The skies are friendly; the passengers are not

Pick a lane, any lane ...

Thu, 2008/05/08 - 10:36 by aargh

Pick a lane, any lane ...

Some airports isolate a security checkpoint lane for premium passengers. The
relatively few people qualify for access tend to be experienced passengers
with a precision checkpoint routine. As a result the premium checkpoint lines
are shorter and move faster than their less-special counterparts.

Somewhere, waiting in line for the standard security checkpoint, are
experienced travelers who don't qualify for the elite lanes. They are a
subtle blend of bored, frustrated, and stressed, not unlike the the smart kid
who is light years ahead of his classmates. The smart kid makes a ruckus, the
other kids are equally distracted and frustrated as a result. People get by
but no one really wins.

Some time ago I pondered, Why not have separate security lines based on
experience, rather than status?
People who can handle the routine in
their sleep would shoot through. Travelers who still try to carry
aerosol cans and bottled drinks, well, the would get their own private hell.

The TSA has read my mind. Several airports nationwide, the latest being
Chicago's Midway, now use a "self-select" system with three groups of
checkpoints: beginner (green circle), intermediate (blue square), and
experienced passengers (black diamond). Rate yourself and choose your lane

(Extra credit to those who note that this was borrowed from ski trails, which
use these symbols to denote trails of beginner, intermediate, and advanced
levels of difficulty, respectively.)

Is this a perfect system?


Any such self-selecting system will fall victim to misguided egos or misfits.
Ever seen a slow car in the fast lane? Who hasn't seen some jerk push a full
cart through the grocery's "Ten Items Or Less" lines? I don't expect people
will become more diligent just because they're at an airport.

So the system's broken?

Not at all. So long as you accept that nothing's perfect.

I certainly don't condone people who break the rules, but let's face it: the
occasional infraction doesn't break the system. That's why, most of the time,
grocery store express lanes are still very efficient and highway fast lanes
usually live up to their names.

Self-selection yin finds its balance in community-enforcement yang. Honking
car horns in the fast lanes, shouts from angry shoppers in the express
checkout, glares from black-diamond passengers -- yourself included! -- all
clear out the occasional blockage in the fast-track.

Will the premium-passenger security checkpoints disappear as airports adopt the three-tier system?

We won't know until we see more data on the black-diamond lanes. Assuming the system properly self-selects, I would expect tomorrow's black-diamond lanes to be just a hair longer than today's premium lanes. I doubt an extra five or ten people in line would prove bothersome. Especially if the three-tier system were to exist at all airports, whereas the premium lines do not.

What's the next step in airport security?


Some stores have established self-service checkout scanners. Will the TSA
follow suit? Only time will tell ...

Further reading for the curious:

"Slalom course at Midway",0,...

"TSA revamps checkpoints at Love Field to ease stress, congestion"