A big 10-lane security checkpoint is slated to open in mid-February at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s Terminal 1 — and airport officials say it will mean smoother departures for the usual throng of Minnesotans taking to the skies in search of warmer climes.
The new $17 million checkpoint will be on the north side of the terminal’s ticketing area, closest to St. Paul. The overhaul involves closing three smaller checkpoints and consolidating them into two bigger ones on the northern and southern ends of the terminal, the airport’s busiest.
The new system will go into effect Feb. 16 and be fully operational by Feb. 19.
The terminal’s total number of screening lanes will be about the same. But airport and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials say the new configuration will better serve the 9.2 million passengers screened annually at Terminal 1.
With more breathing room for passengers to queue up before and after they clear security, “it will definitely be more efficient,” said Alan Howell, the senior airport architect for MSP.
The new north checkpoint, where the Hot Dish and Houlihan’s restaurants once stood, will feature skylights, an expanse of windows and sand-toned terrazzo flooring. The overall area spans about a half a football field in both length and girth, with 10 security lanes available for peak travel times, generally March and July.
Because Terminal 1 opened in the early 1960s, it was never designed for the enhanced security demanded after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
As a result, several of the existing (and smaller) MSP checkpoints suffer from the funnel effect — when a confluence of people putting on their belts, shoes and coats, and stowing pocket change and laptops after being scanned causes lines to back up, sometimes outside of security.
“It’s one of the biggest challenges at MSP,” said Cliff Van Leuven, TSA’s federal security director for Minnesota.
The new north checkpoint will have more space after screening with benches for travelers to “recompose,” as it’s known in TSA parlance, before heading off to their gates. It will be complemented by the six-lane south checkpoint.
Passengers arriving at the airport will be able to determine which checkpoint they want to frequent by scanning two large digital signs detailing wait times on either end of Terminal 1. Monitors will be installed at key spots throughout the airport, too.
The new checkpoint will have a longer conveyor belt — 36 feet — after suitcases, purses and other accoutrement are screened by TSA personnel. This helps to avoid a crowd of people perched at the mouth of X-ray machines anxious to gather their goods.
The north checkpoint will have a separate line for TSA PreCheck passengers, as well as one for traveling families.
It will also give TSA’s canine teams more room to screen the area for explosives. Last year, TSA introduced more than 150 bomb-sniffing dogs (and handlers) in airports nationwide, including MSP, although the exact number locally was not revealed.
TSA, which would not reveal staffing levels at MSP, does not intend to hire more personnel to staff the new security configuration.
The new setup won’t affect operations at the checkpoint on the G concourse for international travelers connecting through MSP, or the checkpoint on the skyway between concourses C and G, which has limited hours.
Like most airports, MSP has occasionally struggled with long security lines and aggrieved travelers take to social media to vent. That reached a fever pitch in March 2014, when a busy spring break travel season and staff cutbacks at TSA prompted an advisory for travelers to arrive 2½ hours before domestic flights.
A recent study of tweets by the website Travelmath.com found that social media-savvy travelers rated Oakland (Calif.) International Airport with the highest level of “negative sentiment,” while the smaller Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., scored the highest. MSP Airport was above average in the survey.
A recent — and decidedly unscientific — call to the Twitter universe asking for feedback on MSP’s security operation revealed a wide berth of opinions ranging from terrible to outstanding.
Meredith Schultz, a Twin Cities native now living in Washington, D.C., characterized MSP security (via Twitter) as “Bark is worse than its bite! Even if the line is clear down the terminal, it moves faster than shorter lines @ other airports.”
Others said that TSA operations in Orlando, San Francisco, Chicago and at East Coast airports are far worse than MSP.
MAC spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski, said certain periods, such as the Education Minnesota teachers’ conference in October and the Thanksgiving holiday, can result in crowds and long lines.
“It’s the concentration on specific days that make the lines longer rather than a lot of people over a month or two,” she said.