More travelers, workers expected at JIA for holidays

Come prepared for crowds and new security measures.

Travelers catching flights from Jacksonville International Airport for Thanksgiving on Wednesday will find more people at the gates.

Officials expect about 22,000 passengers will depart and arrive on flights at JIA during that busy day, a 15 percent jump from last year.

But what’s not known is whether protests against the Transportation Security Agency’s security measures will translate to longer lines and delays on one of the busiest travel days.

If passengers object to going through full-body scanning machines and opt instead for more time-consuming pat-downs by hand, the TSA will be ready for that scenario, said Ed Goodwin,  federal security director at JIA.

“We’ll have enough people on board to handle it,” he said Monday.

He noted body-scanning machines have been used at JIA since 2008. Not all passengers go through the scanners, but of those selected by TSA to do so, 99 percent of them have chosen to go through the process, Goodwin said. The scanners are in addition to the metal detectors used at security checkpoints.

JIA is among the 68 airports nationwide where the TSA uses the body-scanning machines. Other Florida airports with the machines are Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Miami, Orlando and Tampa.

Jacksonville was among the first batch of airports to get the body scanners as part of a pilot program.

Unlike the body scanners that have been installed at some other airports this year, the scanners at Jacksonville do not use radiation.

The scanners let the TSA digitally look under the clothes of passengers for weapons or materials that could be used in an in-flight terrorist attack. The American Civil Liberties Union has objected that the
screenings amount to a “virtual strip search.” More recently, Internet-based protests have urged travelers to reject the increasing use of the scanners by having a national opt-out day on Wednesday when travelers would request pat-downs instead.

In a presentation Monday to the Jacksonville Aviation Authority board, Goodwin said TSA has safeguards in place to protect the privacy of travelers. He said TSA workers who monitor the images from the body scans are in a windowless room that is separate from the security checkpoint. Those workers cannot see the people being screened. The TSA officers at the checkpoint cannot look at the images. The TSA workers communicate by wireless headsets.

The scanners at airports around the country employ two types of technology — backscatter imaging that uses an X-ray beam and millimeter wave imaging that does not have radiation.

Goodwin said the backscatter machines have an extremely low dose of radiation that equates to the same exposure as flying for two minutes in an airplane.

Jacksonville’s scanners use millimeter waves that bounce off the passenger’s body to create the image examined by TSA. The energy produced by the millimeter waves is several thousand times less than a cell phone transmission, according to TSA.

Passengers can opt for pat-downs by hand instead of going through the machines. They can also request it be done in a private room. Passengers also have a right to have the pat-down witnessed by a person of their choice, Goodwin said. Only female security officers do pat-downs for female passengers, and only male officers do pat-downs for male passengers.

Aside from the choice of whether to go through the scanning machines, travelers also face the traditional question this year of where to park.

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority is again opening a special events lot for a flat charge of $20 to park for any length of time between Wednesday  and Nov. 30. The longer someone parks, the better that price is. For example, if someone parks for four days, it would equate to a daily cost of $5 per day.

The airport’s charge for parking at its economy lot is $6 per day, so if someone plans to park at the airport for at least four days, the special event lot will offer the lowest price.

Other JIA parking ranges from $10 to $16 per day, depending on how close it is to the terminal and whether it is in a garage.

For those picking up passengers, the airport offers a courtesy lot at the JAA building. Parking in the courtesy lot is free and a sign shows the status of arriving flights. After passengers arrive and have their bags, they can call the person picking them up on a cell phone and it’s a two-minute drive from the courtesy lot to the terminal, said JAA spokeswoman Debbie Jones.

Jones said passengers should be at the airport at least 90 minutes before their flights’ takeoff times. She said passengers should check with their airlines about their baggage policies so they know what to expect at check-in regarding baggage fees and weight limits.