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TSA looks beyond a single-file solution for airport lines

Jenn Rasmussen carries Blake, 4 months, through the family security lane at Denver International Airport recently.

Denver Post

Jenn Rasmussen carries Blake, 4 months, through the family security lane at Denver International Airport recently.

How many times have authority figures — teachers, guys with badges, your parents — told you not to cut in line? It's rude, crude, socially unacceptable.

But that's essentially what the government is allowing travelers to do in an effort to speed up screening lines at a handful of airports.

The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, tested a system for the past month at Denver and Salt Lake City airports that creates separate security checkpoint lanes for road warriors and the bane of their existence: parents with kids. The program, dubbed the "Black Diamond Self-Select Lanes," made its Florida debut Tuesday at Orlando International Airport, ground zero for family vacationers. Tampa might follow suit sometime later.

It works by using three lanes: one for slow-moving families and people needing assistance, another for occasional travelers and a Black Diamond lane for "expert" fliers (like the highest skill-level ski slopes, get it?).

Color-coded signs direct travelers "based on their travel skills and knowledge," the TSA says. No one will force families into a particular lane. Screeners might suggest that parents with kids avoid mixing with hard-charging Type A business travelers.

The goal is to keep everyone happy and relaxed, says TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz.

"The expert travelers who know to whip out their laptop and (liquid container) bags get stressed out by people moving slow," she says. "The people in front of them get stressed out by people pressuring them."

TSA officials said about 40 percent of travelers in Salt Lake City chose the expert lanes. The Black Diamond lines were two to four minutes shorter on average than others during peak times. Family lines were — big surprise — slower than average.

The agency is testing a different scheme at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif. Travelers without carry-on bags or ones that fit under an airline seat can use a special, faster "zip lane." With fewer bags to search, the TSA says the express lane moves at twice the speed of other security lines.

Air travelers aren't hugging and singing folk songs just yet. Fast-lane fliers still must remove laptops from their cases and remove shoes and jackets. End up behind the guy who loses a boarding pass or leaves on his 5-pound belt buckle, and no express line will save you.

An anonymous Denver International employee reported little improvement with the new system in a comment on the TSA's blog (tsa.gov/blog). All the lines would move faster if the agency fielded more experienced X-ray screeners, the employee wrote.

"I think the TSA is more (or) less trying to point the finger at the passengers & instead of taking a closer look at their employees," read the posting.

Tampa International tries to keep lines moving with a separate lane for people in wheelchairs and kids in strollers at each airside checkpoint. "It helps a lot," airport executive director Louis Miller said.

He will consider trying the TSA's new programs. But the idea of giving one group of customers — business travelers — a faster, better line makes him a little queasy.

My heart agrees. My head says put me in the fast lane.

Information from Business Travel News was used in this report.

Which is your lane?

The Transportation Security Administration tested a program for the past month at Denver and Salt Lake City airports that steers passengers to security lines. The program made its Florida debut Tuesday in Orlando. Tampa might follow.

Families, groups and those with special needs.

"Casual travelers'' with multiple carry-on bags.

Frequent travelers and those with little luggage.

TSA looks beyond a single-file solution for airport lines 03/18/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 12:20pm]
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