While wearing a mask is strictly required at every airport in the United States, millions of people nevertheless lower them each day for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). As omicron surges through the USA, now would be a great time for the TSA to simply do away with ID checks at security checkpoints.
Omicron Marks The Perfect Time For TSA To Abolish Airport ID Checks
I’m old enough to vaguely remember air travel in the pre-9/11 world. I remember a trip to Washington, DC in which my grandmother, 103 years old at the time, accompanied us to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to say goodbye. It was 2000 and we were flying TWA. We all went through security and sat in the gate area. She gave us a big hug and kiss goodbye and waved as we boarded our flight.
A year later, we traveled to Chicago on United and flew from Burbank via Denver and back. I remember that as our United 727-200 landed in Burbank, my Uncle was out on the tarmac to greet us.
Oh how times change.
Even as some airports (like New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Tampa) now offer gate passes if you are not traveling, it’s not like anyone can enter the secure side of the airport as long as they undergo a security screenings.
In some ways, that is for the best…it minimizes lines and keeps vagrants out. But the omicron variant presents a prefect storm to rollback some of the onerous security requirements that have been with us for over 20 years now since the 9/11 attacks.
Immunologist and respiratory physician Peter Openshaw told the BBC:
“[Omicron] is so infectious, it almost needs just a whiff of infected breath and you could get infected.”
Even so, TSA continues to insist that passengers in the U.S. lower their masks so that their IDs can be compared to their face.
Please continue to wear a mask in the airport and on your flight. When you get to the travel document podium, the @TSA officer will ask you to remove your mask for a few seconds to make sure your face and photo on your ID match, like this officer did yesterday at @terminalBLGA pic.twitter.com/YSkpliBZ1E
— Lisa Farbstein, TSA Spokesperson (@TSA_Northeast) July 1, 2021
Why not just abolish the ID requirement altogether? All passengers would still need to undergo the full security screening, but it would quicken the security process and minimize the risk of virus transmission.
TSA PreCheck passengers would still likely have to lower their masks, since there is no alternate way to verify identity, but those who wish to remain masked could simply use the standard security line. CLEAR, a private security screening company that uses fingerprints or retina scans, is another option to avoid lowering your mask.
Since I use CLEAR, I have not had to lower my mask once during the pandemic at a U.S. airport except at Burbank (BUR), the only small airport I use.
Although debate continues about how lethal omicron is, there is no doubt it is highly contagious: the daily rise in case numbers testify to that. One way to minimize its spread would be for the TSA to stop asking travelers to lower their mask at the security checkpoint. This moment presents a perfect opportunity for TSA to dispense altogether with the ID check in order to enter the secure side of a U.S. airport. Not only would it protect passengers and TSA workers, it would represent an important step toward simplifying the security checkpoint process.