Instead of Waiting for More TSA Funding, Delta is Betting $1 Million on Improving Efficiency

There’s been a lot of focus on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) being underfunded lately. After all, those long lines could be fixed with more screeners, right? Well, yes but there is also the issue of efficiency. Couldn’t TSA just do a better job with the resources it has? Yes, it could. And Delta is putting $1 million toward the effort by funding what it calls “innovation lanes.”

While I’d love to solve this issue by seeing this whole security theater thing go away in favor of something more sensible, that clearly won’t happen. The airlines know this and are instead focusing on ways they can help TSA to work more efficiently…quickly. Delta’s effort took only two months to come together. It went ahead and spent $1 million to get two innovation lanes installed in Atlanta. This is just a test at this point, which means it might take 1,000 years before it gets rolled out, just in time for it to be obsolete.

Delta TSA Atlanta Innovation Lanes

There are really three big things going on here that should help speed up the security process. You can see the first in the screenshot above, which I pulled from Delta’s gushing PR video about the new lanes.

Instead of having a line of people just waiting to put their bags in a bin, which they then have to push into the machine, there are now five separate stations where people can simultaneously put their bags in bins. That means each person can take his or her time to take a laptop out, ignore liquid rules, hide their guns… you know, all the usual stuff. Then when finished, the travelers push their bins forward to another belt which whisks them away into the machine. This means that the days of getting stuck behind some slow fool who can’t seem to figure out where to put his keys are gone. If one spot isn’t moving, that’s ok. There are four more.

In addition to this, the system has a built-in bin-moving system. When the bin is done being used on the other side of the scan, it’s automatically routed back to the five stations where the traveler can just pick it up and put things in. This should have been done long ago. If TSA is really having a shortage of people working, then a good solution is to stop wasting valuable labor on collecting bins and lugging them back to the beginning of the line.

There is more to love on the other side of the screening process as well. What happens now when there’s a bag that needs to be checked because someone accidentally put a 4 ounce bottle of shampoo in it? The conveyor stops moving and everyone has to wait until some officer comes up to take it, re-run it, and then ultimately save the day by confiscating the offending bottle.

In this system, that changes. There are now two belts available after going through the machine. One belt carries the cleared bags right to the waiting travelers. The other belt goes into the center and moves the offending bag out of the way. It’s how you get Herbie to stop gumming up the works. (If you have no idea who Herbie is, you’ve never read The Goal. If you like operations, then you’re missing out.)

None of this changes the screening process itself. There are no tweaks to the x-ray machine or the people examining it. It’s just a more efficient flow, and it should improve throughput 25 to 35 percent. Sure, they’ll take some time to measure it, but units like this are already handling screening in places like London already. They know these work. It’s just a matter of buying them. In fact, it’s shocking that TSA hasn’t gotten its act together on this before. (Or, you know, not shocking at all.)

In this case, Delta stepped up to the plate and spent a million bucks just to get it done in Atlanta. It’s still active on only two of the lanes there, so a fraction of the total. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how long before these can be rolled out further.

If anyone has gone through these lanes yet, let’s hear it in the comments. I’ve only heard positive feedback so far, but I’d like to hear more.

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