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Traveler's Aid: New Security Procedures at BWI (5/3/2002)

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Diana: Over the past 8 months, we've talked a lot about new security measures resulting from 9/11. Many won't be in place until the end of the year, but one critical new measure was implemented just this past week: the first 225 government-trained screeners started work at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The screeners aren't the only new addition. The entire airport has been functioning as a laboratory for new security procedures. Systems that work there will be implemented at airports all over the country. So what's going on at BWI? And how will it affect your next trip to the airport?

Here to answer that question is our very own Expert-in-Residence, Rudy Maxa, who lives in Washington and uses BWI. He's going to walk us through the changes at the airport. Hi, Rudy.

Rudy: Hi, Diana.

Diana: First, Rudy, let's talk a little about those new screeners. I've read that, eventually, 65,000 federal employees will be hired to keep our nation's airports running. So that 225 is just a drop in the bucket.

Rudy: This group is really the advance guard, what officials are referring to as the "mobile screening force." For the first 2 weeks at BWI, they'll be trained as passenger screeners. Once they're up to speed, they'll train other screeners at BWI, and then fan out across the country to train screeners in the nation's 429 airports.

Diana: How much training will they get?

Rudy: New screeners get a week of classroom instruction and then 60 hours of on-the-job training. Previously, many screeners got only a day or two of training. Also, new screeners will be more alert because every half hour they rotate jobs.

Diana: Okay. Let's talk about some of the other changes at BWI.

Rudy: One of the most noticeable changes is that the central wanding area is enclosed by glass so you can keep an eye on your stuff. Other changes include:

  • Chairs are available for passengers subject to searches.
  • Screening stations have custom bins for laptops and cellphones.
  • New shoe X-ray stations have been introduced.

Interesting side note: Orlando is using a machine that sees through clothes. They're very revealing, but also very voluntary. Although they're not currently being used at BWI, they may be adopted in the future.

Diana: I've heard that the folks from Disney have had a hand in this.

Rudy: Not in screening procedures, but they've been instrumental in rethinking how people wait. They've restructured lines so that passengers wait in one long serpentine line rather than in a bunch of short lines. There's also a queue manager to direct people, also known as the line "concierge."

Diana: Concierge? I guess that would make us guests of the airport?

Rudy: Actually, yes. Passengers are now referred to as guests or customers. New screeners are being trained to be polite.

Diana: Doesn't BWI have new signs, too?

Rudy: Yep, they have a bunch of flat-screen TVs with "sticky messages" -- short, memorable slogans that airport officials hope will stick in passengers' minds. Some examples are, "No weapons, no waiting," and, "Have your boarding pass ready to keep the line moving steady."

Diana: Rudy, I've got a sticky message, too:
Speedy lines are a nice perk
But will any of this really work?
I mean, is this actually going to make us safer?

Rudy: Your poetry needs some work, but you do raise a good point, Diana. New procedures at BWI speed things up, but you may not be any safer than you were before. They're not actually using any new technology. However, at BWI, wanding time has been reduced from 3 minutes to 1 minute. And wait time has decreased from 20 to 12 minutes.

Diana: All this and we end up with 8 extra minutes? All right, we'll take it. We'll also take a Deal of the Week.

Rudy: That's coming up a little later.

Diana: Talk to you in a bit.

Savvy Resources:

Baltimore-Washington Airport

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