable adjustments leading up to the security checkpoint include, increasing the distance between individuals as they enter the security checkpoint, placing visual reminders of appropriate spacing on checkpoint floors and staggering the use of lanes where feasible. No two airports are alike, so this could look a little different at each airport.

Wear facial protection. TSA officers at checkpoints are now using facial protection. Travelers are encouraged to wear face protection to the checkpoint as well. Please note, however, passengers may need to adjust it during the screening process. Travelers are also encouraged to remove items such as belts, and items from their pockets, like wallets, keys and phones, and put them directly into their carry-on bags instead of into the bins to reduce touch-points during the screening process.

Travelers who have not flown since the pandemic are also likely to notice some other changes. They include:

  • 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 installed at many 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.

Many airlines and airports are also providing specific COVID-19 related guidance to travelers; please check with your airline prior to your trip. Travelers are encouraged to arrive at the airport early as COVID-19 has affected staffing and operations across the airport environment. This will allow adequate time for checking bags, completing security screening and getting to the departure gate. Individuals who were traveling in the early months of the pandemic became accustomed to arriving at the security checkpoint shortly before their flight departure time. TSA recommends that travelers no longer do so (or arrive well in advance of their flight) since more people are flying and new procedures such as social distancing have been implemented in airports, potentially adding time to the pre-flight experience.

For more information on the TSA security screening process during the pandemic, visit

As you probably know, the Trump administration is considering banning laptops from the passenger cabins of all international flights to and from the US, and homeland security secretary John Kelly was quoted as saying when asked if he was going to ban all laptops on all flights to and from the US: “I might,” he said. The existing ban set in place earlier this year affects some 50 flights per day from 10 cities, mostly Middle Eastern, such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.  Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security introduced a restriction on personal electronic devices in March, mandating anything larger than cellphones or smartphones be sent via the traveller’s baggage – so no tablets either. Clearly this does not affect airline provided tablets for IFEC, as Emirates is loaning tablets to passengers in upper classes, obviously keeping the the folks in front happy as their laptops/tablets ride in their suitcases down below.

Currently, several news outlets report that the U.S. is considering extending the ban to other locations, including Europe. Ostensibly, airlines and countries worldwide could do the same. In fact, IFExpress has heard that Australia is presently considering a ban as well. The folks at Digital Trans noted: “Kelly added that Homeland Security planned to “raise the bar for – aviation security much higher than it is now,” and spoke of “new technologies down the road,” though declined to offer any details.” Furthermore, among the enhanced security measures that will be forthcoming will likely be tighter screening of carry-on items to allow Transport Security Administration agents to discern problematic items in tightly stuffed bags so we all will probably be affected – laptop or not. Hey, this ban could end up way bigger than anyone imagined.

However, not everyone is sold on the restrictions and this was noted recently in Aviation Week – “In a statement May 23, AAPA (Association of Asia Pacific Airlines) director general Andrew Herdman said, “The ripple effects of such measures, and their proposed wider expansion, threaten to disrupt the global economy and impose far greater costs on society with no tangible public security benefits. This would only serve to further the aims of the terrorists, who measure their success by how much society over-reacts to their provocations. Rather than focus on generalized screening of innocent passengers, past experience with evolving threats and terrorist plots repeatedly highlight the critical importance of effective intelligence gathering and analysis.” Screening may be fine, but still one bad device could cause a lot of cabin damage –  and all it takes is one.

Many say that the ban expansion will force a lot of passengers to send their laptop and tablets to their destination via luggage in the hold, or just leave them at home. IFExpress sees several potential issues with this scenario. Firstly,  large quantities of laptop batteries in the aircraft hold could potentially increase the risk of combustibility, which we all know has been an issue – and not just for laptops (think back to last year with the Galaxy 7)! After all, Lithium batteries can fail. But even beyond that some travelers have told us that they won’t ship laptops in luggage because of  the potential for theft – especially in some parts of Eastern Europe, Africa, and other locations. Additionally, if you do carry your laptop in your baggage, you might want to also carry a copy of the PC sales receipt with you as well, because if the bag is “lost”, you need proof of it’s value to get repaid – be sure to check out the rest of the article as it is pretty good as well!

However, not everybody agrees that laptops are the big bad device onboard and a SpaceNews article about inflight connectivity reported: “Right now a laptop is the least-used device in the broadband networks that we are supporting,” Ric VanderMeulen, vice president of space and satellite broadband for ViaSat’s Government Systems Division, said during a Washington Space Business Roundtable panel. “Phones are first, tablets are second, and laptops are about seven percent of the market.”

No doubt, a laptop ban could be a boon to aircraft IFE, but no personal devices, with the exception of smartphones, could potentially benefit the IFEC industry more. In fact, such a scenario would most likely require airlines to select some form of IFEC, especially on long flights. Thales notes in ATW: “The future of IFE will involve seatback monitors that interface with passengers, customize content and generate ancillary revenue,” according to Thales executives at the company’s new IFE final integration and test facility in Irvine, California, May 22. “If you look at the system right now, it’s super static, from top to bottom,” Thales InFlyt Experience CEO Dominique Giannoni said. “How do we move from an in-seat system—where an airline is looking at cost-line—to an in-seat solution coupled with connectivity that moves to a revenue line? We believe it is an untapped area and opportunity for revenue.” Thales InFlyt Experience CTO Fred Schreiner said, “We are going to go into a period where it’s really about engagement – the paradigm has completely shifted – your ability to access the internet, to catch up on social networks, is changing the game.” Yes, and it might also be promoting more laptop usage, however, whether flying folks are willing to trust their secure personal and business email and work on an airline supplied screen, remains unclear.”

But, IFExpress had some questions too:


  • If the issue is battery size, what size limit is there or is the issue resolved with no laptops?
  • Will this new security change be a boon to smartphone usage inflight? And if so, portable keyboards (with Apple and Android phones) will be seen a lot more?
  • Or for another solution – can you imagine the cost and hassle of a secure, lockable cabin laptop storage enclosure? And the ensuing mess of storing and retrieving your laptop before and after a flight? Bad idea – rule that one out!




So in the future if this security increase passes and you want to “laptop work” onboard, you might want to consider a good smartphone (perhaps one with the biggest screen possible) and at least 128 Gb of memory, a secure device for storing your data, and a portable keyboard, and a mouse (if that works on a phone). You may want to figure a way to support it while watching some form of entertainment – not to mention power. You will need power either from the plane or brought with you on a “brick”- and that brings up another issue, what size Lithium Ion power device will be allowed? Is this getting crazy, or what? However, with the size of some PC’s getting smaller (credit card size), could this be a possible carry-on computing solution when combined with a small keyboard, portable Li-ion cube and a small screen on an iPod or a phone? Check this out because they are getting smaller as well.

Additionally, here are 10 tips for mobile security that will help keep all that portable stuff safe while you do travel, big laptop or not.

And lastly, since we are on the subject, here is another good link on the potential laptop ban line as well.

Other News

  • SAFRAN’s deal to acquire Zodiac has a new offering that drops their original price by $1.1 B, to a little over $9.5 B.
  • It was a “drag” when we learned how many how many antennas are on B787. Why? Because we were so wrong? If you said there are than 20, you are correct! Check it out.

Atlanta, GA | May 5, 2015– Passengers at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas are benefiting from a new technology introduced to streamline security processing. The new system, Airport iQueue, provided by SITA, uses real-time signals from passengers’ Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled devices to measure the actual length of time it takes the average passenger to pass through the airport’s security checkpoint.

Airport iQueue detects passengers’ Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled devices to measure wait times from the security checkpoint entry point to the exit. In addition, separate wait times are measured for each type of queue: Main, Priority, Pre-Check, and Crew. This information gathered helps to manage resources and reduce bottlenecks. Future plans include the ability to estimate wait times based on the current number of passengers in each queue, which will provide valuable information on congestion levels as they emerge, and alert passengers on the airport’s website to better manage their expectations.

“Airport iQueue provides empirical data of passengers’ total processing time at the checkpoint”, said Ronald F. Mathieu, executive director of Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. “It is an excellent quality assurance tool that measures the total experience, not just queue waiting, with the information shared with TSA, airlines and the airport’s governing body for appropriate follow-up.”

While increasingly common at major European airports, Clinton National Airport is one of the very first airports to implement SITA’s Airport iQueue solution in the United States. The system is completely automatic and does not require any action by passengers other than to leave their Wi-Fi device enabled or their Bluetooth device in “discoverable” or “visible” mode. Airport managers can view the results on a real-time dashboard as well as analyze historical data to identify patterns and trends.

Paul Houghton, SITA President, Americas, commented: “Waiting at the security checkpoint is the number one source of frustration for passengers when flying. We at SITA have developed Airport iQueue to help reduce that frustration. Now the management team at the airport has actionable information that can be used to better manage resources and reduce congestion at the airport. For example, a threshold on wait times can be set so that once it is breached an alert prompts management to open a new channel.”

The system works by collecting the unique MAC address of Wi-Fi/Bluetooth-emitting devices, such as mobile phones, to determine the average wait time in the queue. The iQueue system respects data privacy and is truly anonymous with no personal information collected, transmitted or stored. It cannot associate an individual’s identity with the device they carry, and it does not collect signals from devices that are not operating in discovery mode or are turned off.

As you can well imagine, the IFExpress offices has been awash with discussions about the state of inflight telephony affairs in the US and yes, we have tested some thoughts on PR types in our industry… those who are connected to companies that stand to benefit financially from the calling possibilities and those who are not. Basically, the division about the applicability of inflight cell usage in the US is where you would expect it – those who benefit like the idea and those who don’t – don’t. If they don’t benefit they tend to take the stance: “Flying is bad enough today, why make it worse?” Or, they don’t care. The answer is probably somewhere in between.

In a recent discussion, Our IFExpress Editor came up with a few ideas you might like to think about. “For a liberal democracy, this seems like a no brainer – but it definitely is not! The referenced case studies in other countries seem to make it a slam-dunk. But in the US, there is seemingly an overt, nasty dislike of the cell phone (voice inflight), possibly by travelers who obviously have had enough of the harried flight experience and do not want one more negative issue. Perhaps we should consider some of the issues and work this problem out logically if there is to be any resolution; however, at present there seems to be no clear-cut answer.”

  1. Airlines should surely do a test to see if the perceived issue is real, and note, that if the test is public there will be a lot of press attention.
  2. Asking for constructive solutions such as, passenger cell phone seating, may have value. Feedback is the key to this no-win situation.
  3. If you add “one more issue” to an uncomfortable situation you will not win; however, what about adding a good one at the same time? Some ideas are:  paying all passengers on a flight that has cell telephony by reducing charges elsewhere (baggage, free drinks, etc.) after all this is the US and money talks; publishing any good experiences (if there are any) during a testing situation; how about seating cell talkers on one side or possibly in a ‘worse’ seating location on the aircraft (Yes, that is the price one must pay). If money is a US driver, how about making the usage price high enough to discourage long talking (this one won’t be popular with the service providers) or at least to minimize the “Guess where I am calls”.
  4. Has anyone proposed a plan to suggest the type of equipment passengers could use to minimize the impact of travelers using their cell phones inflight, such as noise canceling headphones and headset/earphone(s) with built in microphones? While this may be impractical now there may be an eventual hardware solution. We seem to remember international planes equipped with older IFE handsets that had the satellite phone hardware at the seat built into a game controller – those devices and their attendant social issues never seem to have surfaced.
  5. While upper classes (Business & First) may be a good place to start cell voice implementation because of the passenger interspatial distance; the class/price perception may not permit it. At the same time, a cell phone usage permission only in coach may be considered a penalty for a lower priced ticket, which leads us to believe the following: A.) The airlines have to give up something to accommodate cell phone usage on flights like baggage fees or ticket price (Then why have it, you might correctly ask?), B.) There needs to be a way to accommodate the need to talk on the phone in the air BUT there also needs to be a way to prevent the mis-users from further degrading the flying experience, C.) If cell usage is permitted in the United States an aggressive public relations campaign will be mandatory, emphasizing positive scenarios where cell phone usage has benefited those onboard (think life saving advice from the ground) or a positive feedback has been received from travelers who have needed the service en route and communicated that message to the airline (in writing). One thing is for certain; if voice calls are allowed the service will most assuredly experience some extreme growing pains on this continent.

Lastly, since there is legislation afoot in the US to prohibit in-flight calling, we will all have to see if cooler heads prevail but until then, keep texting because you can!

If you are going to CES in Las Vegas (Jan. 7 – 10, 2014) you don’t want to miss the panel discussion on January 9, 2014, 10-11 a.m. LVCC, North Hall N254 entitled “Change is in the Air: New Policies for Using Consumer Electronics on Airplanes” an APEX/CES partnership event. Here is the description: Following an advisory committee’s report, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has determined that airlines can safely expand the use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight. How has this decision been implemented and what should passengers expect when they travel this year? Does this new policy create new market opportunities for CE companies? How are various stakeholder groups, including policymakers, responding? Is this a catch-up policy for the United States or a new example for other regions to follow? Fasten your seatbelts and join this session to hear the latest on this popular topic.” Panelists include: Bill de Groh, Chairman, Aircraft Design and Operations Group, Air Line Pilots Association, International Kirk Thornburg, Managing Director, Engineering, Quality, Technology & Training, Delta Air Lines, Julius Knapp, Chief of Office of Engineering and Technology, FCC, Ian Dawkins, CEO, OnAir, Timothy Shaver, Branch Manager, Avionics Maintenance Branch, Federal Aviation Administration, Chuck Cook, Manager, Fleet Programs and Technology, JetBlue Airways. And you can bet there will be a push for in-flight telephony but we suspect if they open the floor for comments/questions there will be some very divided opinions on the topic!

According to MSNBC, the TSA is going to increase your US trip by $5.60 next year. Meaningless travel caresses now have a price!

In case you were wondering about historic IFE, you might want to bet your drinking partners when the first in-flight movie was shown – It was in 1925 during a London/Paris flight on Imperial Airways. The Guinness record book claims that it starred Wallace Beery (apropos last name) and was silent… the movie, not the flight!

You probably have the Google Search app on your iPad or iPhone or Android device because it just works… very well. The search now contains Google Now and if you opt in (It’s on the opening page of Google Search – just swipe up) your will find that the Google folks have integrated the search capability into your life with notifications, flight information and reminders, arrival notifications, location oriented restaurants, theaters (and whatever), not to mention event items that you searched for but might have forgotten. It’s like the smart friend you never had in school because they weren’t cool!

Lastly, if you forgot to get some Christmas cards, this one is interactive. Send if you choose, but if you are not a fan of “cute” you might want to skip this one!