The busy March break travel period on the horizon, staff at the Region of Waterloo International Airport hope better-prepared passengers will make for a speedier process at security checkpoints. To that end, the airport set up a display of its new full-body scanner Wednesday, running through the screening process. Travellers were reminded that restricted items such as scissors, pocket knives, and liquids, gels and aerosols in containers of more than three ounces will be confiscated.
“In the busy travel season it’s especially important to know what to take and what not to take in your carry-on bag to avoid any hassles at the checkpoints,” said. Mathieu Larocque of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.
The airport seized more than 1,100 restricted items in 2010, including a hammer and a cap gun. Although, liquids seized are not recorded, Larocque said a medium-sized container is filled with these items after every outbound flight.
Airport general manager Chris Wood said the airport will hold onto items for passengers if they request, instead of having the items disposed of.
Access to the full-body scanner, which has been operational since December, is strictly controlled. Similar equipment became controversial in the U.S. in late 2010 after cell phone pictures of the scans were leaked online.
Larocque said security officers looking at the scans have no visual access to those in the scanner and are strictly prohibited from bringing cell phones in the viewing room with them.
Photos from the scanner are eliminated as soon as the passenger is finished the scan and cannot be saved in the machine.
Not all passengers will be required to use the scanner, just those selected for secondary screening. Larocque said there are two ways to be selected, the first is through the random screening process, the second is through setting off multiple alarms during the initial screening process.
“If there’s something in your carry-on bag, you may need to go through the scanner,” he explained.
The random screening process is determined by a program on the metal detectors each passenger must walk through. The lights on the detector are programmed to change colour once a certain number of passengers is reached. Although the CATSA will not disclose the percentage, Larocque gave an example modelling 20 per cent of passengers being selected.
The detectors would then light up for one out of every five passengers, selecting them for additional screening.
If passengers are uncomfortable going through the scanner they have the option of a pat-down.
“About 90 per cent of passengers are opting to use the scanner,” Larocque said. He believes passengers make the choice to use the scanner because it is faster – each scan only takes about a minute – and it means less contact with security staff.
CATSA said the scanner does not use x-rays and has been approved by Health Canada as being safe to use repeatedly.
Airport staff report customers have requested to take the scan for fun since its installation. Although passengers are not indulged in those requests, staff will explain how the machine works to eager travellers.