TSA has installed acrylic barriers at several airports. (TSA photo)

As Travelers Return, What Are the Alternatives to Physical Distancing at Security Checkpoints?

Airports Council International (ACI World) has released findings of simulations on the impact of applying physical distancing at airport security checkpoints which show capacity could be reduced by up to 75%. 

Working with EBEA Consulting and Transoft solutions, ACI World has designed 11 alternative measures to physical distancing keeping passengers and staff safe while keeping checkpoints moving when passenger traffic inevitably increases. These measures are explained in the Security Checkpoint Modelling videos, one for high throughput airports (greater than 250 pax/hour per security lane), the other for airports with a more standard flow of traffic (lower than 250 pax/hour per security lane).

High throughput airports typically have  centralized image processing for X-ray or CT scanners, smart lanes with RFID tray tagging, and security scanners for passenger screening. Standard throughput airports typically have local X-ray screening, little lane automation, if any, and walk through metal detectors for passenger screening.

While the impact and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic brought airports to a virtual standstill, airports around the world are planning for a return of passengers while also providing for extra measures to protect passengers and employees. Security checkpoints are a key consideration.

Physical distancing has proven to be a good mitigation measure against the spread of the virus but once passenger traffic increases, this will not be viable or sustainable long term, if airports are to keep operations running efficiently.

Three scenarios were tested to include the need for increased space for physical distancing in the queue. The results suggest that the checkpoint capacity was reduced by up to 75% in the worse-case scenario. Even in the best-case scenario, there was a reduction in 50% capacity of a security checkpoint when implementing physical distancing.

The 11 different mitigation measures to physical distancing are designed to keep passengers and staff safe. Some examples include face masks, pre-travel testing, continuous tray or UVC cleaning and high touchpoint cleaning, installation of plexiglass, and crowd monitoring software.

These measures meet ACI World’s Smart Security vision to increase security, operational efficiency and improve customer experience at checkpoints. While many airports are exploring touchless processes, these measures can help airports until such technologies are implemented.

A webinar exploring the impact of physical distancing on airport security checkpoints will explain how the simulations were developed, the expected impacts for airports, and suggested mitigation measures. The webinar takes place on Thursday, October 22, at 12:00 UTC.

Access the videos at ACI World

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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