Airport screening lines wouldn't be so stressful and frustrating without all those other people. At least the ones who don't behave the way you do.
By the Thanksgiving holiday, passengers at Tampa International Airport will get to choose a line based on how much they know about checkpoint rules and how big a hurry they're in.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program, introduced in February and now at 36 U.S. airports, directs travelers to divide into three groups, each with a different shape and colored symbol.
Expert travelers familiar with the drill — shoes off, pockets empty, liquids in 3-ounce bottles inside a quart-size, zip-top bag — go into the faster black diamond lane.
Families with small kids and strollers, people needing special assistance and novice travelers can line up in the slow-moving green circle line. Casual travelers who fly only a few times a year and don't want to be rushed can select the blue square lane.
Tampa International already has separate lines for families with strollers and travelers in wheelchairs. But the new system should speed up screening for people in a hurry and lower anxiety levels for everyone, said Louis Miller, executive director at Tampa International.
"Families like it, they don't want to feel like someone's standing behind them tapping their foot,'' he said. "It's better for business travelers, quicker and they're not waiting. It's better for everybody.''
TSA officers work at the front of lines to help direct travelers. But passengers have the final say where they go. Some inevitably end up slowing down the fast lane.
"Who doesn't think themselves an expert?'' said Joe Brancatelli, a travel columnist and publisher of a business travel Web site. "You're going to get an individual who (reaches the checkpoint and) says, 'I have to take my shoes off?' '' Still, he said, most business travelers think the new system works better than one in which everyone is run through the same lines.
Expert lines are moving faster, with 21 percent more travelers moving through per hour than under the one-size-fits-all system, says the TSA. Lines for families predictably go slower. But the rate at which their carry-on bags set off X-ray machine alarms is down 11 percent.
"There are fewer prohibited items, and we do fewer bag searches,'' said Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman. "They have a few more moments to (remember) their child packed the shampoo bottle that's too large.''
In response to suggestions from travelers, the agency launched tests in February at Salt Lake City and Denver. Officials dubbed the system "Black Diamond Self-Select Lanes'' after the ski resort symbols that mark expert-level slopes.
Orlando International was added in March, and the TSA expects the system will be operating at more than 50 airports by Oct. 1. About 300,000 passengers per day — 15 percent of the traveling public — use self-select lanes.
Tampa International should have its first lanes open in two months. The system will be running in all four airside terminals in time for the Thanksgiving travel season, Miller said.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.