Passengers move swiftly at PDX despite stricter security

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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photoPassengers prepare to navigate through the security checkpoint at Portland International Airport.

(/The Columbian)

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Travelers moved quickly and calmly through Portland International Airport on Wednesday, despite stricter security protocol that had led some to worry about delays on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Portland does not yet have the full-body scanners that have been at the center of an Internet boycott — those are due to arrive in 2011 — but Transportation Security Administration employees at the airport are being more thorough with the pat-downs that passengers receive if they trigger the metal detector or are randomly selected for extra screening.

Despite these extra precautions, travelers said they were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly their journeys have gone.

Donna Knauss got an early preview of new airport screening protocol last week, when she flew from eastern Washington to visit family in Vancouver.

At the Spokane airport, she was selected for a full-body scan. Though some critics have raised concerns about the scans, which allow TSA employees to look for hidden weapons beneath travelers’ clothes, Knauss had no objection to the procedure.

“I’d like to think the guy who looked at the image thought I looked pretty darned good,” the grandmother said with a laugh on Wednesday, when she returned to Portland International Airport to greet more arriving family members.

Not everyone was so cavalier about the new screening protocol.

Although uncomfortable with technology that can photograph him under his clothes, Todd Caldwell said he’d still go through if asked. “I don’t want to get into trouble with the TSA,” he said.

Caldwell, who flew into Portland from Reno on Wednesday, said the full-body scanners he has encountered seemed to take too long — with three people taking 20 minutes to pass through one.

Despite his qualms, however, he said he was pleased with how smoothly his family’s travel had been.

Steve Johnson, an airport spokesman, estimated that about 43,000 people flew in and out of Portland on Wednesday — about 3 percent more than a day earlier.

Johnson estimated that 300,000 will pass through the airport in the week surrounding Thanksgiving, which is the busiest travel period of the year.

Yet during the airport’s busy morning rush period, the longest checkpoint line took about 16 minutes to pass through.

That was a relief to Becky Gosain, who returned to Chicago on Wednesday after celebrating Thanksgiving early with family in White Salmon.

“I was a bit worried,” she said as she headed for a security checkpoint. “But everything has gone smoothly.”