TSA has new 3-D CT X-ray machines to scan bags at RDU airport

Transportation Security Administration officer Connor McKeown demonstrates the new computed tomography or CT scanners that the TSA now uses to screen carry-on bags at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Transportation Security Administration officer Connor McKeown demonstrates the new computed tomography or CT scanners that the TSA now uses to screen carry-on bags at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

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People flying out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport may notice that the X-ray machines used to scan their carry-on luggage look different than they used to.

That’s because they are different. The new scanners, which resemble jet engines, use computed tomography or CT technology that allows Transportation Security Administration officers to look at bags and their contents in 3-D.

“Think about it as going from a map view to a globe,” says Jennifer Gordon, the TSA’s security director at RDU. “This allows our transportation security officers to have a 360-degree view of the bag.”

The new machines should speed the screening process by making it easier for TSA officers to see what’s inside bags. Officers may spend more time studying and rotating the images on their computer screens to look for weapons, explosives or other prohibited items, but they’ll have to pull fewer bags aside to search by hand, said TSA spokesman Mark Howell.

“If you can’t tell what it is on a flat image, if you turn it you can tell what it is on an axis,” Howell said.

The new machines mean some changes for passengers. After years of taking laptops and other electronics and liquids out of their bags, passengers are now asked to leave them in, along with any other loose items, such as sunglasses or keys.

And everything must now fit inside a bin that slides through the machine’s opening, which is smaller than the old one.

“You can’t put loose items on the rollers and send it through. Everything that you’re sending through security now has to go inside of a bin,” Howell said. “So that means it has to be able to fit inside of a bin. If it’s bigger than that, you may be asked to take that bag back to the ticket counter and check it.”

Bags that conform to airline guidelines for carry-on luggage should fit, Gordon said.

TSA checkpoints will be busy over the holiday weekend

The CT scanner technology is the same as what hospitals use to look inside patients. The TSA has been screening checked bags with it for a couple of years, but only recently have the machines been made small and light enough to use at passenger checkpoints.

The agency is gradually deploying them at airports across the country, but RDU is among the first with a full compliment — four in Terminal 1 and 14 in Terminal 2. RDU and TSA recently opened two new lanes at the checkpoint, which should help reduce the wait during the busiest times, between 5 and 7 a.m.

RDU expects more than 182,000 passengers to pass through the airport from Thursday through Monday, July 4. That’s still about 7% fewer passengers than during the same holiday weekend in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, but is about 17% more last year, said RDU spokeswoman Crystal Feldman.

With airlines having trouble keeping up with demand this summer, Feldman said passengers should check with their carrier before leaving for the airport to make sure their flight hasn’t been delayed or canceled. And with crowds returning to the airport, she said people should plan to arrive two hours before their scheduled departure.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, hospitals during the coronavirus outbreak. He’s been a reporter or editor for 34 years, including the last 22 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, [email protected]