Getting Through TSA Will Be Easier and Quicker in 2023—Here’s Why

The agency is enhancing its technology and protocols at almost every step of the security screening process with the hopes of reducing congestion and stress for travelers and agents alike.

Tired of waiting in long TSA security lines? Help is on the way.

Tired of waiting in long TSA security lines? Help is on the way.

Photo by Shutterstock

With 2022 winding to a close, we all know that this won’t go down as the most glamorous year in air travel history. As the country’s still understaffed airlines and airports struggled to cope with a massive rebound in fliers following a pandemic-driven plummet in travel, this year will be remembered by many for its long airport lines, canceled and delayed flights, and for the heaps of lost luggage that piled up in airports at home and abroad.

While it was perhaps discouraging for many travelers, the good news is that there are a lot of enhancements underway that stand to fundamentally change—and improve—the airport experience going forward.

That’s in part due to the fact that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been gradually investing in technology and expanding programs that will, quite frankly, move things along at a more rapid clip. Many of these programs were actually initiated well before the pandemic and were either put on hold or put on the back burner as the country shifted gears to address the COVID crisis. But as TSA turns its sights back to these initiatives, many of the things that we’ve become accustomed to doing during the security screening process—showing TSA agents our boarding pass and a valid ID, removing liquids and laptops from our carry-ons—could soon become a thing of the past.

How TSA security screening will change in 2023 and beyond

Los Angeles International Airport is among the hubs where TSA is testing out new facial recognition technology.

Los Angeles International Airport is among the hubs where TSA is testing out new facial recognition technology.

Courtesy of TSA

Using your face as your ID

One of the perhaps more controversial efforts under way are pilot programs at 12 U.S. airports intended to help the TSA assess how and whether the implementation of biometric and facial recognition technology can improve the security screening process.

“TSA’s biometric strategy seeks to leverage facial recognition technology to . . . streamline the passenger experience,” a TSA spokesperson tells AFAR.

TSA has been testing biometrics as a way to identify passengers at security checkpoints for several years now. And according to the agency, it is doing so “while protecting privacy and civil liberties.” Participation in the biometric technology pilots is voluntary, and travelers can opt out, but the use of biometrics remains concerning for privacy advocates and the new tech is hardly foolproof, as Barbara Peterson recently reported for AFAR.

Nevertheless, TSA remains committed to continuing to test and expand the use of facial recognition technology. Ultimately, facial recognition systems will allow “TSA and aviation security partners to reduce reliance on physical travel documents and manual inspection,” the agency wrote in its Biometrics Roadmap, which was released in 2018 and laid the groundwork for the goals of the program over the coming years.

“Using biometrics will modernize aviation passenger identity verification,” TSA explains in its biometrics fact sheet. The hope is that “biometrics technology will result in improved accuracy and speed of identity verification, while making the passenger experience faster and more seamless.”

For now, there are 12 U.S. airports currently participating in TSA’s biometric pilot assessment program—hubs where travelers could encounter a camera that will scan their face to verify their identity when passing through security.

The airports participating in TSA’s biometrics/facial recognition pilot program:

  • Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Baltimore–Washington International Airport (BWI)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Gulfport Biloxi International Airport (GPT)
  • Jackson–Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN)
  • Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

No need to show TSA your boarding pass at numerous airports

Beyond your physical ID, there’s another form of documentation TSA is working to eventually eliminate its reliance on—your boarding pass. As of press time, at 206 airports across the United States, travelers no longer need to scan their boarding pass at many of the security checkpoints. At these hubs, TSA is now using Credential Authentication Technology (CAT), a system linked electronically to the flight database allowing TSA officers to confirm travelers’ flight details as well as whether they are enrolled in a trusted traveler program, such as TSA PreCheck, simply by scanning their ID.

There are currently 1,986 CAT units installed at airports across the country, and TSA’s plan is to ultimately deploy these units at all airports throughout the United States, a TSA spokesperson tells AFAR.

Passengers still need to check in with their airline and obtain a boarding pass, either a paper or electronic one, and will still need to scan their boarding pass at their gate when boarding their flight.

In order to take advantage of the CAT scanning procedure, passengers 18 years old and over will need to show valid identification, which includes a driver’s license (it will need to be a Real ID starting in May 2025), U.S. passport or U.S. passport card, U.S. Department of Defense ID, U.S. Merchant Mariner ID, Global Entry or NEXUS card, permanent resident card, or other government-issued ID.

Here are some of the airports with the new CAT technology and where travelers are likely to not be asked by TSA agents to hand over their boarding pass:

  • Alaska’s Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC)
  • Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Charleston International Airport (CHS)
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)
  • Washington–Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
  • New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • LaGuardia Airport in New York (LGA)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Raleigh–Durham International Airport (RDU)
  • Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)

TSA posts a full and updated list of all the airports with the new CAT security systems on its website.

Leaving laptops and liquids in your carry-on

If you spy a futuristic scanner like this in your TSA security line, you could be in luck: laptops and liquids may be able to stay in your carry-on.

If you spy a futuristic scanner like this in your TSA security line, you could be in luck: Laptops and liquids may be able to stay in your carry-on.

Courtesy of TSA

Another major improvement that I personally experienced this past Thanksgiving (at Raleigh–Durham International Airport) is the integration of new Computed Tomography (CT) x-ray systems that will allow passengers to keep liquids and laptops in their luggage, which has the ability to considerably speed up often sluggish security lines. In my case, it got me and my family through a rather long security line in a matter of minutes. In other words, it was a game changer with regards to security line wait times.

The reason laptops and liquids can stay in your carry-on is that the fancy upgraded scanners can more accurately detect weapons, explosives, and other prohibited items than their predecessors. And thus far, TSA has deployed 234 CT scanners with plans to double that number by November 2023. Shoes still have to come off for non-TSA PreCheck passengers (TSA PreCheck passengers can leave their shoes on), but not having to pull the liquids and laptops out already speeds things up considerably.

“The goal is to keep 3-1-1 liquids inside of the bag during checkpoint screening at as many airports as possible,” a TSA spokesperson told AFAR.

Airports with new scanners that let laptops and liquids stay in your carry-on:

  • Albany County (ALB)
  • Birmingham International (BHM)
  • Nashville International (BNA)
  • Burlington International (BTV)
  • Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF)
  • Chattanooga Metropolitan (CHA)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International (CVG)
  • Des Moines International (DSM)
  • El Paso International (ELP)
  • Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International (FLL)
  • Greenville–Spartanburg (GSP)
  • Hilton Head Island Airport (HXD)
  • Washington–Dulles International (IAD)
  • Wilmington International (ILM)
  • Memphis International (MEM)
  • Manchester Boston Regional (MHT)
  • Raleigh–Durham International (RDU)
  • Stockton Regional (SCK)
  • Syracuse–Hancock International (SYR)
  • Tallahassee International (TLH)
  • Destin–Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS)

Airports where new scanners will be installed in January 2023:

  • Amarillo International Airport (AMA)
  • Austin–Bergstrom International (AUS)
  • Bradley International (BDL)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW)
  • Indianapolis International Airport (IND)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport (PVD)

Other improvements to the TSA security screening experience

No need to have TSA PreCheck envy anymore—the service recently reduced its price.

No need to have TSA PreCheck envy anymore—the service recently reduced its price.

Photo by Shutterstock

The cost of TSA PreCheck has dropped

While we wait for futuristic, time-saving technologies to hit more airports, a few other measures can help travelers cut down on security wait times. One is the eternally useful security expediting program TSA PreCheck, which allows passengers to keep liquids and laptops in their carry-on bags and keep their shoes on, saving precious minutes in security lines that are also often considerably shorter than their non–TSA PreCheck counterparts. Last month, TSA reduced the enrollment fee for a five-year TSA PreCheck membership from $85 to $78 and had previously reduced the cost of renewal to $70. There are no more excuses to not sign up for this priceless trusted traveler program.

Airports offer fast-pass security lanes you can book in advance—for free

Another newer development in the world of airport security lines is a virtual queuing option that allows travelers to reserve a security line time slot in advance and jump to the front of the security line. The service is operated by a company named Whyline, which was acquired by Clear earlier this year. Even though Clear charges for membership in its security expediting services, the Whyline fast-pass system is free.

The fast-pass service is currently available at the following U.S. airports:

  • Charleston International Airport (CHS)
  • Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York (JFK)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

Given all these developments, at the very least 2023 promises to be a year when we spend less of our lives waiting in airport security lines. That’s an upgrade we’ll gladly take.

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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