By Candia Dames
LINTHICUM – One week into the latest upgrade of security at airports across the country found Waymon Reddy standing in yet another line at Baltimore- Washington International Airport on Friday, waiting to have his luggage X-rayed for bombs.
Reddy, who was on his way to Dallas, said the wait was all right with him.
“I think it’s necessary these days and I would be willing to spend even a little more time here,” Reddy said.
The million-dollar, minivan-sized explosive-detection systems are the most obvious symbol of that newly tightened security. One week ago, airports also started 100 percent bag matching, requiring passengers to be at the gate at least 30 minutes before their flight to ensure that each piece of luggage was matched to a passenger boarding an aircraft. Coming improvements will include a gradual federalization of all airport security screeners.
Those changes, many being tested first at BWI, have combined to make it “the safest airport in the country,” said Maryland Aviation Administration Executive Director Beverly Swaim-Staley.
BWI was among the first airports in the country to install the bomb- detection machines, which are currently being used for random checks of luggage. The airport, which saw 20 million passengers last year, recently got four of the machines but needs at least another 40 to meet a federally set Dec. 31 deadline for all luggage to undergo such screening, officials said.
The 100 percent luggage screening standard by year’s end is “a very ambitious goal,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who joined Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, and other aviation officials on a tour of BWI Friday.
Wynn said the airport will have to undergo architectural changes to accommodate the additional EDS machines. Officials also said the carry-on luggage screening areas will undergo major expansion.
“My constituents as well as area residents will be glad to know that the FAA, BWI and Department of Transportation are taking steps to make travel safer for all who use the airport,” Wynn said in a prepared statement. “Ensurinng the safety of our airports is definitely essential for the region’s economy.”
The beefed-up security was mandated by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Today, aviation is the safest form of transportation and will continue to be in the future,” Porcari said.
The legislation requires the federal government to take over baggage screening for the nation’s airlines. Porcari said this will be phased in at BWI over the coming weeks.
Swaim-Staley said officials from the new Transportation Security Administration will begin working closer with BWI airport officials Monday, monitoring BWI’s security upgrade to copy it at airports throughout the nation. The administration is expected to hire about 30,000 employees by the end of the year to meet security goals at airports nationwide.
Shelby Boardman, one traveler on his way to Cleveland, said the long lines at the security checkpoint were “worth the wait,” if security was assured.
“This is no problem for us, we’re willing to do it and happy to do it,” said Boardman, who was all smiles, even though he was at the back of the line. “It would be nice if it were quicker, but we understand the reason for the security.”