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VOL. 127 | NO. 229 | Thursday, November 22, 2012

Holiday Traffic

Memphis International Airport gears up for busy travel season

By MICHAEL WADDELL

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Memphis International Airport ramps up for the busy holiday travel season with the unveiling of its redesigned and expanded checkpoint at Terminal B, which has been under construction for nearly two years.

Travelers line the main terminal at Memphis International Airport. Nearly 24 million travelers are forecasted to fly nationwide from Nov. 16 to Nov. 27, with planes being 90 percent full on average.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

Due to fewer scheduled flights in Memphis and across the country, planes are anticipated to be packed tighter than ever.

“Thanksgiving is normally the peak travel season of the year,” said John Greaud, vice president of operations for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “We are expecting airport traffic to be essentially the same as last year, but because of Delta’s reduced capacity we do expect higher aircraft loads.”

Peak holiday travel days at the airport include Wednesday, Nov. 21; Sunday, Nov. 25; and Monday, Nov. 26.

The trade group Airlines for America forecasts nearly 24 million travelers will fly nationwide from Nov. 16-27, a slight increase from a year earlier. The group predicts planes will be an average of 90 percent full, which would be a record for the holiday season.

As the holiday traffic gears up, Memphis International last week formally unveiled its newly renovated and expanded checkpoint at Terminal B. The Transportation Security Administration informed the airport authority two and half years ago that it was going to roll out new equipment, and that equipment would not fit comfortably in the old checkpoint area.

“Obviously the queue line was shorter than what we wanted it to be, and also the physical footprint and square footage was not large enough for the expanded equipment,” Greaud said.

Inman/EMJ Construction Corp. began construction on the project in early 2011.

“The base project was to increase the size of the checkpoint, basically doubling its size, and in the process we were able to basically double the length of the queue line,” Greaud said.

The overhaul also included installing a clerestory with skylights above the checkpoint to provide the area with much more natural light.

A new escalator now transports disembarking passengers directly from the secure side of the terminal to the baggage claim area. The previous path took passengers past the security checkpoint and into the crowded front of the terminal.

The checkpoint project is 97 percent complete, with only a few finishing touches left to go. TSA will operate five lanes at the new checkpoint, and there is room to expand to eight lanes in the future if heavier traffic dictates.

“Having this revitalized checkpoint really helps us do our jobs better,” Kevin McCarthy, TSA federal security director at Memphis International, said at a media advisory last week at the B Checkpoint. “The busy holiday travel season is here again, and here in Memphis as well as airports across the country TSA is fully staffed to prepare to process passengers as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

TSA has installed $1.1 million in screening equipment at the B checkpoint and more than $8 million in equipment across entire airport.

This year the TSA expects to see as many as 12,000 to 15,000 passengers per day through the airport’s three security checkpoints on peak days of the holiday travel season and between 8,000 and 10,000 people per day during the rest of the year.

New security checkpoint guidelines are in place this year to make the screening process for passengers a little more bearable. Passengers aged 12 and under and 75 and older will not have to remove their shoes during the screening process. The “3-1-1” rule still applies. Passengers are still limited to 3 ounces of liquid in their carry-on in a single quart-sized bag, and only one bag is allowed per passenger.

Small snow globes are now allowed as carry-on items, as well as cakes and pies.

TSA officers have found nine firearms in luggage at Memphis International Airport and more than 11,000 firearms have been found nationwide.

McCarthy said TSA’s goal is to keep the wait time for passing through security to 20 minutes or less, but he stressed for passengers to arrive 90 minutes before their flights in case of heavier airport traffic.

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