Now you have to pass through security to leave the airport.
Futuristic unmanned portals have replaced officers at the security exits of two small Northeast airports, adding a few seconds in a bulletproof glass pod to the end of every passenger’s trip.
The rounded exits at the Syracuse and Atlantic City, N.J., airports prevent passengers from backtracking into secure areas once they exit the plane and keep outsiders from entering through the exits.
Travelers step into the elevator-sized cylinders and wait as a door slides closed behind them. After a couple of seconds, another door opens in front with a female voice coolly instructing, “Please exit.”
“I don’t understand those doors,” says Cindy Katz of Jupiter, who came through the Atlantic City airport for the Thanksgiving holiday. “What are they supposed to do? It slows everyone down.”
They could be the wave of things to come as the Transportation Security Administration prepares to shift exit-monitoring duties to local airports next year as a way to save $88.1 million. The doors’ manufacturer, New York City-based Eagle Security Group, says it is in talks with other airports.
The technology saves airports from having to put paid security staff at the exit checkpoints.
Syracuse Aviation Commissioner Christina Callahan, whose airport installed eight portals this past fall at a total cost of about $750,000, says staffing each exit with a guard would cost about $580,000 a year.
The portals are intended to remove the potential for the kind of human error that was blamed for a 2010 breach that shut down a Newark Liberty International Airport terminal for several hours and caused worldwide flight delays after a Rutgers graduate student slipped under a rope to see his girlfriend off on her flight.
On recent evenings in both Syracuse and Atlantic City, there did not appear to be any sign of backups caused by the roughly five-second process of entering and exiting through the portals. Signs encouraged travelers to enter the pods in groups — they can accommodate up to six people at a time — rather than one by one.
A common question among passengers is whether they are being scanned somehow while closed inside.
While it is possible to equip portals with biometric scanning technology, officials say the current versions do nothing but form a barrier between the secure and nonsecure areas of the airport.
“We're not scanning anything or doing anything really,” said South Jersey Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Rehmann. “When one side’s open, the other side’s closed. Period.”