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What is Your Lane? Go at Your Own Pace in Salt Lake City

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

You may have read or heard about a new pilot program in Salt Lake City this weekend that enables passengers to go through security at their own pace.

Here's the information from the TSA website:

  • TSA Enables Passengers to Go at Their Own Pace in Salt Lake

At TSA we are piloting a variety of innovations at the checkpoint to improve security by focusing on people, technology and process.

In the process arena, TSA launched a self-select lane pilot this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. The self-select lane is aimed at enabling travelers to select a lane customized to their pace. Because the pilot is in a region of the country where skiing is a way of life, TSA modeled the lanes after well-known ski icons: green for beginners, blue for intermediate and black for expert.

In the TSA version, the green lane is for families traveling with children or people who need special assistance. These folks may not travel that often and need extra help with the procedures and assistance navigating security. The blue lane is for casual travelers who are somewhat familiar with the procedures and have multiple carry-ons. The expert, or black diamond lane is for those who know the procedures well and always arrive at the checkpoint with appropriate items removed and limited carry-on luggage. The security standard is the same no matter what lane you choose. However, efficiency is increased by allowing passengers to proceed at their own pace.

"We are enhancing security by creating a less stressful experience. This enables our officers to provide better support to the people who need it most, while others are able to navigate the checkpoint more expeditiously," said Earl Morris, TSA federal security director at Salt Lake. "Passengers will ultimately determine the success of the pilot."

TSA is also testing the black diamond concept at Denver International Airport in coming weeks. This is one of many innovations that passengers will see tested regionally in 2008. For instance in Houston, TSA is partnering with Continental Airlines to pilot a paperless boarding pass; in Memphis, security officers are using wireless whisper headsets to enhance communications between behavior detection officers and travel document checkers; and in Burbank, Calif., there is a customized lane for people with only one carry-on item. Stay tuned for more to come.

If you've experienced any of TSA's regional innovations in your travels, share your feedback at tsa.gov/blog .

Comments

Submitted by Peter A Stinson on

Okay, but which line (green, blue, or black) is going to get me through fastest?

Submitted by Eli on

This sounds like a good idea (though only time will tell). I see one flaw in it, though.

I've been flying, well, since I was born. I was a platinum frequent flyer when I was still an unaccompanied minor. I'd like to consider myself an 'expert traveler'. However, I still have to remove all the stuff from my pockets (the iPod I listen to while checking in, my cell phone, my wallet, my keys, etc.) and separate my laptop (open my backpack, open the laptop case, get the laptop out, find an empty bin...). And I usually have two carry-ons because I can pack so I don't have to check bags.

Under this policy, I'd sort myself into the 'casual traveler' line, even though I'm as prepared as I can be given my circumstances of travel and I'm definitely an 'expert traveler'.

What flaw is all of this supposed to be pointing to? Terminology. Expert traveler denotes 'someone who knows what is going on, who can pass security and get wanded in their sleep'. It should denote the express lane - people who have only one carry-one and no laptop to remove or something like that.

I like the idea of the blog, but don't let it become useless. Stay working hard on it like you are now, and your work will continue to be appreciated!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Good idea, in theory. Yet, we all know that passengers don't read signs!

In order for this to have a chance at working, TSA will have to bring back the "Line Monitor" position to direct passengers to the appropriate line. Which, bring back the line monitor, is a good idea anyway. It will help alleviate the WTMD's need to bark out orders at PAX, help the XRAY operator with hopefully less re-ran bags, and help the HHMD's by getting people divested and ready for the WTMD.

Submitted by Jay Maynard on

This is a very interesting idea. I'll be looking forward to hearing how well it works out. As an experienced traveler who, nevertheless, nearly always sends six items (carry-on bag, briefcase, medicine bag, CPAP, laptop, shoes) through the X-ray, would I get complained at for using the black diamond lane? I do always arrive at the checkpoint with everything pulled out and ready to drop in bins and send through.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'll be following this with interest. What will happen if you have a family with several kids trying to go through the black diamond lane? Will an agent move them to the family lane?

Submitted by Anonymous on

It matters not what the TSA does, or what it does not do.
Bottom line is that the TSA is the "scap-goat" for the government. TSA is the one and only government agency that is out in the open, interacting with the public on a regular day in and day out basis.
TSA is the convenient target of any and all "gripes or groans" that anyone may have for our government and will lash it out into some criticism at TSA.
That my friends is the truth like it or not and everyone in TSA needs to realize that. Maybe then nobody will take anything personally, just except it for the occupational hazard that it is.
Smiling makes everything better, its simple, doesn't cost anything, and it makes everyone involved feel better!

Submitted by Anonymous on

So.. I'm assuming that any time efficiencies created by this are automatically eaten up when clueless passengers come up to a decision point that they don't understand. What is Joe Schmo going to do when he sees this? Will expert travelers scoff at him if he gets into the casual traveler's line?

I don't know, if it works then that's great - but this seems like you'd only break even with no obvious benefit.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If left only to the traveler, it will never work. Mom and her three kids will, far too often, move to the expert line because it's shorter, despite general disapproval. Unless someone in a position of authority tells Mom(s) to move out of the line, they'll gum up the process every time.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Good idea. The only "problem" I see with it is the signs. You need to add a wheelchair to the green sign so handicapped people know what line to get in.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Prediction: The family lane goes slightly underutilized, while more people flock to the "fast" lane, making it the slow lane.

It's like on the freeway where the left lane is the "fast lane" and the right lane is the "slow lane". People don't actually self select in a way that it efficient for the system.

This should be obvious, but a better way would be to provide information via variable message signs about the current status of the various TSA checkpoints. If there are three checkpoints and two are swamped and one is not, then *TELL US*. Likewise, if there are equal lines at two check points, but there are twice as many lanes open at one than the other then *TELL US*. Better information will give better results. Poor information gets us what we have today.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Which lane was Michael Tony Futi supposed to use?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I don't get this: " in Memphis, security officers are using wireless whisper headsets to enhance communications between behavior detection officers and travel document checkers; "

Why would there even be a need for such communication. Your document checkers ( a pointless task by the way) are way too overtasked to have any time to be doing anything other then checking ID's. Especially the silly way you folks now do it. I've seen TSAers take printer's loupes to look at boarding passes! Considering I can print mine on an inkjet printer - what are they trying to do except waste everyone's time? Oh yes - you're trying to justify a bigger budget to Congress. Well good luck!

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Earl Morris, TSA federal decurity director at Salt Lake. 'Passengers will ultimately determine the success of the pilot.'"

To quote a famous presidential candidate during a debate with his opponent: "There you go again!"

Congratulations, Earl. You have raised the art of unaccountability to a new level. The TSA has absolutely nothing at all to do with the success or failure of this program, right? Don't worry, you're still going to get your presidential Rank Award.

Submitted by Doug on

This sounds interesting...

Is there a cert we can pass and get a special 'black diamond' pin that we can wear? So to zip right to our line...LOL

But seriously folks...I've actually been identified by your great staff at SAN as "A Master American traveler" due to my prowess getting in and through security and this plays right to my badge of courage.

But on the flip side Ive seen traveling executive idiots that hold up the operations surprised they have to take off their Bruno Maglis, just to lean against the x-ray on the other side to put them back on..Please do not allow those turds in my black diamond lane!

And to one other comment from above,

"provide information via variable message signs about the current status of the various TSA checkpoints"

I whole heartedly agree...Put a line status/map on the relevant departure boards.. or maybe JUST like the freeway, put sensors in the floor of the lines and report the live traffic going through the available lines.

Better yet..Make it web based and let me see current and historical traffic patters at a particular airport at a particular time and Ill be able to adjust my travel plans accordingly....

Ive seen ORD have a (welcomed)
Go ahead and take a few bucks outta my tax dollars to make that happen... :)

Thanks for all you do in keeping us safe! Keep trying the new ideas and thanks for listening to our feedback. Please don't mind the dumbasses, everyone has got a bitch about something...

Submitted by Anonymous on

Good idea, but why not make it easier? Abolish the liquid restrictions and shoe removal game. Then, train your ID checkers to check ID's in under 15 seconds instead of the 60+ seconds I have seen them take. The lines will magically move quicker, and we will be just as safe.

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

See, I'm not so sure that this will fall apart. I think that there are far more people flying on business than families, so that the "expert" line will actually look longer than the "family" line. (Of course, the "experts" will know that their line moves faster, so it will all work out in the end ...)

Submitted by Robert Johnson on

I have a better idea. How about removing a lot of the idiocy at the checkpoint such the airline's revenue prot*err* ID checks, shoe removal, and liquid lunacy?

TSA still fails to realize that the reason there's a long wait is due to its ineptitude at security and it equates long waits and harassment with security. All the while making people outside waiting in line a soft target for a suicide bomber.

And another obvious question about this: this works well in Utah and Colorado where a lot of people ski. How well's this going to work in Alabama, Florida and Texas where there's very rarely, if ever snow? Do you REALLY think most people know the ski trail rating system and that this will make sense to them?

Submitted by Anonymous on

There's a sociological rule thumb I was taught about crowds and apparent intelligence when the crowd is faced with a stresful situation: Individuals (n=1) are intelligent. Assume an IQ of 100 for all groups where n=3, apparent IQ is 100 -(2*(n-3)). Therefore any group of over 20 people is effectively incapable of reacting intelligently and behaves like a mob.

The Salt Lake city experiment makes sense for small numbers of people (those that understand the system). Once the population at large get a hold of this I shudder to think what a mess it will be. The highest number of broken legs on the ski slopes can be found on people who claim to be black-diamond skiers but aren't.

Opening more screening stations, limiting the 'depth' of the line for each station, and minimizing the stress of the situation might be a better idea.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Wow this is a great idea because so many passengers often stop and read signs and follow directions. And they all speak english too. They never argue about what is or isnt considered a liquid or that their ticket is a boarding pass and pilots always display their identification in a friendly and helpful manner to the officer at the walk through metal detector. Passengers always listen to the instructions recited by the officer too.

Nope. They need to start giving out a briefing to these inbred mutants that flock to the airports before they see the highly trained overworked and under paid TSA officers.

Submitted by TSO PHX on

@Peter, Logically, I would assume it would be the black lane but...I imagine it would depend on the time of day, where you are flying to and also the mentality of the wave of people that arrived at the checkpoint before you do. Somedays things go smoothly at the checkpoint. Other days, not so smoothly. I truly believe it has to do with the phases of the moon.

Submitted by TSO PHX on

@eli, As a TSO I am all for trying new things. In theory, the three choices should help but without a test run of a few weeks no one can really say. I'm the first to admit getting thru a checkpoint is a challenge especially if you are not prepared. It is especially difficult for families. I have a feeling people won't read the signs, I'm hoping I am wrong. People usually gravitate toward the shortest line or the line that seems to be moving the fastest. Hopefully, there will be a TSO assisting people. One of the biggest issues we have is people who are in a hurry, forgetting to take lap tops out of their cases and forgetting to take out their liquids, leaving their cell phones on their belts, and leaving on their shoes and then when we ask them to do all the above they get irritated and hold up the line even longer. What we need is a humorous song that will stick in peoples brains and let them know how to pass thru a checkpoint. Oh wait, there is one of those. click on my name.

Submitted by Anonymous on

We'll let you wear your shoes through when we stop finding stuff like razor blades jammed into the soles and flip flops that apparently can't hide anything.

Submitted by TSO PHX on

To anonymous- Many passengers don't read signs. We have them up and down every checkpoint. People will still say things like. "I didn't know I was suppose to take my liguids out." There is also overhead announcements. But people seem to zone out the annoucements too.

Submitted by TSO PHX on

@ Jay, there are some very skilled travelers out there. some of them have been thru the checkpoints so many times that they have the process down to a science. Even they get frustrated when the passengers in front of them don't seem to know what they are doing. :)

Submitted by TSO PHX on

@ anonymous, I am the first to admit smiling does help but after a while the muscles in the face start the get tired and twitch. Frowning is less strenuous and not as hard to hold for 8 to 10hours a day. :)

Submitted by TSO PHX on

@Jim, the expert travelers usually travel thru the same checkpoints time after time. They know the process, they know the slow times and the fast times at the checkpoint. I'm thinking they are still going to manuever the checkpoint efficiently with finesse and style.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Everyone that is griping about this pilot program... Remember its a pilot program.. IT may or may not work.. Being negative about it before you have even been through it or witnessed it first hand.. then why comment on it.
Good Job TSA!!!

Submitted by Anonymous on

It seems that perhaps TSA Senior Management is spending more time at leisure than getting outto the airports across the country and seeing the problems for themselves.

I would suggest getting off the slopes and start earning your pay by fixing the SNAFU problems across the country.

If your not up to the task then get someone who is!

Submitted by Anonymous on

This sounds like a reasonable idea... that could be rendered totally useless based on the approach of the TSA agent running the line. I just left Bozeman MT this morning and was aggressively verbally assaulted by the agents when I tried to answer one of their questions that caught me by surprise. I am an expert traveller and unfortunately have to bring my medical laser thru security with me. This seems to bring out the absolute worst behavior in agents around the country. I get it that we have lost our civil liberties when in the TSA line, but attacking innocent, cooperative citizens as they move through line like obedient sheep is hardly a meaningful security measure.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I find it very irrating that travelers have to que up and there are special cuts in the the security lines for "uniformed flight crews". Often times these "cuts" in the security lines are used for vendors working at the airport. When ask who manages the security line I continually get the shrug of the shoulders and no one seems to really care.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Here's a better idea, instead of multiple lines, have just one line and whomever is next up, gets the next available checkpoint. This way you don't have to worry about which line you pick slowing your progresses because you got behind the person who didn't know they had to remove their shoes, laptop and liquids from their bag and has various metal in their pockets.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This all sounds well and good, but can you explain why I've heard first hand accounts of people being asked to remove ALL electronics and wires in Newark last week? I thought you put a stop to this practice?? The expert traveller line sounds great if only your agents followed consistent protocols and didn't constantly change everything on us because they felt like it!!!!

Submitted by TSO PHX on

@anonymous, as a courtesy employees are allowed to jump to the front of the line. Many checkpoints have designated employee lanes but because of staffing and checkpoint configurations it's not always possible. Vendors generally pass thru the security lines with newspapers and such at the beginning of the day before there are lines.

Submitted by JD on

The TSA is just another bloated bureaucracy created by the Bush administration to reinforce living in fear. They do nothing for US except make our airline travel painful.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Hi, I would like to leave this comment on the shoe page, but it seems you have disabled the comment link. Yes, you may have commissioned a study on foot fungus, what about warts? What about it's just plain disgusting to have to walk either in socks or barefoot where other people have and then put your feet back into your shoes and flip flops? If you continue to persist with this insultingly inconsiderate policy, I feel you should be required to provide disposable slippers to all passengers who request them. I also feel that you should have certain bins--perhaps the gray ones because they are so gross now--that are only for shoes, and a different one for peoples' headphones, hats, jackets etc. Fungus study or no fungus study, those bins are disease vectors!

Submitted by Bob on

I've noticed several really good questions here. After long and careful thought about the right answers, I’ve come up with maybe. We’ll see…

That's the great thing about pilots. You get to see first hand how new procedures pan out before blindly making a decision that impacts the nation's checkpoints.

The icing on the pop-tart is now the public has this blog. I'm looking forward to reading comments from passengers that have actually experienced the Black Diamond program. I'm sure the managers of this program will be watching your comments too.

My take on it so far (without having seen it with my own eyes) is that it's kind of like an express lane at your local grocery store. Sure, some people with more than 12 items will jump in the express lane from time to time, but in the end, the checkout lines are far more efficient at keeping people happy. There's nothing like having a pack of gum and having to wait behind somebody with a cart that's overflowing with groceries.

So while it’s inevitable that people will get in the wrong line at times, I still think it will improve the wait times for experienced passengers. We’ll see…

Bob

TSA Evolution Blog Team

Submitted by TSO PHX on

@ anonymous, I agree walking on a floor that has been trampled on with thousands of bare stinky feet daily is just icky. As a passenger courtesy, little foot booties are available at the front of the screening lines. Or if you prefer bring your own pair of anklets or socks to wear specifically for the trek thru the metal detector. I have noticed that most people pass up the little booties. Don't pass up the booties!!!

Submitted by TSO PHX on

@JD, TSA is doing it's part in protecting out nation from terrorists. Realizing what is required to get thru a security line at the airport is nearly half the battle. With any travel there is always preparation. All it takes is a few minutes to prepare. Luckily, for you and other travelers TSA operates a website full of information to make your travel thru an airport a little easier. What can you take on a plane. What should you put in your checked baggage. Liquid restrictions and so forth. The airlines you are traveling on will also have worthwhile information. Take a little time to prepare and your travel experience will be less stressful. A positive attitude also helps.

Submitted by Anonymous on

@tso_pnx, the reason that people zone out the announcements is that they provide too much information at the wrong time; and often is quite wrong. I know it doesn't directly apply to the current discussion, but INSIDE most terminals there are announcing ever 4 minutes about 'new procedures' that require the 3-1-1 nonsense. By claiming that everything is always new, but without providing dates, a traveler can only assume that nothing is new. Of course the best way to improve respect what TSOs say is to remove the power for retaliatory second-screenings. THen we would know that what you are doing is actually the rules and not just your being a jerk.

Submitted by Lynn on

In response to Jay Maynard:
As an experienced traveler who, nevertheless, nearly always sends six items (carry-on bag, briefcase, medicine bag, CPAP, laptop, shoes) through the X-ray, would I get complained at for using the black diamond lane?

Jay - you would certainly be able to go through the black diamond lane if you know the drill and have everything out and in the bins. It's the skill, not the amount of bags.

Submitted by Lynn on

@ eli:

In Burbank, CA, the pilot we're working on is just what you said - an express lane for people with either one or no bags. We'll be looking at that as well as the "expert" lane to see how it goes. Thanks for your comments on the blog as well - we have lots in store so hopefully you won't be disappointed.

Lynn
Evolution Blog Team

Submitted by Lynn on

In response to:
What will happen if you have a family with several kids trying to go through the black diamond lane? Will an agent move them to the family lane?

At Salt Lake City, there are TSA staff helping people get in the right line t help things go smoothly. Reports so far are that families are very appreciative of lines just for them, and are using those lines.

Lynn
Evolution Blog Team

Submitted by Anonymous on

@ Tso Phx, You're assuring me the little booties are available at every airport? I have trouble believing this seeing as I've never seen a single station offering them or passenger using them. Are they only available upon request?

@ anonymous, honestly what's someone going to do with a razor blade in their flip flop? commit suicide? hello, locked cabin doors, post-911 savvy passengers, air marshals. no one is going to hijack an airliner with a razor blade any more.

Submitted by Anonymous on

It's great to have people helping figure out which lane they belong in...as long as the "experts" aren't shuttled to the wrong line just cause they don't look like your average business traveler.

I travel a good bit both for work and to visit family (~10-12 round trips/year). I know the drill and generally help out those in line around me who aren't as familar with the policies. But, since I normally fly in jeans and a t-shirt/sweat shirt, carry a backpack and look like a college student, I normally get treated more like a casual/clueless traveler than a regular business/expert traveler. It's not normally a big deal, but I would start to get annoyed if I'm constantly moved to the casual line when I can recite the policies to the screeners.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Is TSA working on some system by which frequent travelers who are unfortunate enough to have hip or other bone replacements, which always set the alarm off, passed through without the physical inspection, which often takes a long time (mainly spent waiting)?

Submitted by Tkr5 on

How about just having a larger "setup area" after the line but before the screening that doesn't force people to stay in order. That area would allow people who get themselves ready quicker to jump ahead of those who take longer to get ready. People monitoring the area can help those who need it and call back those who get in the screener's line before they are ready. Often now, the table is large enough for 1 or maybe 2 people and people stay in their original order, so slow people hold things up for everybody.

Submitted by Kathy on

This is a fantastic idea. It's exactly what I suggested in a blog post a couple weeks ago. Thanks for listening!!

I do think it will be like the express lanes in a grocery store. If someone gets in the "wrong" lane, others mumble and grumble, so eventually everyone learns to pay attention.

I think those who need more help will appreciate not being rushed by expert travelers. Just make sure the TSOs on the family line are extra patient, friendly, and cooperative!

Oh, and fix the areas just past security. We need more space to collect our belongings and we need a place to sit down, put on shoes, put away IDs and keys, etc.

Thanks for listening!

Submitted by Dave X The First on

@ TSO PHX said...

@JD, TSA is doing it's part in protecting out nation from terrorists. Realizing what is required to get thru a security line at the airport is nearly half the battle. With any travel there is always preparation. All it takes is a few minutes to prepare. Luckily, for you and other travelers TSA operates a website full of information to make your travel thru an airport a little easier. What can you take on a plane. What should you put in your checked baggage. Liquid restrictions and so forth. The airlines you are traveling on will also have worthwhile information. Take a little time to prepare and your travel experience will be less stressful. A positive attitude also helps.

February 18, 2008 7:16 AM

********************************

If it takes only a few minutes to prepare, why do the airlines recommend arriving 2 hours ahead of time rather than the old 1 hour ahead of time? You are minimizing the cost to the 2,000,000 passengers per day that you are costing society.

Also, unless TSA has miraculous detection rates, you are not keeping all the guns, knives, and liquid threats off of the planes. The TSA screener's part in protecting america from terrorists is security theatre: you pretend like you are keeping the planes threat-free and provide some CYA for the politicians and airline industry.

I do appreciate that you are trying to streamline things, but TSA still seems like a net drain on society. The costs of TSA are significant, (driving kills, for one example) and the benefits seem non-existent.

I imagine with this new program, screeners will want to work on the black diamond line, with the 'expert' passengers flowing like booze on Bourbon street, while the slower lines with the more awkward travellers will be even more frustrating. There will be even more opportunities for inconsistencies on your part: Where should you put your best screeners?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Another stupid idea. People will choose the shortest line, period. That's why airlines have separate elite/First class lines that are enforced. How do you plan to keep the families with children and casual fliers out of the expert line? Are you going to add yet another layer of pointless delay to ID checking, i.e. Sir, can you establish to my satisfaction that you are an experienced frequent flier, and not a casual traveler?

This is just more sleight-of-hand to divert attention from the fact that current procedures are inefficient, annoying and ineffective.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This was a response left by a TSO on another post...

The best thing to do is to call your airlines ahead of time and ask them if you can bring a questionable item on a plane.

Why can't we ask the TSA? If you believe in customer service, provide a standard list and let us call YOU. The airline sometimes says something is ok than you guys don't (or vice versa). the TSA should control the entire process and it should be uniform. Again, what about the airports that are STILL requiring ALL electronics to come out of bags? I thought you said you stopped this? Newark is still doing it.

Personally, I think you should get your act together on the basics before you start new pilots.

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