Behind the scenes of Midway Airport’s TSA baggage security check

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After Sept 11, the Transportation Security Administration was created to perform a difficult task.   Airport screeners have to check each and every suitcase for explosives or dangerous items.

But massive machines with CAT-SCAN capabilities have made the job less labor intensive.

It's a system that can handle 30,000 suitcases a day.  With 12,000 feet of conveyor belts, equal to 40 football fields in length, and run by a thousand motors and sophisticated smart computers. And other than the ticket agent putting your bag into the system, most of the time, your suitcase doesn't get touched by human hands until it reaches the airplane.

Michael McCarthy of the Transportation Security Administration says it takes about 5 and a half minutes for your checked bag to travel the system.  About 85% of the bags going through Midway Airport pass through the massive CAT-SCAN machines without any issues.  The massive Explosive Detection System performs an instant analysis of the contents in your bag.

But about 15% of the suitcases raise an electronic red-flag and draw special attention. Most of the time it will clear the additional scrutiny and an even smaller percentage of bags get pulled aside.

“If there's some suspect item in there, there's some human interaction with an on-line screen resolution process,” McCarthy says.  “If we still can't resolve that alarm, we send it to the resolution area."

The smart system of conveyors kicks the suspicious bag to the side and TSA agents open the bag, inspecting the contents and swab items that get tested for trace residues of explosives or other prohibited items.

But there's plenty you can bring onboard this busy holiday season. The TSA reminds the half-a-million passengers expected to travel through Midway Thanksgiving week to prepare before you arrive at the airport to avoid unpleasant surprises.

"This Thanksgiving, you can bring pies or cakes.  But if anything's liquid, if you can smear it, pour it or squeeze it, we ask that you put that in your checked luggage,” McCarthy said.

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