For my At the Airport column on USATODAY.com this month, I took a look at a program that puts advertising inside the airport checkpoint bins at more than two dozen airports – and how that just may help airports – and the TSA – make the checkpoint experience just a tiny bit better.
Next time you’re inching your way through the line at airport security checkpoint, take a look around.
Do the plastic bins where people plop their laptops, carry-on bags and slip-off shoes look worn and industrial gray or do they look crisp, white and new?
At the majority of the more than 400 U.S. airports, the checkpoints are stocked with those generic, government-issued gray bins. They’re boring, yes, but they do what the TSA needs them to do: they contain your stuff as it sits on the belt that passes through the x-ray machine.
But the checkpoints at more than two dozen airports have those crisp, white bins. In those airports the bins do not only what the TSA needs them to do, they also save the TSA time and money. And because there are advertisements inside these bins, they generate income for the airports.
Not bad for a bunch of recyclable plastic.
The advertisement-bearing bins are the brainchild of Joe Ambrefe, CEO of Security Point Media (SPM) who came up with the idea not long after 9/11, while standing in a long line at an airport security checkpoint.
He realized everyone had to grab a bin and that an advertisement inside each bin was a sure-fire way for a company to reach the desirable demographic of business and leisure travelers.
Ambrefe worked up a plan to provide free bins (and carts to move those bins around) in exchange for the right to sell advertisements on the bins. He chose white bins because “color is an emotive issue and white is a happier color than industrial gray.” He also promised to replace the bins every 90 days with brand new units so that “the components are opening day fresh all the time.”
Testing began in 2007 and now the Bin Advertising Program is in operation Orlando, San Diego, Seattle-Tacoma, JFK, LaGuardia and 21 other airports nationwide and is approved by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for all airports.
The TSA likes the program because it saves the agency money: the free bins represent an overall savings of between $200,000 and $700,000 on the costs of replacing bins. And TSA spokesperson Greg Soule said the program also “reduced injuries associated with lifting bins and improved durability and aesthetics of the checkpoint equipment.”
Airports like the program because it’s generates a bit of extra money and helps improve the checkpoint experience for passengers.
At Los Angeles International Airport, one of the program’s first test sites, spokesperson Nancy Castles says ad revenues helped purchase “the long tables, seating, floor mats, wheeled bin carriers, stanchions, and other equipment that helps streamline the TSA passenger security screening process.” The airport also gets to place its own advertising in some of the bins and is currently promoting its LAX FlyAway bus service.
At Nashville International, an early test airport which officially signed up with the program in 2010, spokesperson Emily Richard said, “We have experienced significant and consistent improvement of the appearance of the checkpoint since SPM started managing the process.” She added that year-to-date income from the program is $7,500.
And in Houston, where the Hobby and George Bush Intercontinental airports joined the program in June, Houston Airport System’s concessions manager Randy Goodman described the benefits as “bright new bins and a streamlined process,” and a share of the advertising income that’s should net the airport about $26,000 for the first six months.”
Even better bins?
Ambrefe hopes to expand the bin advertising program to other airports and continues to tweak the system. He said that while the company has not considered providing separate bins for shoes –a suggestion put forth by some groups concerned about checkpoint health risks – “antimicrobial products for use at the checkpoints are in research.”
In the meantime, both Ambrefe and the TSA might make note of the checkpoint procedures in place at Canada’s Prince Rupert Airport, in northern British Columbia. The airport has color-coded bins for boots and shoes and, for the past 18 years, the security team has cleaned all the bins after each of the six daily flights.
“It’s nice to know that when you lay down your suit jacket or coat that the bin has not previously contained any dirty boots or other contaminated item,” said airport manager Richard Reed.
“The bins are cleaned to protect the health of the screening agents and the traveling public,” said team leader Virginia Toro. “We treat the checkpoint as we do our home: clean is the rule of the day.”
Here are the 26 airports currently in the TSA-approved Bin Advertising Program
1. Jacksonville International Airport, Jacksonville, Florida
2. John Wayne-Orange County Airport, Santa Ana, California
3. Lafayette Regional Airport, Lafayette, Louisiana
4. Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California
5. Lovell Field Airport, Chattanooga, Tennessee
6. McGhee Tyson Airport, Knoxville, Tennessee
7. Nashville International Airport, Nashville, Tennessee
8. Ontario International Airport, Ontario, California
9. Reno/Tahoe International Airport, Reno, Nevada
10. Richmond International Airport, Richmond, Virginia
11. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Seattle, Washington
12. Tulsa International Airport, Tulsa, Oklahoma
13. Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, Wichita, Kansas
14. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, North Carolina
15. Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado
16. Newark Liberty International Airport, Newark, New Jersey
17. John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens, New York
18. LaGuardia Airport, Queens, New York
19. Orlando International Airport, Orland, Florida
20. Chicago Midway International Airport, Chicago, Illinois
21. Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois
22. San Diego International Airport, San Diego, CA
23. McGhee Tyson Airport, Louisville, Tennessee
24. Houston Intercontinental
25. Houston Hobby
26. Miami International Airport