Best Airport Security Checkpoints
For all the perks like art galleries and sleeping pods that airports add to their terminals, the deciding factor for many travelers is still whether or not they can get through check-in and security smoothly.
We asked T+L readers to evaluate U.S. airports as part of the World’s Best Awards survey and found that more hubs should follow the example of Indianapolis, voted No. 1 in the check-in and security category. Ample natural light helps travelers find their way from point to point, check-in counters are never more than 45 feet from the entrance doors, and the baggage system moves luggage quickly in and out of the building.
Smaller airports like Albuquerque and Austin, TX, also received high marks. The screening procedures at these airports are usually fast (and friendly) and the gates an easy stroll from the terminal entrance.
But even airports not blessed with innovative layouts or a diminutive stature are finding new ways to speed travelers along, including self-service check-in kiosks and self-tagging of bags, courtesy of American Airlines in Austin and British Airways in Las Vegas.
The dreaded security process has been enormously improved by the TSA PreCheck expedited screening program, which is now available for international flights too. The TSA has installed PreCheck lanes in 40 airports, with planned expansions into 60 more domestic airports by the end of 2013.
Meanwhile, in-airport PreCheck enrollment centers will also soon start rolling out—opening up the program to all U.S. travelers (no passport or frequent-flier membership required). The first will be in Indianapolis and Washington Dulles this fall, followed by some 300 locations across the country.
Read on for more airports that are improving the terminal experience.
No. 1 Indianapolis International Airport (IND)
One of the first U.S. airports built post-9/11, IND is newer and better designed than most for the modern challenges of airport security. Opened in November 2008, the 1.2-million-square-foot complex averages 137 flights per day to 32 nonstop destinations, totaling about 7.3 million passengers in 2012. Indianapolis is slated to become one of the first two airports in the nation (along with Washington Dulles) to offer enrollment in the new, expanded TSA PreCheck program.
No. 2 Burbank Bob Hope Airport, Los Angeles (BUR)
Once the primary airport for Greater Los Angeles and a hangout for early aviators like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Bob Hope Airport lost its major carriers when LAX opened after World War II. Since then, the easy-to-navigate 220,000-square-foot terminal has undergone a renaissance. Airlines including Delta, United, and Southwest serve 4.1 million passengers annually.
No. 3 Portland International Airport, Portland, OR (PDX)
Despite a 5.2 percent spike in passengers from 2011 to 2012—its third consecutive year of growth—Portland keeps security running smoothly with technologies like in-line baggage screening, implemented in 2010. Its 14.4 million annual travelers also enjoy an 87.5 percent on-time departure record and high-quality dining and shopping options that helped it earn the No. 1 spot among America’s Best Airports from T+L readers.
No. 4 Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Austin, TX (AUS)
Austin’s airport has routinely earned recognition from industry group Airports Council International as one of the best in the nation and world for customer service. In 2009, it became the first North American airport to receive the organization’s service quality assurance certification. In 2012, the airport logged 9.4 million travelers, the most since its opening in 1999; a careful master plan projects the amount of square footage necessary for ticketing, check-in, and security to keep pace with growing passenger volumes.
No. 5 Charleston International Airport, Charleston, SC (CHS)
Charleston has already made a positive impression on T+L readers, and taking off will soon be even easier for the 2.6 million people who pass through this Lowcountry gateway each year. A $189 million renovation scheduled for completion in 2015 will consolidate the screening checkpoint into a single location, update the ticketing area for easier security access, and illuminate the central lobby with a domed skylight ceiling to bring a brighter, more modern feel to the nearly 30-year-old airport.
No. 6 Nashville International Airport (BNA)
First built in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration, BNA has seen its share of ups and downs, like losing its American Airlines hub in 1996. But in fiscal year 2013—for the first time in two decades—the airport surpassed 10 million passengers, climbing 3.1 percent from 2012. An updated master plan estimates the current security checkpoint area will sufficiently accommodate passenger growth through 2021.
No. 7 Tampa International Airport, Tampa, FL (TPA)
With 16.8 million annual passengers, Tampa International is the busiest airport to make the top 10. Its screening areas generally spell smooth sailing thanks largely to ongoing security improvements. In 2002, the airport instituted $100 million worth of post-9/11 enhancements, and in 2012, it became an early tester of a new technology displaying estimated checkpoint wait times. A recently updated master plan calls for the eventual expansion of the terminal and the addition of a main terminal checkpoint.
No. 8 Raleigh-Durham International, Morrisville, NC (RDU)
RDU’s nearly two-year, $68 million modernization of 32-year-old Terminal 1 is slated to debut in March 2014, introducing a new, four-lane security checkpoint and updated ticketing and baggage claim areas to the airport’s 9.2 million annual passengers. The update comes on the heels of the 2011 completion of $570 million Terminal 2, which features stand-alone check-in islands (rather than the traditional long counter) to reduce congestion and speed transition to security.
No. 9 Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ)
A 30,000-square-foot security screening area in a 600,000-square-foot terminal gives Albuquerque’s 5.4 million yearly travelers plenty of breathing room. Recent updates include four new escalators between ticketing and baggage claim, a new food court, and renovated restrooms. The airport is also one of the 60 additional locations expected to launch TSA PreCheck by the end of 2013, which will be available to its passengers flying American, Delta, United, and US Airways.
No. 10 Sacramento International Airport, Sacramento, CA (SMF)
Sacramento has been on the cutting edge, from becoming one of the first U.S. airports to offer free wireless Internet (in 2006) to a $1 billion renovation coined “The Big Build,” which debuted in 2011. The project replaced the aging Terminal B building with a 740,000-square-foot, LEED-certified terminal and concourse streamlining the flow of 8.9 million annual passengers with an automated people mover, integrated customs facilities, and bright, modern design.
No. 11 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
One of the most popular airports in our survey, MSP sends 33.2 million passengers each year to 135 nonstop destinations. Its efficiency stems from a full-scale, 14-year overhaul completed in 2010 that brought $3.2 billion worth of improvements to its airfield, roadways, and structures. That includes two terminals totaling 3.3 million square feet with a skyway security checkpoint allowing travelers with only carry-on bags expedited access to gates.
No. 12 Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
Maybe it’s the balmy tropical breezes flowing through the check-in area, or the anything-goes bikini-and-flip-flops dress code, or the simple fact that Hawaii has the tendency to make people happy. Whatever the reason, the spirit of aloha pervades even the least likely places, making security screening a snap for Honolulu’s more than 20 million annual passengers. A new concourse and commuter terminal (part of a $750 million upgrade) are set to open by 2017.
No. 13 Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, NC (CLT)
This hub for 41.2 million annual travelers added 60,000 square feet of terminal space in 2012. A new security checkpoint aimed at reducing wait times brought the airport to a total of 20 screening lanes. Further plans include installing a new baggage system, with two miles of high-speed conveyors intended to speed inspection of checked luggage, scheduled for construction through August 2015.
No. 14 San Antonio International Airport, San Antonio, TX (SAT)
A larger, more accessible security checkpoint and better queue configurations are among the highlights of a $35 million renovation currently under way in San Antonio. When finished in 2014, three-decade-old Terminal A will more closely resemble the new 255,000-square-foot Terminal B, which opened in 2010. A master plan calls for adding another terminal by 2030 and connecting all three for easy passenger circulation throughout the terminal complex on both sides of security.
No. 15 Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
Passengers at this bustling Delta Air Lines hub keep TSA agents on their toes: so far, 18 undeclared guns have been discovered in luggage by airport screeners in 2013. Though the 50-plus-year-old facility ably handles 20.1 million travelers (and their weapons) each year, the future of SLC is even brighter. The airport plans a $1.8 billion redevelopment over the next decade that will consolidate its three terminals into one, simplify its operations, and improve customer service.
No. 16 Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL)
When nearby Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport opened in 1974, enplanements at Love Field dropped from an all-time high of more than 6.6 million to an all-time low of less than half a million in just two years. But the competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With a respectable 8.1 million passengers in 2012, Love Field sees just 14 percent of its big brother’s traffic—equaling millions fewer travelers backed up at security checkpoints.
No. 17 Pittsburgh International Airport, Pittsburgh, PA (PIT)
Officials who planned and built Pittsburgh’s unique X-shaped midfield terminal in 1992 hoped the facility would one day accommodate far more than the 8 million annual fliers it sees today. Though passenger numbers plummeted following 9/11 and the bankruptcy of the airport’s primary carrier, there is an upside to their spoiled dreams: the sprawling terminal is anything but cramped, capable of serving four times its current number of travelers.
No. 18 Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
This 78-year-old airport efficiently transported 40.4 million passengers in 2012, thanks to constant efforts to keep up with increasing demand. Improvements since 2005 include shifting security lanes to allow for better traffic flow in Terminal 2, the addition of four new security lanes in Terminal 3, and a total of 19 new security lanes and a new checkpoint in Terminal 4, which handles 80 percent of the airport’s travelers. A proposed $500 million modernization would extend through 2020.
No. 19 Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
Nearly 22.7 million people flew through BWI in 2012, setting an all-time record for the third consecutive year. To meet its growing needs, the airport added a new, nine-lane checkpoint in April 2013 and will soon complete work on a connector permitting travelers to move between concourses beyond security. An additional connector and checkpoint, part of a $125 million development plan, are slated for construction by 2016.
No. 20 Kansas City International Airport, Kansas City, MO (MCI)
Although passenger numbers dropped 4 percent in 2012—a trend that so far has continued into 2013—this Midwest airport serving nearly 10 million annual fliers has big plans for the future. A proposed $1.2 billion redevelopment would consolidate MCI’s three terminals into one, centralizing security into a single location and expediting check-in for quicker ticketing and bag drop. But the plan has sparked local controversy among some who believe the expense isn’t necessary for an already efficient airport.