We’ve been getting a lot of pitches from airlines and the TSA bragging about the new “automated” security checkpoints popping up at airports across the country since last year. You know, the ones with the conveyor belts that deliver bins underneath a steel counter. Some refer to them as “smart lanes.”
In theory they should work well, but in practice, it sounds like it might be another story. We’ve heard from many readers (and friends) who question whether or not the automated lanes are an actual improvement.
Here’s one email from TravelSkills reader FF:
Chris, do you have any opinion on the new Delta initiated TSA “automated” checkpoints in ATL? In my experience (I go thru 2x / week), they are an unmitigated disaster. Even the TSA agents are disgusted with it.
I was told by an agent a few weeks ago, it was a UK-devised system (RED FLAG!!) that was being pushed by Delta. He also said that it required two extra agents per line to facilitate getting the passengers through due to the confusion/awkwardness created by the system. I heard another agent on Monday night saying that it takes so much longer than the old way.
In the past, I would ask an agent when the TSA was going to phase out the boondoggle, but I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the system is now being installed at MSP. I told an agent there to get ready, because it was a real cluster**** and she said she’d heard the same from several passengers. I wonder if Delta even beta tested it before rolling out?
Here’s a video United created to help roll out the new lanes at Newark Liberty airport.
The idea for the new lanes is that the TSA can process multiple people at one time. It’s designed so that experienced, streamlined passengers can easily get around slower passengers by just walking up to another slot. But it does not always work that way. From what I’ve seen, people feel like they are “breaking” in line if they choose a slot closer to the screening machine. So they wait. And then the TSA agent overseeing the operation shouts at them to go ahead and take the empty lane.
The lanes most recently went into operation at Minneapolis St Paul airport, and the TSA sent out a press release extolling the following virtues:
The automated screening lanes offer several new features designed to improve the screening process for travelers going through the security checkpoint including:
- Stainless steel countertops designed specifically to enable several passengers to place their items in bins simultaneously;
- Automated conveyor belts that move bins into the X-ray machine tunnel and return the bins to the front of the security checkpoint;
- Automatic diversion of any carry-on bag that may contain a prohibited item; this diversion to a separate location allows other bins containing other travelers’ belongings to continue through the screening process uninterrupted;
- Bins that are 25 percent larger than a typical bin and are able to hold a roll-aboard bag;
- Unique Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags that are attached to each bin, allowing for additional accountability of a traveler’s carry-on property as they move throughout the security screening process;
- Cameras that capture photographic images of the contents of each bin and are linked side-by-side to the X-ray image of a carry-on bag’s contents.
It sounds good in theory, but in practice, we are not so sure.
So the question is…is this just a learning curve thing, or a failure in design? What do you think? Please leave your comments below.