New lanes could cut wait times

By Daniel Silliman


Standing in the middle of six security lanes, in the middle of divider lines leading to metal detectors and security officers, a vice president of Delta Air Line's called it an advance in efficiency.

"This," said Greg Kennedy, vice president of customer service, "is a beautiful picture of progress."

For a cost of $26 million, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport added 10 new security checkpoint lanes. Unveiled on Tuesday, the expanded North and South terminal checkpoints drew praise from Delta, AirTran Airways, the Transportation Security Administration, and the airport's general manager.

The project has increased the number of security lanes from 22 to 32, with the vast central security checkpoint supplemented by four more lanes on the south side and six new ones on the north. The additional lines also change things, by allowing for self-segregation by skill level, so expert travelers who are always in airports can move through faster, while those who need more time won't feel rushed and pressured.

"People will be directed to the lane that's most suited to their needs," said Ben DeCosta, the airport's general manager. "These new security checkpoint areas, security lanes and more convenient screening procedures will decrease checkpoint wait times. During the traditionally busy '100 Days of Summer' this year, we managed to reduce the number of wait times exceeding 20 minutes by almost 90 percent, over last year. This $26 million investment will further enhance the overall efficiency of our airport, making for an even more hassle-free experience for our customers."

The new lanes are divided by sky slope symbols. Black diamond lanes are for the "Expert Traveler," symbolized on the sign as a business woman with two bags. The blue square lanes are for the "Casual Traveler," the majority of people. The green circle lanes are for "Special Assistance," people in wheel chairs, people with strollers or children.

Jon Allen, spokesman for the TSA, said studies have found that skill-divided security lanes work better. Everyone flows through easier, kind of like a clear highway where the slower cars stay to the right, and everyone is less stressed by not being slowed down or pushed to go faster.

"Everyone said they want to go through it at their own pace," Allen said.

The graduated-lane system was first tried in Salt Lake City, in February, and now exists in more than a dozen international airports, according to airport officials.

For the TSA, the self-segregating lines make things calmer and less agitated, which could be a security benefit. For the airlines and the airports, there's a constant effort to limit time in lines and to make flying less of a hassle.

"We are always trying to identify solutions aimed at reducing security wait times," said Rick Pelc, the general manager of AirTrain Airways in Atlanta. "We want to make travel easy and convenient to the customer, while reducing the time of waits."