It’s good to see airports pushing back.
In an unusual, strongly worded letter to the TSA, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which oversees the New York City area’s three major airports — has essentially threatened to fire the TSA by privatizing their passenger screening process.Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport — which handled more than 100 million travelers last year — sent a similar letter to the TSA threatening to privatize passenger security lines.
Two I-Lines are expected to debut at Atlanta’s south domestic terminal checkpoint on May 24, the TSA said. Here’s how they’ll be different:
- Baggage bins automatically move to a separate conveyor belt if a TSA agent IDs them as suspicious.
- Baggage bins automatically recirculate after they move through the security machine.
- The I-Line includes special “divestiture” areas where passengers can take off shoes, belts, etc. at their own pace.
Some automation will help a tiny bit, but I rarely see the line being held up because of a lack of bins at the front. Filtering out the bins to be checked will help a bit more because often it is the same agent who is doing the screening who has to stop what he is doing and remove the suspect bin from the belt, or call someone over and stop the belt while he or she waits.
The “divestiture” area is a good idea. One of the things that holds up the line the most is infrequent travelers taking forever to take off the necessary things for scanning. And often they are unfamiliar with the rules (you mean I can’t take the Starbucks coffee I just bought through the line?) or forget basic science (does my studded dog collar count as a metal object?). This is why I always try to get behind business travelers who know the routine and breeze through it. Having a place set aside for people to take their time while the rest of us swing through will help some.
Another area where I see a lot of delays is just in poor staffing by the TSA. They know the flight schedules and have access to the number of passengers who will need to pass through security at given times during the day. Yet too often there is a crush of hundreds of passengers while security lanes sit idled due to lack of people to staff them. At other times, there are three passengers in line with dozens of TSA agents sitting around chatting. Staffing based on expected traffic is done in many other industries and can be done for the TSA too if their union contract will allow it.
In any case, it’s good to see airports holding the TSA somewhat accountable for their performance.