Huge explosives-detection machines that make Midway's often-crowded ticket lobby feel even more cramped are being replaced with behind-the-scenes luggage screening.
Airport officials on Thursday unveiled the first phase of the new $42 million baggage-screening system, designed to more than double the number of bags Midway can process each day, getting passengers to their planes more quickly and with less hassle.
Each of the new explosives scanners, tucked deep in the terminal building, are capable of handling up to 500 bags an hour, compared with a 200-bag-per-hour rate per machine under the old system, said city Aviation Commissioner Nuria Fernandez. The new technology, called in-line baggage screening, should process more than 30,000 bags per day, three times faster than the existing system, Fernandez said.
The new technology also is less prone to false explosives alerts for substances such as fertilizer residue on travelers' golf clubs. Some fertilizers are used in bombmaking.
For passengers, it means no more toting checked bags to the ticket counter, then carrying them again to a second line for federal screeners, who load the bags into the bomb-detection equipment.
By minimizing the physical handling of checked baggage, the new automated system reduces the inconvenience to passengers and injuries among screeners who lift and hoist thousands of bags a day, officials said.
Bags are placed on conveyor belts behind airline ticket counters and fed into a huge screening area that formerly was part of the airport parking garage. The bags are sent through bomb-detection machines placed among a labyrinth of conveyor belts that are monitored on video screens by Transportation Security Administration personnel.
The bags are routed to aircraft after being scanned and cleared as safe to fly. Bags that register an alarm are diverted to another conveyor belt for a second screening. If questions about the contents remain, the bags are manually searched or sent to the Chicago police bomb and arson squad, officials said.
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