Travelers speed through checkpoint with help from “Angus’
Thousands of Thanksgiving airport travelers zipped through security Wednesday with their shoes on and their laptops packed at Miami International Airport.
At terminals J (International) and D (American Airlines), many lucky passengers avoided normal security hassles thanks to bomb-sniffing dogs. Using the canines enables the Transportation Security Administration to move passengers up to 30 percent faster than normal.
“We’re very confident in the ability of our canines,” said Daniel Ronan, the federal security director at MIA. “We wouldn’t do it unless we thought it was as effective or more effective.“
After a security officer matches the passenger to his boarding pass and ID, travelers pass through an area patrolled by a dog and his handler.
If the dog detects an explosive odor, the passenger is pulled aside for extensive screening. Otherwise, passengers move quickly through without removing shoes from their feet or electronics from their carry-ons.
Dogs and handlers work 30-minute shifts. During each shift, a TSA employee in plain clothes passes through with explosive odors to test the dog. When the dog recognizes the odor, he or she gets rewarded with a ball.
“They think it’s a game,” Ronan said.
Though Miami International has 12 security checkpoints, only one checkpoint at a time uses an explosive-sniffing dog team. The airport currently has 10 working dogs and four in training. The dog teams have worked at the airport year-round since 2010, but TSA ramps up their staffing during busy holiday periods like Thanksgiving, when 1.5 million travelers will pass through Miami airport in a 12-day period. On holiday weekends, TSA checks more than 70,000 MIA passengers in a single day.
On Wednesday, Cedric Belvins, 41, a former Marine, and Angus, 2, a German shorthaired pointer, worked an afternoon shift at Terminal J.
Belvins and Angus quickly trimmed the passenger queue from 30 to 10 as travelers whisked through. Belvins, a TSA dog handler since 2010, said the toughest part of the job is telling people they can’t pet Angus. But one older woman seemed unsettled by the dog, scurrying past to avoid his snout. Passengers who don’t want to be screened by the dogs or are traveling with a dog themselves can opt out and go directly to an extensive screening.
And just as expected, as the TSA test officer approached the area, Angus signaled he’d smelled the explosive. When the test officer walked by, Angus followed him more excitedly than the others, and then he stopped and stared. The move is subtle, but Belvins knows it well.
“I know it’s coming,” Belvins said. “To the public, no one knows it.”
Belvins threw Angus a congratulatory yellow ball and the two embraced. Then, it was time for the next passenger.