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New security checkpoint aims to improve efficiency for travelers out of Salt Lake airport

More space, more technology now available as passengers, TSA navigate travel during pandemic

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Reagan Peterson puts her belongings in a bin for screening at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the new Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. The bins are 25% larger than normal bins.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Among the changes travelers will find at the redesigned Salt Lake City International Airport is a single, high-tech security screening checkpoint designed to ensure a smooth and safe flight before their feet ever leave the ground.

The updated and spacious security area is making its debut as fewer travelers are taking off from the airport due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but are needing more space to ensure they and security personnel can maintain a healthy distance.

On Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration offered a firsthand look at how security will be made a little bit easier for passengers and safer for the individuals tasked with scanning the countless bags of luggage they bring with them.

Passengers departing from Salt Lake City will now navigate a single, centralized security checkpoint equipped with automated screening lanes that allows multiple travelers to place their items in bins for inspection before they make their way along conveyor belts into the X-ray machine tunnel for examination, explained TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.

“With the centralized checkpoint, everyone is going to come to the same checkpoint. That can be a little bit daunting, especially when we’re used to sort of picking what checkpoint you want to come through,” she said. “Keep in mind that once you get into the security checkpoint, you’re going to be greeted by 16 lanes. Now, clearly, we’re not using all those lanes right now because of the passenger volumes. But that would be at full capacity.”

Any bag that requires additional inspection will be electronically diverted while other luggage continues through the screening process. The new bins are 25% larger and each one contains a unique radio-frequency identification tag that allows for added accountability and security as travelers’ property is screened, Dankers said.

Travelers walk through the new Salt Lake City International Airport.

Travelers make their way through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the new Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Due to COVID-19, the TSA has made procedural and policy changes at airports across the country to ensure safety during screening and to provide a healthier environment for the traveling public as well as the TSA workforce, Dankers said. Salt Lake City’s spacious new security area makes that easier.

“Once you get in past the main entrance of the security checkpoint, you’re going to go into multiple stations where people are going to be showing their travel documents and their ID to the TSA officers,” Dankers said. “You’re going to be able to spread out, you’re going to be able to social distance, you’re going to be able to have that extra space around you.”

Cameras are integrated into the screening lanes to capture images of the contents of every bin, with the images linked to the X-rays of the carry-on bags. The new central checkpoint also features eight advanced imaging technology body scanners, nine walk-through metal detectors and explosive detection equipment.

“TSA worked closely with the Salt Lake City Department of Airports for the past several years to design TSA work areas within the new SLC to ensure optimal space for our employees to carry out the security mission. As a result, TSA will see improved efficiency in all our operations,” said Mark Lewis, TSA federal security director for Utah. “Travelers departing the new SLC can expect to see new equipment and state-of-the art technology. We are excited to be a partner in this successful and massive undertaking.” 

Last month, TSA employees took part in two simulations to prepare for the opening, including several hours of TSA and airport staff passing through the main checkpoint with carry-on bags to ensure all of the screening equipment was calibrated and fully functional.

The process involved a lot of new training for the officers with the new equipment, officials said.

“Once we rolled that out, coming onto the lane and being in a live environment, the officers have had to learn a lot of the little nuances that the automated lane presents,” explained TSA transportation security manager Karen Dace. “But we have the techs here at the airport that created the automated lane system, so they’ve been on-call helping us answer any of the hard issues that come up. It’s been exciting. I’m excited for the potential that this has to make things more efficient for passengers coming through security.”


Anna Sosa, supervisory Transportation Security Administration officer, grabs a bin for additional screening at the TSA checkpoint at the new Salt Lake City International Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Before the coronavirus, Salt Lake’s airport was experiencing double-digit growth in passenger volume, prompting airlines to foot the bill for a $4 billion overhaul that will eventually rebuild the entire decades-old facility.

Now, departing travelers can expect to see all TSA officers wearing face masks and gloves during the screening process. TSA has increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in the security checkpoint, including bins.

Passengers are asked to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear a mask. Dankers said while there is no federal mandate requiring masks in the security checkpoint area, TSA urges all travelers to wear a face covering throughout their travel experience.

“We strongly suggest that people wear a mask for their protection and the protection of our employees,” she said. “We want to keep our employees healthy and safe, but we also want to keep the traveler healthy and safe.”

She noted that travelers may be asked to adjust their mask for ID verification or alarms during the security screening process. At the Salt Lake airport, the public has been required to wear face coverings in all public areas since June.

One notable change is that TSA is currently allowing one oversized liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags. The sanitizer should be removed from the carry-on bag and placed in a bin for screening. Passengers may also bring hand wipes of any size or quantity through security checkpoints.

Dankers noted passenger volumes have been significantly lower in Utah and nationwide during the pandemic. However, fewer travelers has had the positive effect of allowing TSA officers to learn the intricacies of the new security system.

“This is a really good example of making lemonade out of lemons. We were handed a global pandemic as this airport got ready to open. We’ve made the transition as scheduled and what we’re going to be able to do is, with lower passenger volumes, really fine-tune that,” Dankers said. “So as the volumes come back, we’re going to go ahead and be ready for them. When people are ready to travel, they need to know that we’re going to be ready for them and that things are in place, procedures are in place for them to protect their health and safety.”