Research: Longer lines speed laptop checks

U. Buffalo researchers find that longer lines only speed up screening process for laptops


ABSTRACT

Long lines of passengers have an effect on the speed with which airport security screeners do certain aspects of their jobs, according to a study by researchers in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo. The study's findings demonstrate empirically for the first time that security screeners do speed up when lines are long, but only when inspecting laptop computers. The study found that the security screeners did not change their behavior regardless of how long the lines were when inspecting carry-on bags or plastic bins for overcoats, keys, and other accessories.

FULL TEXT

Long lines of passengers have an effect on the speed with which airport security screeners do certain aspects of their jobs, according to a study by researchers in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

The study's findings demonstrate empirically for the first time that security screeners do speed up when lines are long, but only when inspecting laptop computers.

While the effect of long lines seems to be small, the researchers say, the fact that it exists at all has potential relevance for queues of all kinds, including supermarket checkouts, tollbooths, and border crossings.

The study found that the security screeners did not change their behavior regardless of how long the lines were when inspecting carry-on bags or plastic bins for overcoats, keys, and other accessories.

At a mid-sized airport, researchers studied the correlations between how long lines were and how long personnel took to inspect each type of item.

"If you're going to have a speed-up anywhere, it's probably safest to have it with laptops because that's a more difficult item to hide something in," said study co-author Rajan Batta, Ph.D., professor of industrial and systems engineering. "We didn't see a speed up with carry-on bags when the lines were long, so that's reassuring," he said.

The researchers, an interdisciplinary group of industrial engineers, were interested in finding out if there is a speedaccuracy tradeoff in security screening when lines are long.

The researchers say that the study has implications for queuing theory, which, until now, has not looked specifically at how servers may change their behavior when lines of customers get very long.

In related work, the researchers have been able to predict the amount of time passengers will typically spend waiting in airline security queues.