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Airport Scanners Stir Fears Over Lines

The government's plan to install body scanners in dozens of airports could lengthen security lines and congest terminals, airline and airport officials warn.

Scanners that look through passengers' clothing to find hidden weapons are significantly larger than the metal detectors they will replace. And they take at least five times longer to scan a single passenger.

"Those machines have a footprint that we don't have the space for," said Tim Anderson, operations chief at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which will get scanners this year.

Steve Lott of the International Air Transport Association, an airline group, said scanners "would lead to significant passenger delays at the checkpoint."

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Greg Soule said the scanners will not "significantly increase" checkpoint lines. The agency will help find the best location for the machines, he said, adding that "TSA's top priority is enhancing security."

The TSA plans to install 950 scanners at airports in the next two years, a move driven partly by the recent attempt to bomb an airliner near Detroit. Suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded the plane in Amsterdam with explosives in his underwear.

The first new scanners will be installed this month. Most will be used on passengers in "primary" screening as they enter airport checkpoints and put belongings through an X-ray machine, Soule said. About 40 scanners have been operating in 19 airports for more than a year, mostly for passengers requiring extra screening.

The scanners take about 15 seconds to check a passenger compared with "a few seconds" for a metal detector, Soule said. The extra time should not create backups, Soule said, because checkpoint lines are usually slowed by passengers putting carry-on items through X-ray machines.

Lott said scans can take 40 seconds for passengers unfamiliar with the portal-style machines that are up to 6 feet wide.

Christopher Bidwell, security chief for the Airports Council International, said he was pleased the TSA is working with airports to address lines and space constraints. "Certain airports just don't have the real estate" for scanners, Bidwell said.

The scanners already in use have been welcomed by passengers, particularly as an alternative to pat-downs, the TSA says. Passengers who decline to be scanned are searched by hand.

The mass installation worries airports. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport expects to get five scanners, which could push checkpoint lines into a main corridor, airport spokesman Perry Cooper said. "This will be an impact for us," Cooper said.

Metropolitan Oakland International Airport officials are working with TSA to find the "optimum placement" for scanners, acting airport director Deborah Ale Flint said. "We have space constraints in both of our checkpoints," Flint said.

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