TSA at El Paso International Airport uses new technology to improve checkpoint screening capabilities and reduce touchpoints

Local Press Release
Wednesday, December 16, 2020

EL PASO, TEXAS — As the holiday travel period approaches, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is using Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) at El Paso International Airport (ELP) to confirm the validity of a traveler’s photo identification and flight details. Additionally, TSA has begun using a state-of-the-art computed tomography (CT) scanners in the security checkpoint at ELP.

When travelers approach the travel document checking podium, a TSA officer will ask the traveler to provide their photo identification only and will insert it into the CAT unit. There is no need to hand over a boarding pass to the TSA officer, reducing potential cross-contamination. CAT units are also able to identify fraudulent documents and those that have been tampered with. Note that travelers will still need to check-in with their airline in order to be able to board their flight.

A traveler temporarily lowers facsemask
A traveler temporarily lowers facsemask at TSA ticket document station in ELP airport, while TSA officer uses CAT technology to verify her identity.

Two computed tomography (CT) scanners have also been installed in the security checkpoint to screen carry-on luggage. The scanners utilize state-of-the art, 3-D X-ray technology. TSA officers are able to manipulate the X-ray image on-screen to allow for a better view of the bag’s contents, increasing the potential for a TSA officer to clear the contents of a bag without having to physically open it. Reducing the number of bag checks is beneficial since it reduces potential touchpoints between travelers and TSA officers. When the CT scanner is in use, travelers do not need to remove electronics, travel-size liquids or food from carry-on luggage.

“The technology now installed at the El Paso International Airport checkpoint enhances capabilities for identifying fraudulent ID such as driver’s licenses and passports at checkpoints and increases efficiency by automatically verifying passenger identification,” said Jared Babin TSA’s Federal Security Director for ELP. “The system has the added capability of confirming the passenger’s flight status in near real-time through a secured internet connection.”

CAT units authenticate several thousands of types of IDs including passports, military common access cards, retired military ID cards, Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler ID cards, uniformed services ID cards, permanent resident cards, U.S. visas and driver’s licenses and photo IDs issued by state motor vehicle departments.

A CAT unit consists of the passport reader, an ID card reader, a Federal personal identity verification ID card reader, a monitor, a stand and a UV light.  

TSA Officer at ELP
A TSA officer at ELP airport conducts airport security checkpoint screening of passenger's carry-on bags, using CT technology.

 “We welcome the new technological improvements at the security checkpoint, as it complements the various health and safety measures we have implemented throughout the terminal. Our priority has and always been the safety and security of the traveling public and we thank our partners at the TSA for their continued efforts in protecting the passengers of our community,” said Sam Rodriguez, Aviation Director, El Paso International Airport.

“The CT technology employs a sophisticated algorithm to analyze the content of each bag and allows TSA officers to rotate the image and ascertain that no threats are contained in the bag without needing to open the suitcase,” said TSA Federal Security Director Jared Babin. “Reducing the number of bags that need to be manually inspected to resolve a possible threat, means fewer touchpoints during the pandemic.”

In addition to the use of technology, TSA nationwide has modified its procedures as part of its “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure” Campaign. Travelers can expect to see:

  • All security officers wearing face masks and gloves during the screening process. If a security officer is working in close proximity to travelers, they are also required to wear eye protection or a face shield. Security officers will change their gloves after each screening position rotation, after a pat-down or upon a passenger’s request.
  • Reduced physical contact due to the installation of acrylic barriers that limit exposure between security officers and travelers.
  • Social distancing leading up to and in the security checkpoint environment.
  • Increased frequency and intensity of cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in the security checkpoint including bins. This is no substitute for practicing good hygiene while traveling. Travelers are encouraged to wash their hands before and after going through the checkpoint.

If you have made plans to travel, here are some steps you can take right now to be prepared:

Tip 1: Don’t forget your mask

  • Bring and wear a mask when going through the security screening process. Plus, it never hurts to pack an extra mask or two for use during your air travels. 
  • Travelers will be asked to momentarily remove their masks to verify their identity.  

Tip 2: Pack the pandemic essentials

  • Bring disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. TSA is allowing travelers to bring one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on luggage. Be prepared to remove your large hand sanitizer container from your carry-on for special screening. Bring as many pre-moistened wipes as you like.

Tip 3: Enroll in TSA PreCheck® now to expedite screening and reduce touchpoints

  • Travelers who are enrolled in TSA PreCheck® don’t have to remove their shoes, belts, lightweight jackets, electronics or their bag of travel-size liquids and gels. Not only is that convenient, but during a pandemic, it reduces touchpoints during the screening process.

Tip 4: Pack those gifts, but please do not use wrapping paper

  • TSA recommends against wrapping gifts when packing them for a flight. Wrapped items are screened just like any other item. If a wrapped item alarms the security screening technology in carry-on or checked luggage, a TSA officer may have to unwrap it to determine what the item is. Consider traveling with unwrapped items or placing them in a gift bag, gift box or putting a festive bow on the item for easy access and resolution.

Tip 5: Download the free myTSA app and follow @TSA on Twitter

  • The free, downloadable myTSA app is a traveler’s best friend and a trusty source for last-minute travel questions. It provides 24/7 access to the most frequently requested airport security information as well as real-time data on airport weather delays. Use the searchable “Can I Bring” database, which is available on the App Store or Google Play.

Tip 6: Be Aware of El Paso International Airport Recommendations

  • Follow all CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19, including:
    • Wear a face covering at all times unless eating or drinking;
    • Maintain 6 ft. distance from others whenever possible;
    • Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer when washing isn’t possible;
    • Stay at home, do not travel if you are feeling ill.

Travelers are reminded to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel guidance as well as local and state advisories regarding COVID-19. For more information about the TSA response to COVID-19, please visit tsa.gov.