Eugene Airport improvements aim to ease transfer for travelers

EUGENE, Ore. - New $5 million inline baggage screening machines will reduce manual labor for staff at the Eugene Airport and speed up the process of clearing bags for departing flights.

"Before, the passengers used to have to take their bags to us. We had to pick them up, put them on the machine, pick them up off the machine, put them on a cart. The airlines had to grab them, bring them over to their counter, put them on the belt," said Don Wilson, assistant federal security director for TSA in Eugene and Redmond. "It was very labor intensive."

For travelers, the most immediate change will be the removal of the old TSA station from the lobby.

And there are a lot more travelers using the Eugene Airport: 2013 was the third record year in a row, with nearly 900,000 passengers passing through EUG - a 7 percent increase over 2012.

The next two phases of improvements will also impact travelers.

Phase 2 will change the security checkpoint area and lobby upstairs in Gate A. The escalators will be moved west to accommodate more lines. That work will likely start this summer.

"We don't like people waiting in security lines," said Tim Doll, the airport director. "The more we can make it an easier transfer from them from automobile to plane, and the happier they are, the more people that are going to come here, the more the flights will be offered."

That goes for travelers coming or going from Eugene: Phase 3 will upgrade the baggage claim area.

"You can have a United Airlines San Francisco flight, Frontier Airlines Denver flight and a Horizon flight from Seattle all with bags on the belt at the same time," Doll said of the current situation. "Anywhere from 150 to 250 people standing around this belt, and then they're pushing through each other trying to see if their bag's up front."

A new belt and a replacement for the existing belt will help unite arriving passengers with their baggage.

"It will come in overhead, and it will stay inside on the bag belt inside the terminal building and just keep going around," Doll said. "It won't go back outside."

Doll says the airport is the first impression visitors have of Eugene.

"If we provide bad service when they get off the plane, if the terminal is dirty, if something's broken, they're going to look back and say wow what kind of city or what kind of community is this."