ATLANTA - It is the busiest airport in the world and arguably the busiest airport for security. The TSA said they screened more than 14 million bags last year and Thursday they pulled back the curtain on how they handle keeping travelers safe.
Most travelers who check their luggage do not give much thought to what happens once the luggage disappears behind the curtain, but TSA officials do.
"These machines are very sophisticated. They're programmed with algorisms to find anything that would be a threat to aviation," said TSA spokesperson Mark Howell.
The TSA took News Radio 106.7’s Christy Hutchings downstairs to the heart of their screen operation to find out what exactly goes on behind the curtain. The first room baggage passes through is an x-ray screening room. Some of those bags will get flagged and then head down the belt to another room.
"Here we are in what we call TSA resolution room or final inspection area," Howell said during the tour.
It’s the room that TSA agents will hand search bags, many times it’s just an over-packed bags or items in a jar. Once the bag is cleared, the TSA leaves a note in the bag and sends it on to the airline.
Howell said while Atlanta has not ever uncovered a bomb, they have found pieces.
"We've had components, we've had IED training kits, so we have had potential threats," said Howell.
Back in the airport, many travelers just hope their luggage gets there with them and do not even think about the process happening unless asked.
"It's reassuring to know that there are steps taken back there. I know they open bags, I see those tags come through on mine, but beyond that, I don't know what steps are being taken. It's good to know they do stuff like that," said passenger Sal Sandate.
In all, a bag at Atlanta’s airport could travel potentially six miles on a belt before reaching the airplane. And while the system is sophisticated, TSA officials said they will be upgrading the system by the end of the year.
"We have 42 machines right now which clear 400 bags an hour. We're going to start a project to switch out the equipment and put in machines that can get 650 bags through per hour. And give us better image technology," said Howell.
Each one of those machines will cost roughly a million dollars.