TSA’s self-sorting lanes

Many of our readers had heard about TSA's effort to implement self-sorting security lines to speed things up. The idea is much like skiing, where the dare devils can run the black diamonds, the regular skiers who are still improving jump on the "blue square" trails, and the beginners stick to the bunny slopes and the "green circle" runs.

tsa_checkpoint_classifications.jpg I finally had a chance to experience how effective these self-sorting lanes could work for airport security, where they are organized as such: Expert traveler (black diamond), Casual traveler (blue square), and Families & Special Assistance (green circle).

I have to say, I think it's an interesting idea. One of the big things that Kip Hawley is promoting is a more relaxed TSA security checkpoint experience. By that, he doesn't mean relaxed security procedures, but a relaxed experience for the persons waiting in line.

John Gillie at the Tacoma News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) did a great interview with Hawley this week, and the first part of their interview summed up what the overall "TSA experience" is being focused on:

"It’s about increasing the calmness. If I yell out, “OK, everybody get your bags out. Take your shoes off,†then you’re increasing the level of tension. So cut out that. Talk to people. Engage with them. If you have a more confident presence, it works. The black diamond lanes like you have here have already calmed down the checkpoints. You have happier passengers. You have happier officers. We’ve actually improved our officers’ attendance at airports where we have the black diamond lanes." -- Kip Hawley, as told to The (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune (see full article)

So, now having experienced the self-sorting lanes, I can say that I do think there is an initial relaxation that occurs. Being someone that writes about security, and who travels often and who travels light, I jumped straight into the Black Diamond/Expert Traveler lane, ready to buzz through security and pick out a good suspense thriller novel to read on my flight back home. I was, admittedly, instantly relaxed ... right up until the point that I realized the expert lane wasn't filled with road warriors who spend more time in airports than at home. In fact, as I looked forward, I saw a half dozen strollers ahead of me, a number of people dragging two carry-ons, a family of non-English speakers who kept staring at their tickets and a number of other oddities for a so-called expert traveler line.

With five serpentine rows ahead of me until we could reach the X-ray machines, I got time to look over to the Casual Traveler and Familes & Special Assistance lines off to our left. The mix of persons in those lines was virtually identical to the black diamond side of the TSA checkpoint. And with five serpentine rows until the X-ray machines, I also had a chance to compare line "throughput". As it was, the speeds were virually identical.

After 20 minutes of shuffling through the route to the X-ray machines, here is what I've learned about the self-sorting lanes: People are going to self-sort themselves into whatever appears to be the shortest lane. That's a truism, regardless of whether they are an expert traveler, a casual traveler, or traveling as "families & special assistance." There's a beauty in the fact that we self-sort to the shortest lane possible, because it reminds me of the equality and egalitarian ideals that this nation was founded upon.

So, why don't we just get rid of the ski-slope-style classification from the TSA security checkpoint and just recognize that everyone wants through as fast as they can, not just the road warriors who are only carrying a laptop bag?

And as far as relaxing the entire process, I might recommend everyone just bring their iPod or a book they can read in the line. Soon enough, you'll be at the front of the line where your bag will be scanned and you'll be pulled aside to enjoy a full body-cavity search.