By ARDEN BASTIA While the number of travelers flying through T.F. Green Airport this summer may not reach 2019 travel levels, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is preparing for an expected rise in passenger volume. Among the preparations
While the number of travelers flying through T.F. Green Airport this summer may not reach 2019 travel levels, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is preparing for an expected rise in passenger volume.
Among the preparations are some changes to the security checkpoints, and for passengers who have not flown since prior to the pandemic, the experience may look much different.
Passengers and airport personnel are still expected to wear a facemask, in accordance with the federal mandate. All travelers must wear a mask at security checkpoints and through the airport before, during, and after their flights.
“The checkpoint screening process looks different today than it did before the pandemic,” said TSA’s Federal Security Director for Rhode Island, Dan Burche, in an interview Friday.
“For starters, travelers should plan to give themselves plenty of time to check their bags and get through the security screening. Upon arrival, travelers will see reminders to socially distance themselves from other travelers while waiting in the checkpoint lines,” he said. Burche recommends arriving to the airport 90 minutes before the flight to allow for plenty of time to navigate security, especially if travelers are flying out in the morning, when the airport sees an uptick in passengers.
Burche also pointed out that security officers will continue to use personal protective measure like remaining positioned behind acrylic barriers, and wearing face shields and gloves.
When travelers approach the podium, they will be asked to scan their own boarding pass, whether electronic or paper, to reduce a touchpoint. Passengers will be asked to briefly remove their mask so the TSA agent can verify passenger identity.
Another change to the security process is the addition of new equipment. Dan Velez, spokesperson for TSA in the New England region, explained that computed tomography (CT) is now being used to screen passenger’s bags.
“It’s a new 3D x-ray that allows the officer to rotate the image and get a full view of what’s inside the bag,” he said in an interview on Friday. “In the past, it was a 2D image, and if they spotted something and they weren’t sure what it was, they would have to physically inspect it.”
Velez explained that the new CT technology means less physical inspections of bags and a faster security check.
Nationwide, the TSA has also begun using credential authentication technology (CAT). Passengers will stick their ID cards into the authentication machine and TSA agents will know the person has a boarding pass based on their identification.
“Here at T.F. Green,” said Velez, “they don’t have the capability for the passenger to do it yet, so you will still have to hand the TSA officer your ID.”
TSA agents will take other precautions, like changing gloves in between bag searches, and conducting routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces.
To reduce touchpoints, the TSA recommends travelers place pockets items like wallets, phones, keys, lip balm, and tissues into their carry-on bags instead of putting items from their pockets directly into the plastic bins. This will also minimize the chances that a passenger leaves something behind in a bin, an all too common occurrence.
Burche emphasized that even though the Fourth of July is right around the corner, passengers cannot travel with fireworks.
“No fireworks. You can’t pack them, you can’t carry them, you can’t bring them in,” he said. “It’s a hazard.”
During the interview, Velez paused to pull a large black bucket out from underneath a table. Reaching in, he pulled out items confiscated from travelers over the years. While there were no fireworks, there were knives, hammers, screwdrivers, saws, self-defense weapons, and multi-tools.
“We’ve had our fair share of ammunition, too,” said Veldez, who reminds travelers that they are not allowed to carry guns or ammunition in their carry-on bags. Travelers are allowed to bring these items with them; however, guns and ammunition must be properly packed and secured separate from one another and placed with checked baggage.
The TSA packing database (www.tsa.gov/travel-tips/travel-checklist) gives a full list of what passengers can and cannot bring aboard.
Burche encourages travelers to register for TSA PreCheck. By enrolling in PreCheck, passengers can avoid removing their shows, belts, liquids, food, laptops, and light jackets at the TSA checkpoint. According to the TSA website, new enrollees receive their known traveler number within five days, and membership lasts for five years.
“TSA PreCheck membership is more valuable now than ever before,” said Burche. “It reduces touchpoints during the pandemic and puts travelers in security lines that have fewer travelers and moves quicker, which encourages social distancing.
According to a press release from the TSA issued on June 10, the TSA screens approximately 1.7 million people daily, nationwide. In comparison, the TSA screened close to 2.5 million people daily in 2019. Locally, the TSA screened about 6,300 people per day during the summer of 2019 at T.F. Green. Currently, the TSA is screening closer to 3,700 people per day.
Burche also mentioned that the Rhode Island TSA is currently hiring security agents, full- and part-time. The entry-level job starts at $18.40 per hour with federal benefits. For more information about the TSA job openings, visit www.jobs.tsa.gov.