TSA Tries Letting Travelers Decide What Type of Passenger They Are

Readers of the TSA’s blog know that the agency has recently decided to roll out a program in Salt Lake City that has different lanes for different types of travelers. 08_02_17 tsalanesAs you can see at left, passengers will have three different choices. While the idea seems to be a good one, and I never have a problem with trying new things, I don’t think this one is going to end well.

The idea here is that when you get to the checkpoint at Salt Lake City, you will see the signs for Families/Special Assistance, Casual Travelers, or Expert Travelers. As you can imagine, the family line will take the longest as people take forever to get their remove their kids from their bags, stack laptops on top of each other like a Jenga game, and pour liquids into their shoes . . . or something like that. The expert lines are meant for the business traveler who knows the drill and has everything ready by the time he or she reaches the front of the line. All sounds great, right? Not so fast.

The biggest problem here is that there’s no enforcement – just self selection and that won’t work.

It would be great if everyone acted like my friend Benet Wilson over at Towers and Tarmacs. Benet may be a pro traveler, but when she has her daughter, she’d go in the slow line. Something tells me not everyone will be so kind. Instead, people will just act in their own self interest.

Let’s say you’re traveling on Sunday afternoon. You can bet there will be a ton of families, so that line will be long. What will stop someone from going to the other shorter lines? Not much. And what about the business traveler who thinks he’s a pro, but in actuality completely forgets to pull out his laptop and liquids? That’ll slow things down.

I just see too many problems here unless someone is going to regulate the flow of passengers. The good news is, however, that this is just a test. If it works, then cool. We’ll see it elsewhere, I’m sure. If not, well, it’ll go away and we’ll forget that it ever happened.


14 Responses to TSA Tries Letting Travelers Decide What Type of Passenger They Are

  1. Nick says:

    I agree. And to some extent, the elite lines that exist at many airport already serve this purpose since by definition those travelers are (generally) more ‘experienced’. The TSA plan is good in theory, but it comes up just a little short on the execution side.

    However, I love the downhill skiing allusion with those signs! Nice touch, TSA.

  2. JS says:

    I agree, it is worth a try. I am not sure what line I will go to as a frequent traveler when I travel with my child. If there is a line out the door on the family line, I probably will skip it.

    The real fiasco that really gets me is that the government has a special line for id check for people who have a card belonging to various airline’s frequent flyer status groups. What’s next, your Starbucks card? Blockbuster video? Don’t even get me started on the “Clear” card line.

  3. JS says:

    PS, they are doing this in Denver as well, hence the skiing symbols.

  4. Dan Hill says:

    Note to mention the fact that even expert travellers won’t know the latest arbitrary rule. I took a flight out of London Heathrow earlier this month and they told us to leave our laptops in our bags!

  5. DRG says:

    They might as well have labeled these three categories “Breeders,” “Dumb Asses” and “Smart Folks”

  6. Hmm.. perhaps they’re using this to assign staff differently? The really friendly folks go on the kids line. The slightly gruffer people go to to the others?

    Hopefully they’re not using this to decide how to screen people..

  7. james says:

    Well back to the skiing analogies: anyone who’s been slopeside knows how one feels to be a newbie hopefully stuck in the middle of an expert double black diamond run while others go shooshing by them or pointing at them from the chairlift.

    And you’ll also get your ass handed to you if you’re a dick who goes skiing at top speed through a populated green “slow zone” full of kids and slow riders.

    Perhaps the same will play out for those who clog up the expert lines yet can’t seem to empty that last pocket of change? Or conversely a jerk who heads to the family line just because its shorter – only to sit waiting for bumbler after bumbler to clear the metal detecter.

  8. CF says:

    Nicholas – They specifically say in the blog post that this will not impact how people are screened.

  9. JJ says:

    SLC (UA terminal) has a bad physical checkpoint situation; there is no elite lane and thus everyone is forced into the same queue. Also, in ski season, SLC gets VERY crowded during peak travel times. Also, people there tend to be nicer — on average — than at other (let’s say NYC) airports. There is a good chance a program like this will work there. I do not think this will work very well at less friendly airports. The “who are they to tell me I can’t stand in the expert traveler line” mentality will prevail. All it takes is one person/group to be obviously in the wrong line to make it a free-for-all.

  10. james says:

    If we can tolerate another analogy…

    During peak periods some local coffee shops have a separate line for those order only drip/brewed coffee. Whereas more complicated orders (mochas, lattes, expressos,) use the regular line.

    It works there. Maybe it will carry over…

  11. SteveK says:

    Enough conjecture. I am sitting in the SLC terminal right now waiting out a 2 hour departure delay. It’s Sunday, and the start of apres-ski rush. In terminal 1, all airlines EXCEPT Delta, they had the lines set up. The blue lane, Causal traveller, was next to the counters. Nearly everybody was in it, big families, people with oversize carry ons, the works – the thought being, we’re not on business, so we are “casual travllers.” The green lane was in the middle, and deserted. The black lane was on the far side, and had a couple dozen folks. I joined the black line and watched as a single TSA dude tried to direct folks to the green or black lines, but most ignored him and charged into the blue lane like cattle. After about 2 minutes the ID checker TSA guys split the black lane into two, sending half of us into the deserted green gate. All being “experts” we literally flew through X-Ray. It was nice, and other than the cattle call in the blue line, everybody followed the honor system well. There was nobody in the black line(s) that did not know the drill, and it was really nice to experience.

    So there you have it – at one of the worst travel times congested with pleasure travellers, the expert line worked. My only suggestion would be to place the green line next to the counters and the blue line in the middle, and add another TSA-dude to help folks pick a line. No idea how it will be tomorrow morning when the mix is more 50/50. But I got to hurry up and wait for my flight at the gate!

  12. Hunter says:

    I left Sunday for a business trip using the security checkpoint in Terminal 1 (UA). I used the Expert line. All three people in front of me got to the front of the line with their shoes and coats on, laptops in bags and liquids in their suitcases and not in plastic bags. The TSA rep asked them why they chose the Expert lane and their response…it was shorter and moving faster.

    Self selection will not work if this is any indication.

  13. Hunter, Did you scold them in some way? (verbal or non verbal?)

    Peer pressure is an amazing thing, and should be used when appropriate. (Like this situation.)

  14. Pingback: Homeland Security and the TSA Open Up in a Blogger Roundtable >> The Cranky Flier - Airlines|Airports|Air Travel Blog

Join the Conversation