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Checkpoint changes await spring fliers

As spring travelers head to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in coming weeks, they may notice an expanded main security checkpoint and encounter some new screening procedures.

The widened switchback area at the domestic terminal’s main checkpoint is expected to help reduce back-ups into the atrium and the rest of the terminal, and to make room for future growth.

Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Andrew Gobeil said the project is nearly complete. Some electrical and cosmetic work remains on ceilings, columns and more stanchions.

The airport also is replacing more regular security lanes with automated “smart lanes,” meant to speed security processing with multiple stations for travelers to load bins and automated bin return.

The project was prompted in part by checkpoint logjams in early 2016. Airport, airline and security officials reworked procedures and staffing and launched some physical changes to reduce wait times.

To make way for the expanded security line area, the terminal’s Starbucks was moved, and Brooks Brothers, Brighton, Z Market, Simply Books and Drugs & More in the terminal were demolished. A new Starbucks opened in the atrium.

An estimated 75,000 to 80,000 people are expected to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson on the busiest days of the spring break travel season — expected to be March 31, April 1 and 2.

Some may notice other changes.

This month, the TSA standardized “pat-down” procedures to be “more thorough.” Pat downs may now involve a TSA officer using the front of his or her hand in certain areas, rather than only the back of the hand. The changes come after tests showed mock explosives, weapons and other prohibited items often going undetected.

Travelers who opt out of body scanners, who trigger an alarm or a canine team alert, or who are selected through “unpredictable security measures” will get a pat-down, according to TSA.

In another recent change, TSA in February significantly reduced the number of travelers who can go through PreCheck expedited screening if they are not officially enrolled in the program.

The agency says it now has more than 12 million travelers registered in PreCheck or similar programs. But some fliers were routinely being given PreCheck status on their boarding passes without being enrolled.

“In the future, we intend to only have enrolled or pre-vetted passengers, or those screened by canines in the expedited screening lanes,” TSA said in a written statement.

Meanwhile, as part of the new queuing area, the fee-based trusted traveler program Clear has opened at Hartsfield-Jackson with its own line and kiosks on the Terminal South side of the main checkpoint, near Delta Air Lines check-in.

To speed all security checks, TSA recommends travelers check their bags to make sure they don’t have prohibited items. The long list of prohibited items includes oversized containers of liquid, weapons, knives and replicas of weapons.

About 44 guns have been caught at Hartsfield-Jackson security checkpoints so far this year, following a record number in 2016. Overall, the agency collects about 1,500 pounds of prohibited items a month at the airport, not including liquids, TSA spokesman Mark Howell said.

“Each of these causes a hiccup in the line,” because the passenger must review options to get rid of the prohibited item and be re-screened, Howell said.

Travelers headed on golf trips should wipe down their clubs before checking them as baggage, Howell added. That’s because fertilizers or other chemicals left on the clubs can trigger alarms during checked baggage screening.

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