How Will COVID-19 Change Airport Security?

Another layer of security might be on the way

Temperature checking
Ensign Tim Peterson uses an infrared thermometer to take the temperature of a student naval aviator at Training Air Wing (TRAWING) 4 aboard Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, May 15.
U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Beau Nickerson

If you liked mandatory full-body scanners at the airport, you’re going to love mandatory temperature checks at the airport. As virtually every part of the modern world readies (hopefully) temporary changes to prevent further COVID-19 infection, transportation is gearing up for substantial changes. Whether it’s a commercial flight or a ride on the subway, transportation involves placing a large number of people together in an indoor space. It’s not hard to see why this is cause for concern right now.

Writing at Slate, Natasha Frost explores just how concerns over the coronavirus are changing — and will continue to change — the experience at airports. What is most alarming about Frost’s report is the growing sense it presents of a number of agencies initiating cumbersome measures that might have little benefit. As Frost notes, air travel isn’t terribly high on the list of high-risk activities:

Between the hospital-grade air filters and extremely dry air, a plane in flight actually seems to be a fairly inhospitable environment for the virus — at least compared with going out for dinner, attending a cocktail party, or even going to choir practice. There’s some risk, especially in the terminal or during boarding, but it seems comparable to a bus, a train, or any other crowded environment, none of which are likely to have greater security measures.

Frost also notes that temperature checks, which are growing in popularity, won’t do much if someone infected with COVID-19 is an asymptomatic carrier — and might also incorrectly flag someone with a high temperature for a different reason. Security theater in airports is nothing new, but this could take it to a new level, while not actually doing much of anything to prevent the spread of disease.

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