With Nearly 2000 TSA Employees Testing Positive For Covid, They Keep Patting Down Passengers Every Day

While flights don’t seem to be significant causes of virus spread the same may not be true of other parts of the travel experience. 1812 TSA employees have tested positive for Covid-19. 92% of those are airport screeners. Miami has had 122 screeners test positive. New York JFK has had 112. And these numbers don’t include the most recent testing.

According to a former TSA federal security director it’s insane that the TSA continues with pat downs which he says are unnecessary.

Unfortunately, one glaringly unpleasant – and potentially unsafe — aspect of US air travel remains unchanged: the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) use of physical pat downs at security checkpoints.

…why on earth isn’t TSA doing everything it can to significantly reduce – if not eliminate – the use of physical pat downs?

Covid-positive TSA employees have searched and given pat downs to passengers, who then traveled around the country. TSA wants to require passengers to use biometrics and claims it’ll prevent document checkers from having to handle passenger IDs but that does nothing to protect passengers from touching the same screen as every other passenger and doesn’t eliminate pat downs which are prolonged direct contact between passenger and screener. (The Republican DHS reauthorization bill would require biometrics to use PreCheck by the end of 2023.)

For years the TSA believed there were no active threats against U.S. aviation and only disclosed that fact to a court accidentally. And even with pat downs TSA still misses most contraband passengers might bring through checkpoints.

The security director-turned-consultant who now pitches things for a living naturally wants to use Covid as an excuse to get TSA to buy even more technology as a replacement for pat downs. This is an agency, though, that publicizes that they are sanitizing bins once a month.

It seems that as a first measure TSA should re-evaluate the criteria for who needs a pat down, and how frequently pat downs are used. They aren’t doing anything to protect air travel, so should at a minimum be limited.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] Time on the ground may not be as safe from spread, but Delta has improved the filters in jetways while airlines generally have tried to reduce crowding during the boarding and deplaning process. Extra cleaning extends into the terminals. United nn Wednesday announced electrostatic spraying at 35 airports. (Security checkpoints may not be handling things as well.) […]


  1. Do you now understand why no one should be travelling? And why the US is still in the top 3 of deaths in the world?

    And before anyone asks, yes, I’ve flown once since March. Whilst I took precautions, I was wracked with guilt the entire way, but the week in the Italian alps did my mental health a world of good. But this will be the last time I fly until this is over.

  2. You have a 99.9% chance of dying from COVID. No reason to shut the airports/airlines down. So bad is the information on COVID, that the CDC no longer believe it is airborne spread! So the masks are useless and probably make it worse by you constantly touching your face mask. Stop this madness.

  3. @Steve says: “You have a 99.9% chance of dying from COVID.”

    Wow! Lock everything down now. Extinction level event.

  4. So the TSA has something like 50,000 Transportation Security Officers.

    If 1667 of them (92% of 1812) have contracted COVID, that’s 3.3% of the TSOs. In a time period of more than 6 months.

    Hardly the apocalyptic “stop all contact” with the TSA data that Gary wants it to be…

    Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don’t go to indoor bars or restaurants.

  5. The TSA is the sole reason coronavirus has spread in the US. In late March the data showed the strongest infection rates were minorities in and around international airports. So the TSA employees get it, bring it back to their minority communities, which then ravages the elderly in the population. To see this distribution you had to look by ZIP CODE and not by COUNTY to see the true infection spreading among the elderly related to TSA employees.

    Good luck finding that data now since it’s been completely wiped since no historical data at ARCGIS is recorded.

  6. The TSA/Security checkpoint “killing field” is one reason why I do not fly these days. Any point where you funnel the herd elevates COVID-19 risk. Groceries now put checkers behind plastic barriers and that is how it should go with the TSA. I do not want a pat down or manual baggage inspection (where you stand next to the inspector) these days. As more young folks die from COVID-19, one might expect that the smugness and disregard for masks and social distancing should go down.

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