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Update on Black Diamond Pilot in Salt Lake City - and Now It's in Denver Too

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Earl Morris, who heads up TSA's airport security operations in Salt Lake City, sent in this update to my original post:

"It's been about a week since we launched our "Black Diamond" pilot to improve security and efficiency at the checkpoint, and things are going well. At Terminal 1 where we are running the pilot, you'll find six self-select lanes modeled after the ski icons familiar to many in this part of the country - green for beginners, blue for intermediate and black diamond for experts. During the peak times at our airport, we have two lanes dedicated for black diamond, two for blue and two for green. Everyone gets the same level of security screening based on their needs and experience with the checkpoint process. The education process begins at the ticket counter where travelers first see the signs and they select their lane before they reach the TSA document checker who reviews their identification and boarding pass.

The Green lanes are used primarily by families, who often feel stressed in the traditional lane trying to get through with their kids, strollers and other stuff. Often these folks haven't gotten the proper level of attention they deserve. People who don't travel much and groups also select this lane. We've dedicated more resources to get people through this lane quickly without making them feel pushed. The Blue lanes are for casual travelers who understand TSA procedures to a degree but may not travel all that frequently so they take a little more time. The black diamond lanes are for expert travelers who understand the system by the nature of traveling a lot and are totally prepared for the checkpoint. The goal is to ensure that TSA provides the proper level of service with customized needs of the traveler in mind. Security is improved by improving the process, taking the pressure off in the lines, eliminating the hassle factor and calming down the passenger.

Here's what we've learned so far:

We've remained flexible in this first week, and incorporated feedback from our employees and travelers to reconfigure lanes and streamline the process. The input from our employees has been critical in making this work. As some have noted in the comments section, one of the challengers we've faced is the casual traveler who perceives themselves as an expert and goes into the Black Diamond lane. We've placed TSA employees out front to educate the passengers and help them select the lane that is right for them. These folks have been successful in helping people while keeping a smooth orderly flow at the checkpoint. They also explain the liquids policy and have baggies in hand to provide to travelers.

We're pleased with how things are going, and we plan to keep the Black Diamond program going here in Salt Lake indefinitely. Our airport and airline partners are supportive, passengers are upbeat, the process is improving and every day we are working to make it better."

Earlier this week, Denver International Airport also began a Black Diamond pilot. For two weeks, passengers can choose the family/special needs, casual traveler or expert lanes in the North Checkpoint during peak morning and evening hours. If you use these lanes, please be sure to post a comment here to let us know what you think. Here are two articles from Denver:

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on

......

I just didn't think TSA could get any stupider. What a waste of time and money this is.

Submitted by Anonymous on

You know, it is not the passengers' lack of "skill" that is holding up the lines - it's the pointless, asinine 'security' measures and the surly, lazy screeners. Screeners who stop the conveyor belt, turn away from the monitor to have a casual conversation for five minutes, then put the belt back and forth and back and forth a dozen times while trying to find their place are my personal favorite. THAT is what wastes time. Most of the time everyone in line is standing there dull-eyed with all their stuff in those bins, waiting to put the bins on the belt one....at....a....time....as the screener takes 5 minutes per bag and still has to recheck half the bags. But yeah, keep telling yourselves it's traveler "skill" that is creating security line gridlock.

Submitted by Gordon Wendt on

This could end up being a great program (I have not experienced it yet anywhere I have gone) however it raises the question of where the manpower to help people select the right line, and deal with any other needs are coming from especially considering that it seems that manpower is already stretched tight at checkpoints which is one of the reasons why lines are such a big issue to begin with.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Security Lanes Green Circle, Blue Square, and Black Diamond? Ah, the strange Yank fascination with color-marking everything in action. If it is easier for the average cross-ponder to understand things that way so be it, but it is a such a nuisance to us over here on this side of the pond. What does a Terror Alert Yellow mean anyway if it never changes?

I kenn what an Orangeman March does, and know what The Troubles be, but I've hardly a clue with this one. I must admit you are spot on if your primary is confusing international travelers.

All these color codes are all jolly well and good, but mind the gap. What do they actually mean to those of us who don't speak them?

Submitted by Anton on

With all due respect, don't you think that allowing travellers to assess their OWN level of experience is somewhat naive?
It's like lining up for the school photograph - the littlest kids reckon they should be at the back where the "big kids" stand.
If you were to do a simple triage of First/Business class, Economy and special assistance passengers/families with small children.

And you might care to change the blog topic to "Black Diamond Pilot Project" - "pilot" by itself is confusing

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA stealing baby food from children? Shameful. You all should be ashamed of yourselves, and apologize:

http://tiny.cc/Pnyh9

And, as always, there's no recourse whatsoever for your victims.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Glad to see this pilot program is working. Triaging passengers by the section they are seated in; first class, business, or economy would not work. Many of of us who fly on business have employers buy economy tickets to save money.

Just make sure that you use the same sybmols everywhere you institute this.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Once again I am amazed that TSA personell are allowed to set the bar on the nutritional needs of an infant. To much food for a 2 1/2 hour flight. Of course it was to much, unless you flight got delayed or if you got stuck on the runway or circling the airport.

Seems like the TSA's uses employee discretion as an excuse for a stupid descion.


Anonymous said...
TSA stealing baby food from children? Shameful. You all should be ashamed of yourselves, and apologize:

http://tiny.cc/Pnyh9

And, as always, there's no recourse whatsoever for your victims.

February 21, 2008 8:35 AM

Submitted by Anonymous on

All these color codes are all jolly well and good, but mind the gap. What do they actually mean to those of us who don't speak them?

February 20, 2008 11:34 PM
*******************************
Actually, the color codes are more of an indicator of how close the next election is-the higher the 'threat level', the closer the election!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Are the green lanes taking longer to make it through than the black lanes? Or are more resources allocated to the lanes that will move slower?

If so, is this discrimination against travelers needing special assistance (for example, using wheelchairs)?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Will these kinds of measures help parents who want to take extra baby food for their child in case their flights get delayed? Perhaps the staff could actually be educated enough to allow baby food without a "doctor's note" ?

Submitted by Anonymous on

This is a fabulous idea and one I have always secretly wished for. As a frequent traveller (2-3 times a week), when I have a choice of lanes, I always eyeball the people in each line for signs of security experience or lack there of. It makes a huge difference. Five business travellers who know how to get their shoes on and off, laptops in and out, and know what sets off the detectors and what doesn't will beat one packpack carrying, laced boot five sweater wearing, oh i forgot my watch, and my change, and my metal pen carrying person anyday of the week.

Submitted by Tai_pan1 on

Anonymous said...
TSA steals baby food. Classy.

http://www.boingboing.net/2008/02/20/tsa-steals-food-from.html

February 21, 2008 3:33 PM

Boingboing? There's another stalwart of unbiased, accurate journalism. At least if you're going to bash TSA, use a respectable news source. Any bozo with a laptop and a website can create their own "news" stories. Look at the onion.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Black Diamond Pilot in Salt Lake City working well? With all due respect TSA. I would have to totally disagree.I know those lines very well and have seen the confusion as well as the length of the lines grow signifcantly.It has also affected the wait times at the other check points because the check point in Terminal 1 has difficulty giving an accurate wait time because there are now 3 different wait times for each line.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I am not intending to be a naysayer or bash on the TSA but so far this program is not working well at Salt Lake. They have changed the line configuration 2 or 3 times with the same outcome (confusion and longer lines).Not to mention they have to have 2 or 3 TSA agents helping people to figure out which line they belong in i.e. longer wait times as well as much more labor intensive.

Submitted by Anonymous on

In my experience at Salt Lake Airport TSA has been doing a great job with wait times rarly going over 30 minutes during peak times.With that said Im not sure this program is right for Salt Lake.I dont know the Denver Airports lay out at there check points and maybe it will work out better there but at Salt Lake the space at the check points are limited especially in Terminal 1.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Because there is limited Space in terminal 1 at SLCIA when there is a long line it affects the ticket counters of the airlines i.e. United...(tsa knows what im talking about )..So you get passengers confusing the ticket counter line with the check point line and vise versa..With Max wait times rarly exceeding 30 minutes the old addage if it aint broke dont fix it certainly applies.

Submitted by Jay Maynard on

tai_pan1: Boingboing? There's another stalwart of unbiased, accurate journalism. At least if you're going to bash TSA, use a respectable news source.

If you'd followed the link at the bottom of the boingboing article, you'd have found yourself at the source article in the New York Times. While their reliability and impartiality is certainly open to question, it's hard to get much more respectable than that.

Submitted by Bob Baylor on

I don't see any mention of TSA evaluating screening procedures to determine which are the most effective and efficient. Instead of TSA developing measures of effectiveness, we get another color-coded system that will most likely add time and confusion to the process. An earlier post talked about the 120 hours of training TSA officers undergo. I wonder, does that include any training on customer service or conflict resolution? A requirement for some level of physical fitness would help improve the image of TSA officers.

Submitted by Dan Kozisek on

Have you considered an effective color coding system? Something like:
Blue Line - Screeners have 85% failure rate.

Red Line - Screeners have 90% failure rate.

Orange (Elite) Line - Screeners have 80% failure rate.

This would be a positive step forward for your organization and, possibly, the only honest thing you actually give to the American public.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Dear TSA,

Precious few of us believe any of the post-9/11 screening measures are keeping us any safer. Security audits by the Government Accountability Office are all we need to see what a farce all these measures are:
http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/11/14/gao.airport.security/index.html

I don't believe for one second that that 3-1-1 rule is doing one bit of good for anyone, as any GROUP of terrorists could easily bring enough liquids in compliance with 3-1-1 to do whatever nefarious thing you think you're stopping.

Also, seeing that there are some individuals who can now PAY some private company to give them what equates to a "speedpass" through the security line is both irksome and insulting, as you've simply slowed down those who can't pay to "prove" that they aren't threats and let those with the extra income move along as if nothing has changed for them.

At DIA, I've had the pleasure of going through your new-fangled air-puffing machine, and I have to believe that machine was a gigantic boondoggle for your agency. In case you don't know, the blower machine is claustrophobia-inducing and more invasive than a pat down (though I've heard it's supposed to detect traces of explosive chemicals, I don't trust anything the TSA employees tell me since they apparently lack the education and training to make explanatory signs with anything other than notebook paper and magic markers). What's worse is that we are told we can EITHER wear our shoes through the blower machine OR carry our shoes through the blower machine, THEN put our shoes on the conveyor belt (humming alongside), so that we can walk through the metal detector which waits beyond the blower. The delays caused by this two-tiered insanity and the total lack of clear communication from TSA "officials," are obvious as soon as you come down the escalators at DIA. Honestly, you couldn't have had GE bury decades-old metal-detecting technology into their blower to make the process a little more efficient?

Where's all that money from those speed passes through security going?

Submitted by Bob on
February 20, 2008 11:34 PM
Anonymous said... Security Lanes Green Circle, Blue Square, and Black Diamond? Ah, the strange Yank fascination with color-marking everything in action. If it is easier for the average cross-ponder to understand things that way so be it, but it is a such a nuisance to us over here on this side of the pond. What does a Terror Alert Yellow mean anyway if it never changes?

I kenn what an Orangeman March does, and know what The Troubles be, but I've hardly a clue with this one. I must admit you are spot on if your primary is confusing international travelers.

All these color codes are all jolly well and good, but mind the gap. What do they actually mean to those of us who don't speak them?

The current threat level is orange. Why change the threat level when the threat hasn't changed?

Let's make a deal. Us yanks will stick with our color coding, and you can continue to drive on the wrong side of the road. :)

Cheers,

Bob

TSA Evolution Blog Team
Submitted by Bill on

I think this makes a lot of sense. Hope it continues to work!

Submitted by Anonymous on

As a employee at DIA I think this color code is really pointless for our type of configuration at the North checkpoint. In the past week its been up I havent seen any improvment. I just think that the manpower should be deligated to the actual checkpoint lanes, helping people divest were the lines are the longest, keeping the bins moving forward to be screened, and actually putting on trained and very experienced X-Ray screeners that can quickly determin if a bag contains a threat without stopping the belt. The speed of the checkpoint lanes actually depends on the experience of the X-Ray screener. If you have a trained and experienced X-Ray screener on a "green lane", it could move just as fast as a "Black Diamond" lane providing theres someone there to assist the passengers in divesting and pushing the bins forward while the passengers proceed to the metal detector. Another observation is a X-Ray screener in trainging shouldent be trying to gain experience and run a X-Ray during peak times because they have to constently stop the belt every bag and get a second opinon from another screener. I think TSA is more less trying to point the finger at the passengers by color coding lanes instead of taking a closer look at their employees. New TSA screeners should undergo more X-Ray training for the less experienced in a classroom enviornment not on a checkpoint during a peak time. With a good x-ray screener and a good divester the lines will continue to move and these types of suggestions to color code lanes wont even be an issue. Im willing to bet for one day on a busy day like a Monday morning at DIA put screeners with a few years experience on a X-Ray on all the lanes and have someone divesting, the wait times wont exceed 10-15min. Just my two cents, thanks for reading.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Jay Maynard said...

If you'd followed the link at the bottom of the boingboing article, you'd have found yourself at the source article in the New York Times. While their reliability and impartiality is certainly open to question, it's hard to get much more respectable than that.

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

The New York Times? A RESPECTABLE authority? (PLEASE!!! GIVE ME A BREAK!) The NYT has about as much respect among the general public as you give to the TSA employees you are bashing with every blog. The NYT continues to lose market-share, readers, subscribers, advertisers and everyone else on an on-going basis. Reading the NYT these days is no more reliable than reading The National Enquirer. I wouldn't be surprised if The National Enquirer actually has more readers than The New York Times these days.

If I were one of those TSOs and I saw a couple (both M.D.s or not) and a child with an excessive - YES, IT WAS EXCESSIVE - amount of baby food and formula for a short domestic flight, I, too, would have said, "Sorry, but you cannot carry that much food/formula onto the plane. It is more than what we consider a *reasonable* amount". The REASONABLE AMOUNT is what is important here. This couple was loaded up like they were headed to a bomb shelter for a three-day stay! JUST THE TYPE OF SCHEME a terrorist might try in order to get large amounts of liquids on a plane to blow it up. Or haven't you read the *OTHER* very RELIABLE news sources that have discussed how in Europe and the Middle East terrorists are now using unsuspecting mothers with babies to blow things up???? WAKE UP, MR MAYNARD!

Submitted by Anonymous on

To the poster who said the following; "It is more than what we consider a *reasonable* amount". The REASONABLE AMOUNT is what is important here."

Please point me to your documents that specify what is defined as REASONABLE.

Since you have taken into condiseration of aircraft delays, weather delays, and any other type of delay I would have to believe that your REFERENCE MATERIAL takes those things in consideration.

I also have to believe that you are an expert in nutrition for infants, or do you choose to practice medicine without license.

Submitted by Frances on

I like the idea. I have been delayed due to inexperienced travelers many times.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob Said:

"The current threat level is orange. Why change the threat level when the threat hasn't changed?

Let's make a deal. Us yanks will stick with our color coding, and you can continue to drive on the wrong side of the road. :)"

HAHAHAHAHAHA

This would be really funny if it weren't so ARROGANT. This is why TSA screeners have not yet earned respect - and probably never will.

Take your condescending attitude and put it away.

As for changing the threat level, it was moved UP to orange even though the threat had not changed. So moving downward should be no big deal. It was all politics related to the election.

Submitted by Anonymous on

As a frequent business traveler (2-3 week), I have been hoping for such a system for while to avoid the once-a-year traveler in the security lane.

My question, though, is what about the $100+ I just spent on the Registered Traveler pre-screening program??

Submitted by John on

I used the 'new' lanes in Denver last week. On paper good idea. In reality my 'black diamond' experience was a guy in front of me left his laptop in his bag and forgot to take is shoes off. Delay while he unpacks and takes off his shoes. The guy behind me takes off his shoes, but can't find his boarding pass and forgets to take his laptop out. And only 30 feet from the pass check, how can you loose it?

Folks will gravitate to the shortest line every time. May be a greeter repeating the mantra 'expert travelers only' might help.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I consider my family "experienced" travelers. My four year old son has traveled on enough flights each year equivalent to flying around the world every year. He knows how to take his shoes off, put them in a tray, and walk alone through the metal detector.

Will TSA personnel allow my family to go into a black diamond line? After all he has been on dozens of flights already. Or will we be hassled and banished to the family line? What recourse would we have if challenged by TSA on our level of experience? Can I get a letter from TSA authenticating our status as "black diamond" eligible?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I LOVE this idea. Just today, flying through MIA to LGA I saw a bunch of vacationers (which I get to be once in awhile too) and thought "oh no, amateur hour. Those who are casual flyers always ask, do I have to takae off my shoes, what liquids in a clear bag, oh, I have to take out my laptop? Thus holding up the rest of us who have shoes off, jackets off, liquids out and ready to go.

THIS IS A BRILLIANT IDEA. This is why I always use the shuttle lanes at LGA, there are more experienced flyers. Expand this concept, please.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why not a line for those with artificial joint implants or limbs? And why not just a pat down where the wand goes "bing" instead of a full body, spread eagle, snap my bra pat down? Why are we still asked to take off shoes when some of us are hardly able to get them on in the first place (don't complain about mothers who have to struggle to get them back onto 2 or 3 kiddies after they get thru the line). I suppose common sense is too much to expect from any branch of government.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why can't we have locks on our baggage that is checked? If they want to see what is inside, they should be screened at check-in. I hate to get my bag back at to find it has been opened and the contents rifled through,the restraining straps not replaced and my clothing a mess in the bag. After such an experience, I have learned to pack smarter and use carry-on only. I sometimes check baggage in on the return trip because by then it doesn't matter if things are a mess when I get home; the clothes are dirty anyway.

Submitted by ChiFly on

As a frequent flyer, (over 60K miles so far this year -domestically)help me understand what lane I should put myself in at SLC where I will be for the Professional Ski Instructors' meeting in two weeks? I live in Chicago and work in CA and I am on TSA's hit list as a surly customer at every major airport in the US. I hate security. I even flew to Orlando just to get a Clear Pass when they first came out, and I smuggly cut in line in front of everyone, card in hand, at Clear airports. I am flying first class and will have both business (computer) and ski gear with me (boots). Do I qualify for the Black Diamond lane or are you going to have to haul me off for being obnoxious in the airport when I am sent to the Blue Lane?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I am not a huge fan of the TSA but I have to say -- for being the government agency that is abused the most by the public they are pretty damn nice. All the people I run into try hard to be polite even after dealing with many upset people every day.

If any of us treated at IRS agent they way we treat TSA personell we would be probably be audit fodder for the rest of our lives.

Its nice to see they are trying something to help those of us that fly several times a month.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This is a terrible program. I've witnessed it in Denver, and people will still go to the shortest line because they self-determine that they are "expert" travelers. Please get rid of this program and come up with something that actually works.

Submitted by MrPete on

Personally, I love this idea. I hear a lot of selfish whining from people who don't understand what it's like to be a biz traveler.

However, sounds to me like a bit of incentive is needed for proper self-selection. How about something like this:

In black diamond, be ready by the time you hit the box pile, or you're placed in the family line. And there are no instructors; you're expected to know what you're doing. Protest? You get ejected. Just like hockey :)

So:
Experienced lane: minimal TSA assistance, fastest XRay tech, line clears many experienced people quickly.
Family lane: lots of TSA assistance, XRay tech needs to be competent but not as fast.
Normal lane: normal TSA assistance, XRay tech needs to be good enough so line keeps moving as this lane handles the bulk of passengers.

Oh: if you don't know why the rules are there, just explore the TSA site a bit. They explain. And if you're a non-skier int'l passenger, just read the signs.

Submitted by Greg on

After having traveled for the last six months through 14 countries (Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, France...)with my family (children ages 3 and 1), car seats, stroller, and bags, I must say that I am very glad that I did not have to travel in the United States. Forget it - I will make the line shorter for TSA. US flagged carriers are terrible to begin with, TSA is out of control, and now they even steal baby food. As much as I love the US (which IS the best country in the world to live in), I won't fly in the US anymore. TSA can't be helping those money losing airlines...

Submitted by Gandung on

I am just outside of the US. I am so glad that i have more information regarding tsa.

Submitted by Jack on

It's just sick that TSA steals baby food.

Submitted by Alex on

I remember a while back discussing the TSA with a few friends of mine, and there was quite a lot of criticism about how they have handled certain things in the past. I have personally never experienced them, but some friends have, and they all tend to have slightly negative feelings.

Submitted by Kara Jackson on

I have to travel a lot, at least twice a week, so I know how annoying it can be when inexperienced travelers slow down the process. Cheers for this idea!

Submitted by Don on

I definitely appreciate the work the TSA is doing but as a black man I've been profiled quite a few times both at the Dallas and SFO airports. This has to stop! As the great Benjamin Franklin said those who give up liberty for security will soon have neither.

Submitted by Zan on

If you think you're being profiled as a black man maybe I should tell you about my experience as an arabic man and yours will seem like childs play!

Submitted by Best Baby Car Seat on

I think this is a very good initiative. In Europe we don't have these kind of passenger "filtering" systems, but many times I wish we had! Inexperienced travelers are not to blame, but they often do cause delays for frequent travelers.