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July 26, 2021

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At Las Vegas airport, officials tout Innovation Checkpoint’s screening technology

McCarran International Airport

Corlene Byrd

McCarran International Airport (Chris Carlson/AP Photo)

The process in which some travelers go through security at the Las Vegas airport is being enhanced, and officials say the new technology will make the process more efficient.

One of the notable changes: Passengers won’t need a boarding pass when going through the Innovation Checkpoint, located on the bottom floor of Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport.

Rather, they’ll be asked to insert their driver’s license, identification card or passport into a machine that assesses their credentials. The system is linked to a secure flight database that confirms the traveler’s flight details.

“The crown jewel of test sites for (the Transportation Security Administration) and for the future of aviation security is right behind me,” said Karen Burke, director of TSA Federal Security for Nevada, as she stood at a podium in front of the unprecedented security checkpoint.

“This is absolutely the most superb, and one of a kind, the only one in the country that has this kind of technology and the ability to do testing to ensure that we make the right decisions, the right modifications to be able to have a great customer experience, as well as a good environment for our employees,” Burke said.

Click to enlarge photo

The Innovation Checkpoint at McCarran International Airpot's Terminal 3 is shown.

The administration wanted to test new security systems and procedures at McCarran because of the high volume and diversity of passengers. It also features a variety of customers: Frequent travelers here on business, leisure travelers taking their lone vacation of the year, and many locals.

“This is the one place where there’s a representative sample of everything, so we can kind of compare performance, assess passenger reaction to the technology. This is the one place where it all comes together,” said Austin Gould, an associate administrator of the administration. “Once we’re satisfied with the performance here, then we can consider deploying it nationwide.”

Added Burke, “We’ve joked before, if you can make it work in Las Vegas, you can make it work anywhere.”

The security checkpoint machine can detect fraudulent driver’s licenses by comparing markings in a comprehensive database of state driver’s license cards. The machine alerts security with a noise if it finds any inconsistencies or if a passenger inserts an expired license, passport or ID card. 

Automated screening lanes allow uninterrupted movement of carry-on luggage. Luggage bins are sanitized with an ultraviolet light that kills residual virus germs on the surface. A small yellow sticker stuck to the bin changes to pink after it gets zapped with ultraviolet light so security knows the bin has been properly sanitized. 

Bins are then automatically sent to the front of the line by a machine, rather than manually taken to the front by an officer.

“All these little incremental improvements, we just speed things up by a couple of seconds here, a couple of seconds there, two and a half million passengers a day, all that adds up really fast,” Gould said.

Enhanced automated imaging technology gives a more detailed picture of items inside luggage. If a security threat is detected inside luggage, its bin is diverted to a resolution area where an officer investigates the questionable item so there’s no disruption to traffic in the screening lane.

Also, passengers’ bodies are scanned in a more relaxed position with arms out and to the side rather than the standard freeze and put-your-hands-up method in luggage lanes of the past. And, there’s a low false alarm rate and less pat downs needed with the updated body scanners.

“What we’ve learned is an informed passenger tends to be a happy passenger and a more compliant passenger. The more we can get people used to traveling, the more we can communicate with passengers, the better off the screening experiences,” Gould said.

Rosemary Vassiliadis, the director of aviation for Clark County, said passenger numbers remain well above the national average, and last month the number of people flying was nearly 80% of what it was pre-pandemic. 

“I’m so proud to say Las Vegas is again leading the nation’s travel resurgence. We see this each and every day in our busy TSA checkpoints,” Vassiliadis said.