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TSA issues new travel, security guidelines in response to COVID-19


WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) —The Friday before a holiday weekend is typically a busy one for travelers on the road and in the sky, but this year will look a bit different due to the pandemic.

Even though not a lot of flights are scheduled, there was still a line at T.F. Green Airport early Friday morning.

The TSA tells Eyewitness News there are still some travelers, but nowhere near the typical amount for the Friday before Memorial Day.

For the first time in 20 years, AAA is not releasing a Memorial Day travel forecast. They say the unofficial start to the summer season could see record low travel.

The TSA wants to make sure travelers are taking the proper precautions and listening to the new guidelines when flying as COVID-19 continues to spread.

“In the interest of TSA frontline workers and traveler health, TSA is committed to making prudent changes to our screening processes to limit physical contact and increase physical distance as much as possible,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said. “We continue to evaluate our security measures with an eye towards making smart, timely decisions benefiting health and safety, as well as the traveler experience.”

Some changes include passengers keeping their boarding passes instead of handing them over to TSA officers. They will also need to separate any food items to X-Ray screening and to practice increased social distancing. While it isn’t required, the TSA is also encouraging travelers to wear a mask.

Travelers who have not flown since the pandemic are also likely to notice some other changes. They include:

  • Reduced security lane usage due to the reduction in passenger volume.
  • All TSA officers at checkpoints wearing masks and gloves.
  • TSA officers optionally wearing eye protection and clear plastic face shields at some locations.
  • TSA officers will continue the practice of changing gloves after each pat-down.
  • Plastic shielding installed at many travel document checking podiums, divest, bag search and drop off locations.
  • TSA officers practicing social distancing.
  • Routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces in the screening checkpoint area.

Many airlines and airports are also providing their own specific COVID-19 related guidance, and travelers are encouraged to check with your airline prior to your trip.

The new changes come as the TSA says air travel is up slightly — they are screening about 250,000 passengers a day, up from about 90,000 a month ago. These numbers are still down significantly from the start of the outbreak.

“Right now out passenger volumes are only about 4% of what we would normally be seeing at this time of year,” Doug Yakel, San Francisco International Airport Spokesperson said.

At T.F. Green, there are seven departing flights and five arriving. Anyone coming into Rhode Island is ordered to quarantine for 14 days, but the National Guard has stopped doing health screenings for new arrivals.

For more information on the TSA security screening process during the pandemic, visit tsa.gov/coronavirus.

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