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Travel Security During COVID

DTW Honor Guard during their 9/11 tribute in 2020. Pictured from left to right: Joanne Slather, Mike Thomas, FSD Steve Lorincz, Alfonzo Stanley and Renee Salzieder. Photo courtesy of Renee Salzieder

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the travel industry hard, shutting down restaurants, hotels, travel businesses and almost completely halting air travel across the United States and Internationally back in March of 2020.

While most of the travel industry temporarily closed their doors to incoming travelers, the men and women in transportation security showed up to work daily to accommodate those who were still traveling during the pandemic, travel that was mainly for business. Transportation Security Officers or TSO’s have been considered essential employees in the travel industry, their responsibilities ranging from cleaning airport security points, assisting travelers through airport security check points, and stopping contraband from going through airports; contraband meaning illegal substances like drugs, animals, weapons and even bombs.

After 9/11 travel security become a heavily debated about topic in the United States, citizens and the government concerned about the safety of America. In November of 2001 President Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law. This law required proper screenings to take place by trained federal officers at all United States airports, a hundred percent of checked bags had to be screened, and the expansion of the Federal Air Marshal Service as well as secured cockpit doors. By December of 2002 airports across America were equip with explosive detection systems to screen all checked luggage safety and swiftly. Following these changes to continue to meet the Aviation and Transportation Security Act requirements, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) worked closely with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to secure all cockpit doors on commercial airlines against potential hijackers.

These measures were put into place to protect United States citizens, airline employees and travel administration employees. In January of 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) issues a global health emergency declaration and by February 2020 global air travel saw its first restrictions being put into place from travelers leaving China en route to the United States. The TSA had to begin changing their safety procedures to not only keep travelers safe but their employees safe as well. Beth Johnson, a Transportation Security Officer from Flint Bishop Airport, said the TSA followed the recommended safety guidelines released by the CDC as well as instilling TSA specific safety procedures.

“When Covid first happened, we were hardly working the flights that we did have were few and far between with very few passengers. We all felt safer at home in quarantine,” Johnson said of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, “When we were at work, we were obviously washing our hands changing our gloves and constantly cleaning everything as time went on the amount of passengers increased and we were working more we installed barriers between us and the passengers this became our new normal.”

Johnson said that after the TSA put new safety procedures in place, most of the officers felt more comfortable on the job and safer about COVID-19 and being around passengers in increased numbers. She explained that the officers acclimated to the new way of life and that they powered through the changes and did the best job they could to keep travelers and themselves protected. Similarly, to Johnson, TSO Renee Salzieder said that the changes put a lot into perspective, and she feels that the travel industry will take years to return to a semblance of normalcy.

Salzieder said to unite the Michigan airport TSA officers during this pandemic she designed a tee shirt, in hopes it would reignite the passions of the officers during these trying times. She explained that her tee shirt design was sent to the Federal Security Administration in Michigan and approved to be sold as an official shirt to represent TSA officers. Other officers however have expressed an annoyance of the new safety procedures and want things to go back to before COVID-19. Tina Finch, another TSA officer in Metro Detroit, expressed concerns when the pandemic first began but is now ready to return to a “normal” pre-COVID.

“Working as a TSO during the pandemic was stressful at first because of the thought of possibly catching COVID. TSOs were constantly missing due to having covid or being near someone that had covid. Now I’m over it. I want the masks gone. I want to get back to normal.”

The travel industry is still heavily affected by the measures put into place to protect citizens from COVID-19, however air travel has begun to pick up due to the COVID-19 vaccines becoming more readily available. Many countries have announced they will begin opening to international air travel to visitors who have been fully vaccinated and will no longer require the fourteen day quarantine requirement for visitors who have been vaccinated. TSA officers expect to see more air travel in the coming months both domestically and internationally and have begun preparing for an influx of travelers using their new safety procedures.

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