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Traveling for the first time since the pandemic? Here are some tips from DIA

Air travel was down in 2020 due to COVID-19 but has been on the rebound locally and nationally.

DENVER — After hitting historic lows in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, air travel is increasing at an impressive rate both locally and nationally, according to transportation officials.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials at Denver International Airport (DIA) said Tuesday that travel projection for the next three months indicated that the summer could reach volumes seen in 2019 which was the busiest on record for TSA.

“Travel volumes at DEN have rapidly increased over the past several months and we anticipate this trend will continue throughout the summer. TSA Colorado is primed to deliver the most effective security in the most efficient manner,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Colorado Larry Nau. 

“But, we can’t do this alone. Pent up travel demand combined with the success of the nation’s vaccination efforts requires that Coloradans and all travelers come prepared to the security checkpoint.”

In the month of April and May, TSA screened at least one million departing travelers at airports nationwide every day and that number continues to steadily increase. Over the past two weekends, TSA screened more than two million travelers, a pandemic record. Passenger screening volumes at DIA are approaching 90% of volumes in 2019 and are expected to increase throughout the summer.

The busiest times at the TSA security checkpoint at DIA are 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., noon to 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. to midnight. The busiest days to travel are Thursdays and Fridays as well as Sundays and Mondays.

Credit: KUSA

TSA said during peak times when a lot of flights are scheduled during a short amount of time there may be times when the number of departing passengers could exceed the capacity of the TSA security checkpoints.

They're urging everyone to arrive two hours early to make sure they have plenty of time to make it through the check-in and security process.

"That doesn't mean in the parking garage or returning your rental car," said Nau. "Being at the airport will give you enough time to get through the checkpoints with very minimal anxiety or stress."

Passengers who haven't traveled recently will also notice some technology has been put into use.

Credential Authentication Technology (CAT)

Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) is used to scan a traveler’s photo identification, verify the authenticity of the credential, and confirm flight status by comparing it against the Secure Flight database through an Internet connection. When CAT is in use, travelers will often be asked to insert their own photo ID into the unit and will not need to show a boarding pass to the TSA officer.

Credit: KUSA
The ID scanner sits on the table in front of a security agent at DIA.

Computed tomography (CT) scanner

TSA installed a computed tomography (CT) scanner to screen travelers’ carry-on luggage. The CT unit applies a sophisticated algorithm as it generates a 3-D image of the contents of the bag. A TSA officer can manipulate the 3-D X-ray image on the screen to allow for a better view of the bag’s contents, ultimately reducing the number of bag checks that are required.

In addition, travelers can leave everything in their carry-on bag, including electronics and food, when it is screened through a CT scanner.

COVID guidelines

Over the past several months, TSA has modified its procedures as part of its “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” campaign. Travelers departing DEN and airports across the country can expect to see: 

  • All security officers wearing face masks and gloves during the screening process. Security officers will change their gloves after each screening position rotation, after a pat-down or upon a passenger’s request.
  • All travelers wearing a mask in the airport and at TSA airport screening checkpoints. The federal requirement to wear a mask has been extended until Sept. 13, 2021. Face coverings need to cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of the face without gaps. A TSA officer will ask travelers to briefly adjust their mask for ID verification purposes. Travelers without a mask may be denied entry, boarding, or continued transport. Failure to comply with the mask requirement can result in civil penalties. 
  • Increased frequency and intensity of cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in the security checkpoint including bins. Travelers are encouraged to wash their hands before and after going through the checkpoint.  

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Travel tips from TSA

Pack smart

Travelers should be aware of the contents of their carry-on bags and make sure they are not bringing prohibited items to the security checkpoint. Any type of prohibited item in a carry-on slows down the screening process for everyone, leading to delays in the security checkpoint. To determine whether an item is allowed or prohibited in carry-on luggage, download the MyTSA app and use the “Can I Bring?” feature.

Credit: KUSA
A photo of some of the items confiscated at checkpoints.

By planning ahead, travelers can avoid a bag check and reduce the potential for cross-contamination. Another option is to contact @AskTSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger to get answers to your travel questions. 

Secure items in your carry-on

When removing items from pockets such as phones, wallets, keys or loose change, secure them in their carry-on bags instead of placing them directly in bins, which are a common use item.

This will prevent travelers from inadvertently leaving these important items behind at the security checkpoint. In addition, as an added benefit, this reduces the number of touchpoints among travelers. 

Traveling with hand sanitizer

TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags. Passengers may also bring hand wipes of any size or quantity through security checkpoints.

Try alternative checkpoints

There are three security checkpoints at DIA and Nau said people most often tend to use the south checkpoint. He said it may have a long line while there's little or no wait at the other two. If you see a line, he suggested taking the time to check the others.

Enroll in TSA PreCheck

People can experience a smoother screening process by enrolling in TSA PreCheck. Eligible travelers do not need to remove shoes, belts, light outerwear, laptops, electronics larger than a cell phone or travel-size liquids from carry-on luggage. 

There is an enrollment center located at DIA on Level 5 near baggage claim by the South Security Checkpoint. It is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. There are also enrollment centers in Glendale and Thornton. In May 2021, 97% of travelers eligible for TSA PreCheck waited five minutes or less to be screened at airports nationwide. Children 12 and under are permitted to use the TSA PreCheck lane when traveling with an eligible parent or guardian on the same itinerary.

TSA recruiting security officers

TSA is hiring Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) to work at DIA with a starting salary of $18.10 per hour. As an incentive, TSA will pay newly-hired TSOs $500 upon starting with the agency and $500 after one year of service.

To qualify for the recruitment incentive, the employee must come onboard with TSA between now and Sept. 30, 2021.

A two-day recruitment event is taking place on June 25 and 26 in the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Denver Airport located at 1550 E. 40th Avenue in Denver. The hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.  

Airport projects

Several projects are underway at the airport including renovation of the Great Hall and the addition of more gates.

The Gate Expansion Program is building 39 news gates, increasing airport gate capacity by 30% and enabling DIA to meet the demands and needs of airlines partners. Work on the new gates began in the summer of 2018, and late last year, DIA opened the first four gates on Concourse B-West, giving passengers a sneak peek into the brand-new amenities and experience that will be included in each new expansion area.

The remaining gates on Concourses A-West, B-East and C-East are on time and on budget, with plans to be operational in 2022.

The Great Hall construction project began in 2018 and was plagued by troubles early on, as DIA evicted the original contractor with the project about 25% complete. It sat mostly dormant for months, until the spring of 2020, when Denver-based Hensel Phelps Construction was brought on to complete the work.

Phase 2 construction on the project, which has a $770 million budget to renovate the airport’s main Jeppesen Terminal to improve security and passenger flow, is scheduled to begin this summer.

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