American Airlines, which recently complained to Congress that thousands of its passengers were missing flights due to long airport security screening lines, is the latest company to look to new technology to speed up the process. American joins Delta, which recently installed a pair of innovative checkpoint lanes at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson (and bought part of CLEAR).
American said it will cooperate with the Transportation Security Administration in trying out new technologies and procedures including automated screening lanes and computed tomography (CT) scanners at its hubs nationwide. The aim is to reduce the time customers spend in TSA lines by 30 percent, the company said.
The effort will begin with a pilot program at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, due to start by year’s end. The company anticipates expanding the enhancements to Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Los Angeles and Miami.
Part of the program involves ”automating many of the functions currently conducted manually,” in order to speed up the process, American said. That includes automated belts that pull bags into the x-ray machine so customers don’t have to stand by to push them in; and other belts that return empty bins to the beginning of the checkpoint, so that TSA personnel don’t have to do that. New bins in the regular screening lanes will be 25 percent larger than the existing models so passengers won’t need as many of them.
Any passenger items believed to show a problem during x-ray can have their bins automatically shunted off the main belt for further checking without holding up the line. Bins will have radio frequency ID tags (RFID) “to allow for additional accountability of items as they transit throughout the system,” AA said; and cameras will grab a photo of the outside of the bag “which is linked to the x-ray image of the bag’s contents.”
Also to be tested at Phoenix is the latest CT scanning technology. It’s only used on checked bags today, but American said if it were used for carry-ons, that “could make it possible to allow passengers to leave liquids, gels and aerosols, as well as laptops, in their carry-on bags at all times” – he same kind of treatment that only PreCheck members get today.
The leader in CT security scanning is a firm called Analogic Corporation, which has been testing the latest scanning technology for the past two years at Amsterdam Schiphol and London’s Luton Airport, looking for explosives and other prohibited items without requiring travelers to remove laptops or liquids from their bags. The company said earlier this year that the tests have been a huge success, scanning more than a million bags so far. “The results were considered the best in class by airport security experts, with extremely low false alarms and increased throughput at the checkpoint,” a spokesman said. The company said the tests indicate CT scanning can handle up to 550 passengers per hour – twice the rate of traditional x-ray scanning.
American’s announcement comes just weeks after Delta teamed up with the TSA to install new security screening stations at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson that incorporate some of the same elements American will use at Phoenix – except for the CT scanning. They also have five stations where passengers can load up their bins simultaneously instead of doing it one at a time.
TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said at a Senate hearing recently that the two new screening lanes at ATL have shown “dramatic improvements’ in speeding up the security process, improving efficiency by about 30 percent.
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