Salt Lake airport screens all checked baggage

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    By Elise Christenson

    Airline passengers at the Salt Lake City International Airport may find themselves standing in even longer lines starting on Jan. 18.

    A federal law requiring the screening of all checked baggage on airplanes took effect the morning of Jan. 17, airport public relations director Barbara Gunn said.

    The law requires airlines to check bags with hand searches, bomb detection machines, bomb sniffing dogs or by matching each piece of luggage to a passenger on board a plane.

    “All of us here understand we have entered a new era in transportation – an era in which a determined enemy has challenged one of America”s most cherished freedoms – namely, the freedom of mobility,” said Norman Mineta, transportation secretary, at a Transportation Research Board meeting Jan. 9.

    For security reasons, airline officials declined to comment on what specific measures they will use to comply with the new regulations by Friday.

    “We will use a combination of things, but a lot of it you won”t see,” Anthony Black, spokesman for Delta Airlines, said.

    The Associated Press reported that less than 10 percent of the 1.4 billion bags flown in domestic airliners” holds annually are screened for explosives by such methods.

    “There were procedures in effect prior to this bill, specifically on international flights, but they weren”t necessarily doing it for domestic flights,” Black said.

    Gunn said the check-in times for passengers will naturally increase as a result of the new security measures.

    Passengers are advised to arrive 90 minutes to two hours before takeoff. This is an hour longer than was advised before Sept. 11.

    In conjunction with the airlines and the federal government, the Salt Lake City International Airport will implement a new four-tiered program to screen bags checked in by passengers.

    “We are doing four levels because each one backs up the other ones,” Gunn said.

    While passengers stand in the baggage check-in line, all baggage will be screened with an explosion trace detector.

    If a bag tests positive, it will be scanned by a Computed Tomography X-ray.

    Passengers may be chosen for random X-ray checks, Gunn said.

    Bomb-sniffing dogs will patrol the baggage-processing areas and there will be random hand searches of luggage.

    The cost to implement the program at Salt Lake City International Airport is roughly $12.7 million for equipment. In addition, 600 new employees will be hired by airlines.

    To finance the additional security measures, ticket prices will increase by $2.50 per flight segment.

    Colleen Barrett, president and chief operating officer of Southwest Airlines, said she believes the heightened security is necessary.

    “Safety has always been our most important duty, without exception. We would rather have 100 false alarms than one ”real thing,”” Barrett said.

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