More appealing TSA checkpoint coming to Charlotte

Similar makeover done at DFW airport.


by ELY PORTILLO / The Charlotte Observer

Posted on October 17, 2013 at 7:31 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 18 at 6:20 AM

The possible future of airport checkpoints is rolling out Friday at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, with more appealing furniture, comfortable spaces to put your shoes and belt back on, better directions – and more advertising.

Tampa-based airport advertising company SecurityPoint Media is betting there’s money to be made in making the airport security experience less of a hassle.

“We really feel this is an opportunity to redefine what can be expected in a security checkpoint,” said Joe Ambrefe, CEO of SecurityPoint. “We believe it’s going to reset the standard.”

Ambrefe flew in to Charlotte Douglas Thursday to oversee crews working overnight to install the new furnishings at Checkpoint E. Everyone has something to gain, he said.

SpringHill Suites by Marriott is sponsoring Checkpoint E and gains advertising exposure. The much-maligned Transportation Security Administration gets to try on a friendlier, less authoritarian face. Charlotte Douglas hopefully gets happier travelers, and $70,000 in new revenue. And passengers will get a nice place to sit as they “recompose” – SecurityPoint’s word for collecting one’s belongings and apparel after going through security.

The new checkpoints are opening this week at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Charlotte Douglas, the first two airports in the nation to have them. If the program is successful, it could roll out to more airports nationwide.

“Much more like the lobby of a four-star hotel than an industrial area,” is how Ambrefe describes the new ambiance. The checkpoint will have the same furniture you would find in a SpringHill Suites lobby.

Here’s what travelers at Charlotte Douglas will notice Friday at Checkpoint E:

• New seating before and after the checkpoint. Ambrefe said the furniture will be similar to what you would find in a SpringHill Suites hotel lobby – durable, but comfortable and appealing. No more “battleship-gray park benches,” he said. The area after the checkpoint where people reassemble themselves and their belongings after screenings will be a “recomposure area,” marked off with rugs and outfitted with new furniture.

• New video monitors with instructions on what to do in order to get through security quickly. “We do it in a way that’s entertaining, and delivering the information with very high production values,” said Ambrefe.

• New advertising for SpringHill Suites.

Charlotte’s new checkpoint won’t have some of the frills that Dallas/Fort Worth boasts, however. There won’t be directional speakers playing soothing music that only passengers waiting in line can hear, Ambrefe said. And, for now at least, there won’t be monitors giving people accurate wait times for different points in line. Ambrefe said he’s working to bring the wait-line timers to Charlotte Douglas.

His company pioneered advertising on security trays that go through airport X-ray machines. They started in 2005, and now provide the ad-emblazoned trays at more than 40 U.S. airports. SecurityPoint has had a contract to provide security bins and advertising at Charlotte Douglas since 2010, and the contract runs through December.

SpringHill Suites is spending about $500,000 on sponsoring the checkpoints.

“We were looking for an opportunity to bring our advertising to life,” said Craig Fowler, senior marketing director for SpringHill Suites. SecurityPoint and SpringHill Suites both say they’re looking to expand the upgraded checkpoints to more locations.

Fowler said the company considered the possible hazards of associating itself with a space many Americans detest. But he said the company took steps to make sure nothing SpringHill Suites sponsored at the checkpoints would slow customers down.

Since everything the hotel chain is backing is designed to make the experience more pleasant, Fowler said he’s confident travelers will leave feeling good about SpringHill Suites.

“I think we mitigated any of those risks,” he said. “We certainly had discussions around that.”

More time to shop

The checkpoint designs have been approved by the TSA, which has jurisdiction over the full-body scanners, X-ray machines and pat-downs that have become ubiquitous at U.S. airports since the Sept. 11 attacks.

If travelers get through security lines faster, Ambrefe said they might be in a better mood and have more time to spend money in the airport terminal.

That’s important, because concessions revenue is a major source of money for Charlotte Douglas. Last year, the airport took in $42 million, almost 20 percent of its total revenue, from concessions.

Airport spokeswoman Haley Gentry said Charlotte Douglas will look at whether the new checkpoint improves travelers’ speed and satisfaction, and could expand the concept to other checkpoints, space permitting. Checkpoint E is the newest checkpoint, and has significantly more space available than Checkpoint A on the opposite side of the terminal, for example.

While airport checkpoints don’t scream “fun,” Gentry said the serious design has served a purpose.

“Right now, it’s something that’s sterile, not a lot of bells and whistles,” said Gentry. “It’s been done that way to get people to pay attention to information they need to pay attention to.”

But Gentry said she’s optimistic the new checkpoint amenities will help make the experience better. “We’re interested to see the concept ourselves,” she said.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo