Alaska/Horizon ticket and baggage workers Kathy Wesby (left) and Sandra Waldow are ready to accommodate an influx of travelers for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The airport has a new baggage system, but hasn’t yet received new body scanners, the latest technology to detect hidden weapons and explosives in the fight against terrorism.
Photo by Mark Washington
Airport tests baggage system, new body scanners haven’t yet arrived
By Melissa Chavez
With the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, thousands will be traveling in and out of the area to be with loved ones. Luckily, local transit hubs Union Station and Portland International Airport are more than prepared for the influx.
The airport is testing out a new baggage system, which will allow passengers to check luggage when they check-in with an airline, instead of adding the usual extra step of transporting bags to an additional screening area for drop-off.
Steve Johnson, a spokesperson for the Port of Portland, which oversees the airport, said that it is “expecting travel to be up about 3 percent this holiday season over last year.”
“We’re anticipating large numbers of travelers, and are prepared for that,” he said, adding that the airport is hoping the new baggage system will also cut down on processing and wait times.
Now though Jan. 2, free entertainment is featured throughout the airport, and many stores and restaurants are offering special promotions.
Johnson said that the airport typically sees 43,000 travelers a day over the holidays — for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. A normal average day this time of year sees 34,000 travelers.
Passengers don’t yet have to decide between body scanners or pat-downs at PDX, as the airport is not expecting to have the scanners until 2011.
Dwayne Baird, a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration’s Western Region said he cannot give a specific date when the scanners will be implemented, but does tell travelers to check the TSA’s site before heading to the airport, to check what stricter security measures are in place for the holidays.
He said that there will be an increased amount of screeners to accommodate the extra passenger lode, and also stressed the importance of valid IDs. He said that the Secure Flight Program, which was fully implemented nationwide Nov. 1, will cut back on Flight Watch List misidentification incidents, so that travelers should have fewer problems going through security.
“We’re here to ensure that your holiday is a safe and secure one,” Baird said.
At downtown’s Union Station, Amtrak is adding 11 more trains — not just cars, but entire train routes — to the Cascades route, which runs from Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, for the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving to the Sunday afterward.
With over 740,000 riders in the fiscal year 2008, Cascades is the seventh most heavily traveled corridor in the country, and Portland is the 15th busiest station in the national Amtrak System.
Vernae Graham, Amtrak’s Western Regional spokesperson, said this is the busiest time of year for the rail company.
She said there were more than 17,000 riders nationally this past weekend, and that they are expecting “record ridership” Nov. 24-28, as each of the last few years has topped the previous record. Amtrak sees 127,000 passengers a year systemwide, and Graham says that the Thanksgiving holiday is even busier than Christmas.
This will be the first time a midnight train will be offered for Cascades-route Thanksgiving travelers — he train will leave Seattle at midnight and arrive in Portland at 4:14 a.m., non-stop, for interested early arrivers, so that they can help with food preparations.
Graham says that there will be some tighter security for travelers.
“Passengers may experience some Amtrak police, random baggage checks, and screenings at some stations,” she said. “And be sure you can provide a valid ID at all times.”