John Higgins

GREEN: Passengers at Akron-Canton Airport now have more elbow room to take off their shoes and empty their pockets at the security checkpoint.


Airport officials unveiled a new checkpoint Tuesday that is four times larger and with better technology, including full-body scans.


“It not only makes air travel safer, it makes the experience more pleasant as well,” said Rick McQueen, president and chief executive officer of the airport.


The new checkpoint, where the gift shop and food court used to be, has four lanes instead of three with room to add two more lanes.


Two of the lanes have full-body scanning booths where passengers stand inside for about three seconds with arms raised.


The biggest change that passengers will notice is that they have to empty their pockets of everything, not just metal objects. The other two lanes have traditional metal detectors and will be used as a backup during busy times.


The full-body scanners use high frequency radio waves that detect basically anything nestled between the skin and clothing.


“It could be a handkerchief in a man’s pocket; that would show up,” said Michael Young, the Northeast Ohio federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration. “If it’s not your skin and it’s attached to your body, it’s going to be an anomaly.”


Passengers who do a good job emptying their pockets should have no problem.


The new booths also should be welcomed by anyone with an artificial hip or knee. Those folks have always needed additional pat downs and screening when their metal body parts set off alarms. Medical devices beneath the skin don’t activate the alarms in the new booths.


Unlike a metal detector, which can’t pinpoint where the object is on the body, these scanners show where the object appears on a generic outline of a person. (Another kind of full-body detector uses low-level X-rays and displays an image of the passenger’s actual body on a remote monitor).


Medical devices worn outside the skin, such as colostomy bags, will show up on the scans and require further investigation, so passengers should tell security officers about them.


Young said the four airports within his jurisdiction — Akron-Canton, Cleveland Hopkins, Toledo Express and Youngstown-Warren — provide passengers with special cards at the checkpoint that allow passengers to fill in a blank explaining any medical conditions that might affect their screening.


Passengers can hand the card to the officers discreetly without announcing private concerns to every passenger in earshot. Similar cards are available at the TSA’s website, but Young didn’t want to make people go online to get them.


“At a national level, they don’t hand them out, but we hand them out at our checkpoints,” he said.


Akron-Canton Airport also upgraded the X-ray scanners used for carry-on and checked luggage.


It’s not clear the upgrades will make the lines go any faster, however. Even if passengers are scanned more quickly, they’ll still have to wait for their carry-on bags to be cleared, Young said.


“Unfortunately with baggage fees and stuff like that, more people are carrying things through the checkpoint, which adds more clutter,” Young said. “The more clutter adds time.”


Shoes still come off most travelers, but parents should know about a change in that rule that started last fall.


“Shoes do not need to come off for children 12 and under,” TSA spokesman James Fontenos said.


The security upgrades are the second big project in the airport’s $110 million capital campaign, which began with the $60 million extension of the “5/23’’ runway, which enables nonstop flights to the West Coast, Cancun and the Caribbean.


The new security checkpoint project cost about $1.4 million. The federal government paid 95 percent through a program that requires a 5 percent contribution from local passenger facility charges — the $4.50 fee that is charged for every Akron-Canton Airport passenger ticket, McQueen said


The airport spent its own operating revenue, about $945,000, to relocate the food court and an expanded gift shop to the other side of the main concourse.


The airport will tackle the parking situation next.


“We need to do a little bit more parking here,” McQueen said. “It has been very crowded, so we want to make that better, and we’re going to start on that as soon as the weather breaks.”


The airport will make a new parking area that will be less expensive than the economy lot.


“It will be a little further away, but there will still be shuttle service bringing you right to the front door, picking you up at your car,” McQueen said.


John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com.