Ads land on bottom of the bins

Published January 12, 2007

Air travelers are bombarded with advertising from all sides. Ads on ticket jackets and ads on tray tables. One airline even tried to sell advertising on air sickness bags.

Get ready for one more pitch: ads inside plastic bins where passengers put shoes, laptop computers and other personal belongings for X-ray screening at airports.

The Transportation Security Administration TSA last month gave companies permission to sell the ads and share revenues with participating airports. Under the rules, ad companies must provide the TSA with trays, plastic carts and stainless steel tables for security checkpoints, potentially worth millions of dollars.

A small St. Petersburg company, SecurityPoint Media, came up with the idea, won a patent and has tested the ads in four airports, including Los Angeles International, under TSA supervision.

SecurityPoint's only advertiser so far is Rolodex, maker of the ubiquitous telephone number organizer. SecurityPoint president Joe Ambrefe Jr. envisions customers selling computers, cell phones, luxury autos and watches on the 12-inch-by-17-inch ads glued to the inside bottom of bins.

Why? Because every traveler puts treasured possessions into trays - 2.5 per passenger on average - and watches them like hawks. "You're waiting for it. You're focused on it," says Ambrefe.

But some airport directors, including those at the Tampa Bay area's two commercial airports, say they don't want anything distracting travelers moving through checkpoints.

"We want people to get through security as quickly as possible, not reading advertising," says Louis Miller, executive director at Tampa International Airport.

TSA officials say the six-month test in Los Angeles suggested the ads didn't slow down passengers. The longest checkpoint wait times for last holiday season dropped by 90 seconds to seven minutes from a year earlier, said spokesman Nico Melendez, though he acknowledged any number of variables could have cut the time.

The free trays, carts and tables did help TSA officers work more efficiently, he said.

They suffered fewer back injuries by moving trays on carts instead of lifting them back to the front of the line. Custom tables gave travelers enough room to load trays and collect belongings quickly, said Melendez.

SecurityPoint researched to find the ideal space - two six-foot tables end to end- and made sure they were 34 inches high so trays slid smoothly into X-ray machines without hitting the lip, said Ambrefe. The company paid $250,00 for the 3,000 bins, 288 carts and 190 tables in Los Angeles.

Founded in 2002, SecurityPoint now consists of Ambrefe, partner Doug Linehan and an office assistant. The company expects to add 18 more positions, said Ambrefe, who says he's speaking with more than 40 large airports.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813)226-3384.