Buffalo Niagara International Airport upgrading security checkpoint to end bottleneck

Updated: 04/02/08 9:21 AM


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The wait at the security checkpoint at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport should be shorter once planned enhancements are in place.
Security checkpoint lines at Buffalo Niagara International Airport should be picking up speed just in time for the summer travel season.

The federal Transportation Security Administration will reconfigure the airport’s checkpoint with the goal of boosting passenger processing volume by as much as 35 percent. Key to the security queue realignment will be the positioning of two X-ray screening devices in four of the six lanes to improve passenger flow.

Currently, each of the lanes is outfitted with a single X-ray station to inspect carry-on bags and other personal items. The checkpoint enhancement, which could be operational by late May or early June, has the potential to boost the clearance rate by 250 to 300 travelers per hour.

“It’s all about keeping things moving and working as efficiently as possible,” said Lawrence Meckler, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. “Security screening lines are a fact of life for air travel in the post-9/11 era, but we know nobody likes to wait in line.”

Physical limitations of the Buffalo airport’s six-lane security checkpoint, combined with an increasing volume of passengers, makes for slow-moving security lines most morning between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. According to TSA data for the period from March 4 through April 1, the average wait for those early flights is 20 minutes.

The worst security bottlenecks occur on Monday mornings, when the trip from the back of the line through the checkpoint can take as long as 46 minutes.

“We have a huge problem with line backups in the morning,” Meckler said. “This won’t eliminate waits, but it’s a big, big help.”

Under the current checkpoint layout, each lane processes between 125 and 140 fliers per hour. The realigned lanes will be able to handle 200 an hour.

“It’s a great thing when an airport and the TSA can work together to make a checkpoint function with optimal efficiency,” said TSA spokeswoman Lara Uselding.

In addition to repositioning X-ray stations to keep things moving, the TSA will also set up new “holding and wanding corrals” where travelers can be diverted for secondary screening via electronic wands or pat-downs. The existing setup forces the entire line of passengers to wait when two or more travelers in front of them are pulled aside for extra scrutiny.

The new corrals, which will have lockable entrance/exit doors, will allow the line to keep moving.

The TSA will also add “re-composure benches,” where screened passengers can pause to put their shoes, belts and other clothing items back on after passing through the checkpoint. New screening bin carts will also make an appearance to speed up bin replenishment.

The TSA will also station an agent at the front of the screening area to assist families and non-frequent flyers on how to prepare for the security inspection.

“They’ll act as ‘divestiture coaches’,” Uselding said. “They’ll be there to remind people about the rules for liquids, to take off their shoes and coats, and what to do their their lap-tops and other electronics.”

The upcoming changes to the checkpoint follow a visit by TSA planners to the Buffalo airport last week to work on design of a brand new checkpoint slated to debut this October. A final layout and details on how it will be equipped will be made public in the next few months.

The new checkpoint will be located on the left side of the airport’s departure corridor, utilizing the upper level of a newly-constructed baggage handling facility, as well as taking over space which currently houses Burger King and the All- Star Bar.

“We’re very hopeful the TSA will incorporate as many of its new screening bells and whistles as possible. We’ve let them know we’d be open to their latest technologies,” Meckler said.

The TSA this week unveiled a prototype of its “Checkpoint Evolution” setup which includes 3-D imaging machines to inspect carry-on items and high-tech passenger body scanning portals. The high-tech checkpoints also employ soothing ambient sound and light panels to reduce traveler anxiety and to make it easier to spot those with criminal intentions.

The state-of-the-art checkpoint will debut at Baltimore- Washington International Airport next month.

slinstedt@buffnews.com


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