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New Screening System Delays Some Luggage

Airports start inspecting all checked bags. At John Wayne, conveyors cause minor problems.

January 02, 2003|Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writer

Despite a few hiccups in the machinery, John Wayne Airport successfully implemented new screening of all checked baggage for explosives on New Year's Day, complying with a federally mandated deadline.

"The system did come online, and all the bags were screened per the mandate," airport operations spokeswoman Ann McCarley said Wednesday. "There were some glitches with the conveyer belt system.... Some bags did not make it onto their scheduled flight."

Airline ticket counter personnel said the crowded early-morning hours at the airport were especially tricky, and that scores of bags had to be put on later flights because the conveyer belts carrying luggage through the new screening machines were moving very slowly.

Hensel Phelps Construction Co., which installed the $30-million system, was on site and making repairs as needed, McCarley said.

"Whenever you put in a new baggage system, you have to work through the problems, and that's the mode we're in right now," McCarley said.

By late afternoon, federal baggage handlers still were moving carts of luggage to machines installed a day earlier to handle oversized luggage, and waving tiny wands across them before moving them through. But passengers who had checked bags said they were experiencing no delays because of the new procedures, though many had expected to be delayed.

Joy Boomer, 45, of Laguna Niguel was heading to Boise, Idaho, for a family ski trip. She checked three bags and noticed no problems.

"I think it's great. The more they can do, the better," Boomer said of the new screening, required as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act passed by Congress in November 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

All U.S. airports were required to begin screening every checked bag by midnight Dec. 31. Because of noise curfews, John Wayne Airport's last departing flight is at 10 p.m., so federal Transportation Safety Act security personnel at the airport had until 7 a.m. Wednesday to begin the screening.

Construction contractors worked through the holidays to get the equipment installed on time, McCarley said.

The Hughes family of Rancho Santa Margarita, returning from Jacksonville, Fla., after a 10-day cruise, said security staff in Florida appeared to be a bit perplexed by the new machinery, but there were no major holdups.

As they grabbed more than a dozen pieces of luggage from the conveyer belt, they did notice tiny, clear plastic tags with metal chips in them attached to each one.

"I think it's fine -- I mean, they've got to do what they've got to do," said Ellen Hughes, who said she travels frequently.

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