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Pack right for travel

By Ed Brock

Jim Hartzke is a regular traveler at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but he's not too perturbed to hear that the airport expects to see record numbers of travelers this summer.

"I don't recall the difference in the number of people," said Hartzke, who lives in St. Louis, Mo., and has passed through the airport in both summer and winter. "But it seems like it's awfully busy here."

"Awfully busy" would aptly describe how the airport will be in June and July if predictions by Hartsfield-Jackson officials come true. During an average month 6.9 million passengers pass through the airport, a number that is more than the population of Tennessee, according to the airport administrators.

In June and July that number is expected to rise to 8 million passengers a month.

"If that does happen that will be more passengers than we've ever had at this airport or any airport in aviation," said Hartsfield-Jackson spokeswoman Felicia Browder.

Hartzke travels on business and said he doesn't plan to take any extra measures to expedite his passage through Hartsfield-Jackson, other than making sure he wears shoes that will pass through the security checkpoints.

However, he's been surprised by what doesn't draw the attention of the Transportation Security Administration screeners.

"Sometimes your bag goes through with a screwdriver or knife in it and they don't detect it," said Hartzke, who often carries such tools for his work.

But for the most part such contraband is found, and when it is the passenger has three options, said TSA spokesman Christopher White. Take it back to their car, give it to somebody who isn't traveling or voluntarily abandon it with the security screeners.

"It becomes government property when you abandon it," White said.

During a 12 hour period at Hartsfield-Jackson the screeners had collected a sizable quantity of screwdrivers and knives, along with scissors, multi-tool kits and more unusual items such as a set of massive sockets for a wrench and a miniature golf club from the Master's Tournament in Augusta.

"That has to be taken because it can be used to bludgeon somebody," said TSA Screening Supervisor Jamie Covil.

As for the strangest thing that Covil has seen someone try to pass through security, he said it would have to be the fully fueled and functional chainsaw.

"Actually we get a lot of chainsaws," Covil said.

There are also a number of cigarette lighters left behind with the screeners, and there may be even more left there in the future. Currently passengers are allowed to carry a maximum of four lighters through the checkpoints, but starting on April 14 all lighters will be prohibited. Only matches will still be allowed, White said.

All the abandon property is shipped to a company with which the TSA has a contract for disposing of the items.

Passengers can expedite their passage through the airport by checking ahead of time about what is prohibited. Information like that is played in a video played on televisions placed near the security lines that advises travelers on how to get through the lines quickly.

A list of prohibited items and other tips for passing through the screening lines quickly are available at the airport's Web site, www.atlanta-airport.com.

Hartsfield-Jackson is taking other steps to handle the crowds better this summer, Browder said.

They are experimenting with different voices and phrasing for announcements on the airport's "people movers," the internal trains that transport passengers to and from the gates. This is a response to feedback from travelers who said the previous announcements were sometimes hard to understand.

Also, information kiosks are being installed around the airport and volunteers will be on hand to tell people where things are.

As part of the airport's new focus on customer service, the Atlanta police officers working security and traffic around the airport are taking a new approach as well. Browder said they wrote 21,000 fewer tickets in 2004 than in 2003, in part because they are issuing more verbal warnings first.