MTA police cadets to augment airlines' security

Checkpoint effort a first in U.S. as BWI tries to limit inconvenience

October 28, 2001|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

In hopes of significantly reducing long lines, state employees could soon begin assisting in security checks at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the result of a deal brokered yesterday between Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey.

The arrangement, a first in the nation, is aimed at reducing the lines that have irritated BWI passengers since airports reopened after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Until now, baggage searches and scans have been handled solely by the airlines or their private security firms.

The problem at BWI has been worse than at many other airports because a large percentage of its travelers use it as a primary departure point, requiring a trip through security. Dulles and Reagan National airports have more travelers passing through to connecting flights who have already cleared security.

Townsend said she was spurred to find a solution after hearing complaints from business executives, and after experiencing long lines herself. Most recently, she said, her daughter waited 2 1/2 hours in lines before boarding an early flight on Monday.

"I want this to be a consumer-friendly airport - it always has been," Townsend said yesterday. "But the delays have been going on and on, and it is absolutely unacceptable."

Townsend first phoned Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines, which is BWI's largest carrier. Lines to Southwest flights have been particularly long. Kelleher told her that was due in part to hiring troubles encountered by the company's security firm, she said. Federal law says airport security staff must be either an employee or agent of the airline.

So, Townsend contacted Garvey to ask for some flexibility. In a conference call yesterday morning, they worked out an arrangement for possible assistance from Maryland Transportation Authority police cadets.

All cadets have undergone background checks and have some security training, said Townsend.

Meanwhile, she said, Kelleher called back to say he'd received assurance from his security contractors that they would work harder to keep checkpoints fully staffed.

Townsend said the cadets will be used as backup security working as agents of the airlines only if necessary. Southwest - and any other airlines they assist - will pay the cost.

Garvey last night applauded the idea and said she intends to bring it up in a meeting with airline operators tomorrow.

"Traditionally, this is not what's been done, but it's the kind of creativity and willingness to step up that all of us have to do," Garvey said. "None of us want to see these checkpoints compromised. Having said that, if there's a way to get them open, we want to do that."

Details were still being worked out yesterday, but Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said cadets would immediately begin receiving additional security training.

"We can't quantify it yet, but if you take the increased efforts by Southwest and the ability of the state of Maryland to step in directly, I think it's going to have a significant impact," he said.

About six cadets will be available for the security duty, he said.

Other changes are also expected to help. Southwest added an additional scanning machine last week, and four others in the airport are about to be replaced with more reliable models.

In addition, within the next month, the Hudson News stand near the B pier will be closed to create a larger security area.

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