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COVID-19 means changes at U.S. airports, and some of them are fantastic

These pilot programs will help you get through security faster, take a coronavirus test right before your flight and use dogs to sniff out the virus

A coronavirus-sniffing dog checks tests at Helsinki’s airport. Tests done at the University of Helsinki found these dogs could identify the virus nearly 100% of the time, even before symptoms start. Passengers will swipe their skin with a test wipe and drop it into a cup. Then the dogs do their job to identify the virus.
Finavia

I flew on an airplane last week for the first time in six months. I know not everyone feels it is safe to travel right now (including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), but I recently listened to the nation’s top infectious disease official reassure a Hollywood actor that he’d be OK to fly. On his podcast, Dennis Quaid asked Dr. Anthony Fauci if someone happened to have COVID-19 on his upcoming flight, how likely he would be to get the virus.

“If you wear a mask,” Dr. Fauci answered, “the chances are that you’re going to dramatically diminish the likelihood of that happening.”

He mentioned the HEPA filters in planes that pull viral particles out of the air, emphasized passengers should be spaced out and finished by telling Quaid to wear a mask saying, “Bingo, and you’re in good shape.”

I figured if Dr. Fauci told Dennis Quaid he’d be OK, then so would I.

But the experience was definitely different this time.

Of course everyone was wearing a mask, hand sanitizer abundant and our in-flight snack delivered in a pre-prepared bag.

Dr. Fauci would be glad to know my Delta flight also had adequate passenger spacing with no one sitting in center seats.

As I went through security at Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport, the Transportation Security Administration officer told me I didn’t need to scan my boarding pass, just hand over my identification. She slid it into a mystery machine, asked me to momentarily pull down my mask, handed back my drivers license, and I was finished. Anything that saves me time at the the airport makes me happy, and I was through security in record time.

But I was also curious about this change. I’d always had to scan my boarding pass on prior trips.

The mystery machine is a $27,000 Credential Authentication Technology machine TSA is using at many airports across the country. It verifies the ID and tells the officer if the person is scheduled to travel that day by linking to the Secure Flight database.

TSA is using the Credential Authentication Technology machine at many airports across the country. It verifies the ID and tells the officer if the person is scheduled to travel that day by linking to the Secure Flight database.
TSA

The TSA says new touchless technology is a major priority, and the CAT units are just one example. It also uses Enhanced Advanced Imaging Technology that screens passengers for weapons and explosives without any physical contact. Something called Computed Tomography produces high-quality, 3D images so officers get a clearer visual of what is inside everyone’s bags.

While new technologies are critical to keep passengers safe and healthy, the TSA won’t rush anything, according to Patricia Mancha, the administration’s spokesperson for the southwest states.

“You may see one thing in one airport that we’ll be testing,” she said, “and those officers are trained to use that technology.” But these new technologies don’t hit every airport all at once.

Right now, officers are using CAT units at Los Angeles International, John F. Kennedy International, Tampa, Richmond and many other airports.

Another pilot program going into effect soon at one U.S. airport is on-the-spot coronavirus testing. Hawaii is reopening to tourists next month, and United Airlines offers more flights to paradise than any other major airline. It wants to make it easy for you.

Starting Oct. 15, anyone traveling on United from San Francisco International Airport to the Aloha State can take a rapid coronavirus test at the airport. It takes just 15 minutes for results, and customers can schedule their test online. Passengers who test negative will not need to quarantine for 14 days once they reach Hawaii. Customers can also choose a mail-in test option. They’ll need to start that process 10 days before travel and provide a sample within 72 hours before takeoff.

The airline says it’s looking to expand the option to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year.

If neither of those pilot programs get you too excited, maybe the coronavirus-sniffing dogs at Helsinki’s airport will. Tests done at the University of Helsinki found these dogs could identify the virus nearly 100% of the time, even before symptoms start.

Passengers will swipe their skin with a test wipe and drop it into a cup. Then the dogs do their job. If they identify the virus, “passengers or airport personnel are then advised to take a regular coronavirus test to ensure the result is correct,” according to CNBC.

U.S. citizens are not allowed to enter Finland at this time.

Fewer people are flying. But on the day I flew out of Phoenix, more than 600,000 people also went through airport security at U.S. airports. While that may seem like a lot of travelers, it’s a far cry from the same weekday just a year ago when more than two million people went through a TSA airport checkpoint.

The numbers of people venturing back into the air are steadily climbing since they dropped back in March. It’s nice to know those in the travel industry are taking hi-tech steps to make it safer and more convenient during this uncertain time.