The often-criticized Transportation Security Administration will be taking steps to test new screening technology and other measures that are designed to greatly speed up airport security lines.
A major move, calling for the introduction of automated screening lanes, is designed to speed up security lanes by 30 percent at four major airports — Chicago O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles International and Miami International — by the end of the year.
Another move will test screening technology, called computed tomography (CT), at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport that the TSA says would enable passengers to leave liquids, gels, aerosols and laptops in their carry-on bags. This technology already is used by the TSA at some airports to screen checked bags.
These initiatives are developed in conjunction with American and Delta airlines, which are contributing financially, according to Travel Weekly.
The TSA came under heavy criticism in the spring and early summer by air travelers, the airlines, airports and Congress for not doing enough to speed passengers through security checkpoints, and there were fears that the situation — involving passenger waits of an hour or more — would get worse during the heavy summer travel season.
But the TSA beefed up its manpower during the heavy-traveled July 4 extended holiday and passenger traffic went more smoothly. The newest initiatives just announced should ease backups at screening checkpoints even further and more permanently.
The automated screening belts, developed in partnership with American Airlines, which is contributing $5 million to the project, deploy bins that are 25 percent larger than the bins used in regular screening lanes, saving travelers time. Bags that are deemed to need extra scrutiny as they pass through the belt can be diverted automatically so that bins behind can continue through the system. Radio frequency tags are attached to each bin, increasing the accountability of items as they go through the belt, reports Travel Weekly.
Additionally, cameras on the belt take photos of the outside of the bag, which are linked to the X-ray images of the items in the bag. Finally, the automated belts have a second conveyor system, located near floor level, that returns empty bins back to the loading area, saving labor time for TSA officers.
Two such belts, Travel Weekly reports, have already been deployed by the TSA in partnership with Delta at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and the TSA reports that they have reduced the time passengers spend in screening by about 30 percent — in addition to enhancing security. Delta reportedly invested $1 million in the project.
During the July 4 holiday, additional personnel made the difference in reducing long wait lines at major airports, according to the TSA. Congress had approved the hiring of nearly 800 new screeners and overtime pay was authorized.
All told, the TSA screened 10.7 million travelers over the six days of the extended holiday period. They were the TSA's busiest days since 2007 and average passenger wait time was 10 minutes. Expedited PreCheck times were under five minutes, the TSA reported.