Atlanta airport eyes techniques to speed security screening

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport general manager Miguel Southwell said he hopes to begin testing new technology to speed security screening by this summer.

One of the methods under discussion to test at the Atlanta airport is a system with a secondary conveyor belt where passengers put their carry-on items in bins to go through the X-ray machine. The system will allow people to pass those who are slower in separating their items into bins.

Such a system might help address one of the main areas of conflict between frequent travelers raring to go and others who are slower, less-experienced or have more complex carry-on items to sort through.

"The system we have here permits one person to dispose of their items onto the belts at a time, and if you happen to get stuck behind someone with a lot of stuff, you're going to wait a long time," Southwell said. New systems have a longer table where three or five people can start putting their items into trays at the same time, "then there's a secondary conveyor belt right behind that, and the person that finishes first would put their items on the belt, so you wouldn't be stuck behind," he said.

It's similar to a system used at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, according to Southwell. Schiphol uses a new model for security screening lines that includes trays with RFID chips.

As lines at Transportation Security Administration screening checkpoints stretch into the atrium regularly and generate complaints about wait times nearly an hour long during busy periods, Southwell has pushed for ways to make security lines run more efficiently -- and more staffing.

Southwell said the airport is also getting more staff and is more than doubling its number of canine units.

"We've gotten additional resources," Southwell said.

"We are extremely happy with the progress TSA is making," he said, adding that he believes the agency has turned the corner on wait times.

Southwell had earlier this year threatened to move toward privatizing security screening at the Atlanta airport if TSA did not take action to address long lines and wait times.

On Wednesday, Southwell said there is not a need to privatize screening "as long as we continue to see progress made in a demonstrable way."

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About the Author

Kelly Yamanouchi
Kelly Yamanouchi
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.