It's one of those things airline travelers take for granted. You rush in, check your bag and hope that it doesn't weigh too much.
But once the agent attaches the destination sticker and puts the bag on the conveyor belt, where does it go? What's behind the rubber flaps? Is there a sea of TSA agents standing by to examine every article of your clothing?
Surprisingly not. Instead, your baggage descends on a journey that could take anywhere from 90 seconds to a few minutes. Either way, nine times out of 10 your luggage makes it onto the plane long before you do.
"Ten years ago we were screening bags in the lobby," says TSA's Raymond Dotson.
Dotson is a deputy assistant federal security director at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Overseeing baggage security at the world's busiest airport is complex operation. The airport screens, on average, 30,000 bags a day. That's about 1.2 million bags a month.
"It goes through an incredible number of belts and machines," Dotson says as he describes a multimillion dollar operation that involves thousands of surveillance cameras and scanners that can detect a potential threat in a few seconds or less.
"Basically it's a CAT scan with algorithms set up to look for a threat," says Dotson.
The airport has more than 20 CAT scan-like scanners. If the scanner detects a threat, luggage is redirected to a screening room where agents screen the bag again. If necessary, agents search the bag and place a card inside, letting the passenger know who was responsible for the search.
Over the years, agents have found thousands of knives, flammable materials, a kitchen sink and even two suit cases full of South American live crabs.
When Pothole Harry asked if TSA agents had crabs for dinner that night, Dotson answered, "Uh no, we did not."
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Tuesday, April 20 2010 11:21 PM EDT2010-04-21 03:21:00 GMT
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