Here's How Airports Will Screen for Coronavirus

High-tech medical devices and thermal imaging are the future of airport security.

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After 9/11, the airport experience changed forever, with in-depth security screenings via technologies like metal detectors, full-body scanners, palm swabs for explosive residue, and facial-recognition devices. Now, with travel starting to resume after the coronavirus lockdowns, it looks like frequent flyers might be in for another shakeup. Airports around the world are beginning to implement new screening procedures to determine whether or not passengers are at risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Though the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has not issued formal rules for coronavirus screenings at U.S. airports, facilities both domestically and internationally are testing new safety measures. Thermal cameras that recognize if people have abnormally high temperatures, a known symptom of COVID-19, are set to scan travelers as they go through security checkpoints at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It's not the first time this equipment has been used in airports—it also made an appearance during 2003's Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic and 2014's Ebola outbreak.

"This is going to be part of our normal travel system," Richard Salisbury, managing director and founder of British thermal imaging company Thermoteknix Systems, told the Los Angeles Times.

Airport medical staff detect incoming passengers body temperature with thermal camera
Anna Moskvina / Alamy

Some airports, particularly those abroad, are trying out more advanced technologies. At Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Doha, Qatar, airport staffers are donning Smart Screening Helmets that combine infrared cameras, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence to scan passengers for temperature anomalies. Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) is testing high-tech booths that will take people's temperatures and disinfect them with ultraviolet light and a sanitizing spray—a process that takes less than a minute.

Another possible solution is being considered stateside: Parsons Corp., a Virginia-based engineering company, has teamed up with a handful of U.S. airports, such as LAX, to experiment with contactless health screening kiosks. These machines not only take temperatures, but also monitor respiration and pulse rates, too. Any additional medical questions will be answered via a connecting smartphone app.

airport security steps into a health screening booth
Hong Kong International Airport

While these screening procedures all focus heavily on temperature, it's not a fail-safe measure to determine whether or not someone has COVID-19. A small percentage of infected individuals are asymptomatic, meaning they wouldn't have elevated temperatures or any other noticeable symptoms. But the screenings likely would weed out a majority of coronavirus-positive people, making travel safer for both airport and airline workers, as well as passengers. And for more ways traveling may change, check out the 13 Things You May Never See on Airplanes Again After Coronavirus.

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