The Transportation Security Administration offered a rare, behind-the-scenes look at its screening process in anticipation of the busiest travel season of the year.
“Many passengers don’t realize that when you put that bag on the belt behind the airline counter what exactly happens to it,” said Kevin McCarthy, TSA Federal Security Director for Chicago Midway International Airport.
If bags are oversized, TSA agents will inspect it by hand. They’ll look for prohibited items and check for explosives.
Checked luggage at Midway International Airport, for example, embarks on a five and a half minute ride through a series of conveyer belts and screening equipment. According to the TSA, the process is mostly automated. Each item goes through a CT scan. Most of the scanned bags do not raise any alerts. The TSA said 85 percent of the checked luggage never gets touched by a person. Items that raise a concern with are analyzed and some may be manually searched.
The in-line system at Midway can typically process about 10,000 to 15,000 checked pieces of luggage each day. But it’s about to get busier.
“For the holiday travel period, we’re estimating about 30,000 bags on a single day,” McCarthy said.
Midway’s in-line system was built in 2007 and cost $40 million. One thousand motors run about 12,000 feet of conveyer belt. There are plans to update the equipment to keep the system in top working order.
The TSA said more than 100 airports, including O’Hare International Airport, use a similar in-line system.
Officials urge travelers to arrive at the airport at least two hours early during the week of Thanksgiving. According to the TSA website, wrapped gifts are allowed, but not encouraged. If there is something in the gift that needs to be inspected, agents may have to open it.