Dave Schwartz and Brad Freda were catching the midday flight from Tampa International Airport to Baltimore. That's where their shared experience ended.
Schwartz wore the uniform of a business traveler: dark business suit, gold watch and roll-aboard bag. Freda had family vacation written all over him: T-shirt, baseball cap and all-terrain Graco stroller.
They landed in different security lines Tuesday during the launch of a popular new Transportation Security Administration screening procedure throughout TIA. The "self-select" program lets travelers separate themselves into groups based on their experience.
Schwartz picked the expert line for seasoned fliers packing light. Freda steered into the line for families with small kids and people carrying medical liquids that require special screening. There's also a line for leisure travelers who might need reminding to remove shoes or take out their boarding passes.
First tested in Salt Lake City last year, the program is now in 47 U.S. airports. Screening passengers who move through lines at different speeds lets the TSA move slightly more people through security checkpoints at peak times.
Expert lines predictably move faster, while family lines go slower, said Brian Rumble, deputy operations director for security at TIA. But the real goal is making checkpoint screenings less stressful.
"It's about customer service," he said.
Just ask Freda. At a Baltimore airport checkpoint Saturday, he and his wife felt the exasperation of other travelers behind them as they struggled to get a jacket off their 10-month-old daughter, Madelynn. Then, the folded stroller wouldn't fit into an X-ray machine.
"You can see them making those 'Oh, great, I'm going to wait longer' faces," he said. "Families are more understanding."
The morning's soft opening at TIA wasn't a true test of the new system. Passenger traffic is typically low on Tuesdays, particularly in early November.
"It's hard to see the benefit when it's slow," Rumble said.
Security officers hired by the airlines direct travelers into lines, based on how they look and how much stuff they're carrying.
But ultimately, fliers decide where they queue up. That's one thing that grates on frequent fliers.
Lisa Wheeler of Tierra Verde still has a bad taste from being delayed behind a family of four in an expert lane at Orlando International Airport in September.
The mother put a purse — with her boarding pass inside — through the X-ray machine. After she and the purse were screened a second time, an officer alerted the teenage son that he had placed his laptop into the machine while still inside its case, another no-no.
"When it works the way it's supposed to work, it's great," Wheeler said. "But too many people just go in the (expert) line because it's shorter."
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.