New automated security lanes at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s main terminal will make air travel safer and more efficient for the nearly 12 million people who are screened here annually, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
But it will take a little time to get used to.
“Wait, what’s going on here?” one woman asked a TSA agent Tuesday, as she tried to hoist her suitcase onto the security conveyor belt.
TSA formally introduced four “innovation lanes” at the south checkpoint in Terminal 1 a week ago and showed them off Tuesday to reporters.
It’s part of a national rollout of the lanes — MSP is the seventh airport in the nation to be outfitted.
The north checkpoint at Terminal 1 will likely be outfitted next year, according to Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which runs MSP and paid for the equipment.
The $2.1 million system focuses on bags and luggage travelers lug aboard — it does not involve body screening.
The system features bins that are 25 percent larger than typical containers. Travelers place the requisite items in them (shoes, belts, laptop computers, jackets, and even suitcases) and push the bin onto a conveyor belt that then inches toward a TSA agent checking for contraband using X-ray equipment.
Questionable bags get diverted automatically to a separate conveyor belt for further screening, eliminating the need for TSA agents to dig through a line of luggage for the targeted bag. This allows other bins to move along seamlessly without jamming up the works.
The bins are automatically returned to the front of the line, eliminating the need for TSA officers to stack and reposition them, another task that can lengthen security lines.
Each bin is assigned a radio-frequency identification tag, allowing for additional accountability of a traveler’s carry-on bag as they move through security. A camera takes a photo of the outside of each bag and also shares the X-ray image of its contents side-by-side, so TSA personnel are assured they’re searching the right bag, if need be.
The new system will “increase the efficiency, automate functions previously carried out by TSA personnel and enhance security,” said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.
Currently, TSA employs 654 full-time equivalent employees at MSP, and says it does not plan to downsize any jobs as a result of the automation.
On Tuesday afternoon, the automated lines appeared to be moving along with limited wait times.
Bob and Rita Sundberg of Brainerd, who were en route toDubrovnik, Croatia, gathered their belongings on the secure side of the checkpoint after using the new automated lines. “It’s a little confusing when you change things,” but not difficult to master, Rita Sundberg said.
The new system does not eliminate the need for passengers to remove liquids or their laptops from carry-on luggage. And they don’t affect passengers who have TSA Precheck or Clear status, which use separate lines. Likewise, travelers with bulky items, such as car seats or strollers, must use the “old school” screening method.
TSA officials concede there will be a learning curve with the new system. “That’s the case when there’s something new,” Dankers said.
A big test will be Minnesota Educator Academy (MEA) week beginning Oct. 19. TSA officials expect daily screenings to surge to 47,000 passengers on Oct. 18, compared with 34,000 normally. The long weekend off from schools is a popular travel time for families, and TSA traffic has already increased 5.5 percent so far this year.
Long delays were reported over a three-week period while the new lanes were built beginning late August, which coincided with a $1.6 billion face-lift underway at the airport.
“No one likes to be inconvenienced by construction, but everyone likes improved infrastructure,” the MAC’s Hogan said. “Unfortunately that involves some temporary inconvenience while the improvements are made.” He said the MAC received just three complaints during construction, but there was negative chatter on social media.
TSA says about 92 percent of travelers clear security at MSP in less than 15 minutes. But that also depends on the day one is traveling.