The airport of Zurich is undergoing some changes for some time now. With Switzerland joining the Schengen area in 2009, the requirement came up to make the terminals ready for these operations and separate Schengen and non-Schengen passengers. This meant that the Dock B had to be reconstructed. At the same time, plans were made to centralise the security checks. Both of these projects were combined into the project "ZRH 2010", named after the proposed finishing date. Some delays occurred, so that the inaugural for both parts was shifted to 1st December 2011, however the name stayed the same.
In order to test the new central security check some days before, Zurich Airport invited volunteers. The test took place on 26th November 2011 and here's a short report on it. First of all, I'd like to apologize for the picture quality and that there are only a few of them. It was announced that no photos may be taken inside the security area - as usual - so I only had my phone with me for some snapshots. Anyway:
The invitation to the test was placed on the Facebook page of Zurich Airport. It was supposed to start at 8 in the morning and, including a break, was supposed to last until 3 pm. No special requirements for anyone wanting to participate, you would just need to be able to stand or walk for a longer time. One only needed to send an email with name and address and then wait for the confirmation. When I did so, I got the confirmation only a few hours later.
So on the morning of the 26th I drove to the airport. For once I did not take the direct train from my hometown, as the night was quite short. Parking lot P60 was the one of choice. It is a bit further from the terminal, but closer to the meeting point. Usually I would have chosen P3 to do some spotting later on, but with the amount of fog we had in the days before, I didn't expect any decent photos anyway.
The registration and instructions were in the Office Center, top floor. Upon registration, everyone received a green wristband for identification of the test participants, a fake boarding card on blue, green or yellow paper) and some vouchers for the visitor's terrace, a tour of the airport and for the shops in the airport:
Boarding card: ZRH to SKG - today not to Thessaloniki, but to the SicherheitsKontrollGebäude (Security check building)
After registration a food point was set up where coffee (unfortunately no tea, so nothing hot for me that day), water, chocolate bars, brownies, Gipfeli (croissants) were offered - for free, of course. After the food point was the presentation room, equipped with lots of chairs and also many people were already waiting. In the end it turned out that about 400 people were invited respectively had gotten the confirmation that they can participate - and really all of them showed up! On the chairs were papers with some additional information on one side and a feedback form on the other side.
The guides were introduced and in the following presentation we were shown a video which explained what the rebuilding measures of Dock B and the SKG were about and how the flows of passengers from different areas will be handled in the future. The staff were really great, keeping the atmosphere relaxed. The schedule had changed a little, removing the lunch break, but in exchange everything was to be over at 1 pm already. The test would not involve any baggage checks, because the procedures for those would still be the same as at the current security checks. Instead all sensors, displays and other equipment would be tested today. It was kind of a stress test because - as one of the staff said - "If we walk through with 10 persons, it will surely work. We need to know what happens with more people". So the number of 400 people was chosen, as this is the maximum capacity of the queuing area on each floor. At the end of the presentation, there was time to ask questions about the new building, which were plenty, so that after about 20 minutes the session was stopped, but not without the offer to talk through anything after the test.
We were then guided over to the new SKG. The building is located between check-ins 1 and 2. The building comprises four floors numbered 0 to 3. Level 0 is the heavy traffic relief level for check-in 1, Level 1 the normal check-in 1 level, Level 2 the normal Check-in 2/3 level, and Level 3 the heavy traffic relief level for check-in 2/3. Accordingly, there are two entries where the boarding passes are checked automatically, one serving the check-in 1 side (two groups of 3 and 4 machines respectively), the other one serving those coming from check-ins 2 and 3 (one group of 8 machines). On each block of the scanners, there is one staffed position.
Check-in 1, Block 1. Priority lane:
Check-in 1, Block 2. Economy lane:
On each level there are 7 checkpoints, so 28 in total. All levels are connected with escalators. From the queuing area, doors lead to the checkpoints. These are equipped with screens showing red or green symbols to direct the passengers to those checkpoints which ware currently empty or less crowded. Except for the leftmost, two checkpoints each share one metal detector. I am skeptical about this arrangement as I have seen it not work in other airports (Cardiff comes to mind, even though it is a much smaller airport.) Body scanners are not installed and presumably will only be if it's made a mandatory requirement at some point.
Overview of the check area, sorry for the small picture
In the front area of the checkpoint, benches are installed for those who need to take off shoes. carts for the smaller articles will be provided in the same manner as today, i.e. on carts which are switched between the front and the end part of the check line. after the x-ray machine, the bags and crates go down either a sloped way or a level way, the latter for additional screening. The slope should help to avoid crowds forming directly after the machine. This makes sense, especially since the compartments for additional personal screening are just on the other side of the walkway. The cabins are also shared between the two lines. There are three cabins, made of wood panels, of which one has a wider curtain opening, apparently for wheelchair use. It is just strange to me that the first cabin's curtains are only closing on three sides, so that when you are in this one, anyone about 5'6" or taller can look over the front part and see who's being screened. I commented this on the feedback form, maybe it will be changed. Or it was a feature for something else, I don't know.
Behind the checkpoints in a central position is a checking device for explosives. I have my camera checked every time I go through Frankfurt airport and more recently also in Hamburg and I'm dreading that there you have to go quite a distance and to a separate room. This seems much more straightforward here. Also at the end of each line there is another bench and a table where you can sort your stuff after you picked it up. Then you are released directly into the fist duty free shop. It seems to become a standard design these days to have them directly after the security check and actually it was one of my questions to the planners of the building: will there be a corridor through the shop or do you have to stroll down the aisles with your carry-on stuff? The answer was that there will be a corridor because "First of all we are an airport." We will see later if it lives up to that promise, for now the shop was not open.
All levels are connected by escalators.
So much for the introduction. Now it was time to gather at the Check-in 2/3 side and start the test. As mentioned before, everyone got a fake boarding pass with a distinctive colour. Green ones for supposed economy pax, blue one for Business/First and yellow ones for staff. According to this we lined up in front of the machines.
Normal operations going on:
The area was cordoned off for the test, but still some of the "real" passengers managed to queue behind our group instead of going to the correct checkpoint. But since they didn't wear the green wristband which all of the test persons were given they were quickly identified and informed where to go. It shows that doing such a test while the normal ops are running is not the easiest thing to do. The present checkpoint is only 20 metres from the new one, so no big deal. It has 2 staffed booths and one automatic machine and it was interesting to see that most people lined up at the booths with only two persons going through the machine in ten minutes - and later on, there was a queue forming at the machine and no one waiting for the booths. Humans are a strange kind of animal...
The checkpoint in use. Note the machine behind and left of the trash bin, not being used
Anyway, now it was time for us to start. Our boarding passes had a bar code which needed to be scanned. What worked well for the Economy pax, did not go so well for the First/Business pax and crew. Many of the were guided to the staffed booth and the last ones were helped out with different passes. Not such a good start, but in the end that's what this test is for. However, this was the only time where the separation was used. For the queuing area, everyone stood in the same line. Although we didn't have any luggage with us, the area seems to be big enough to house 300 people per floor. What was easy to notice and gave a good feeling is the amount of lighting. The area is very bright, even in the lower levels where hardly any natural light is present. However, it seems to be quite warm light, at least it doen't give the feeling of an industrial hall. Together with the wooden furniture it gave a very comfortable atmosphere.
For now we were only supposed to walk through the area ad describe what we liked or not. AS mentioned, the wood and lighting were welcomed. One person complained about the "new" smell, but hey - what do you expect from a new building? We were asked about the music played in front of the checks. But nearly noone had heard anything, so apparently the volume has to go up a bit. The same procedure took place on the other levels. It all went very smoothly, although we had to stop every once in a while - but that was only for documentation purposes. The whole test was accompanied by the AirportTV team and also some airlines' personnel - but I didn't recognize anyone well-known. The commands were first given by megaphone, but it turned out that it is too hard to understand anything, so the PA system was also tested today. And it works great, everything that was said was clearly audible. I doubt that it will be used much, but at least it seems to work if needed.
When we got to level 0, the group was split into smaller groups to test the capacity sensors of the checkpoint area. Each line is only designed for a certain number of persons and this is where the screens in front of the line come into play. While they normally show person on a green background, this changed to red when the capacity was reached. This is to signal that you are supposed to enter at another line. Now the screens are quite easy to see when you are standing further down the queue. But directly in front of the security lines, they seem to be hanging too high. This comment was taken and maybe there will be a change either to the position or to the design of the display so that it's easier to notice it. But at least the function appeared to be flawless. The screen changed to red when there were enough people in and it changed back to green when someone left the line.
the only error we had on this level was that the light was dimmed for the night setting and no one knew why. It changed back to normal for some minutes and then dimmed again. So apparently here was something wrong in the system, but nothing a technician could not fix in short time.
Now it was just after 12 o'clock, but we were already done with the mandatory part. This meant that everyone who wanted could leave, but 100 volunteers (actually, we were all there voluntarily, so these were somehow extra-volunteers...) were needed for another check. I decided to join the group. What followed was the test for the boarding pass check from the check-in 1 side. With the problems we had earlier, it was decided to use real boarding passes now. So all of a sudden we all belonged to a big "Meier" family of over 100, going to Pristina on a Hello Charter flight FHE 888 (See the first photo for the boarding pass) Using these on the first block of machines, which will eventually become the priority block, everything worked fine and only a handful of people were sent to the manned booth for check. We were requested to leave the security area immediately again, so no further walk through the checkpoints. The system was set back and everyone was checked once more and again no problems. We were told that our fake passes were only tested on green paper earlier and that apparently the blue and yellow paper played a role in the malfunction earlier. We then also tested the second block of machines, which will become the Economy block. Also no problems here. And since we still had time, we also passed the machines at the Check-in 2/3 side twice more, this time also without any problems.
So this was it. Apparently the test was a success, given that mos things worked and we didn't use all the time we had. The airport personnel offered to answer some questions, if there were any left - and there were some, but not too many. Some woman had concerns about the recycling situation, because there is only one trash bin in front of the checkpoint and so PET bottles would not be separated from everything else. I spoke to Pawel (one of the staff) and told him about my concerns that the new SKG might be of similar type as in Hamburg. For those who don't know it, Hamburg also has a centralised security, but it is crammed between the terminals and also very close to the entrance doors. He confirmed they knew about it and tried to avoid this narrow setup. Successful, I would say. The other questions I don't remember, but all in all they were just about details.
So tomorrow the building will be in real use for the first time. Let's hope everything works as well as this test.
A big thank you to Michael, Pawel, Anigna and all the others who guided us through this day and made it a great experience!
Comments are always welcome, maybe even by someone who has the chance to use the new building in the next days?