Saturday, July 13, 2024

New automated security lanes promise speedier air travel at United hubs

tsa-agents

Transportation Security Administration agents examine a traveler’s luggage. (Andrew Burton/Reuters)

Relief might be on the way for hordes of travelers who have dealt with gargantuan security lines at major air hubs this summer.

New automated security lanes will soon serve customers at three major airports, the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday. The robotic lanes — set to be installed at Newark Liberty, Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles international airports later this year — promise to reduce wait times up to 30 percent by improving the flow of luggage and reducing the impact of holdups.

Sadly, for D.C.-area travelers, Dulles International Airport is not among the airline’s hubs that will be part of the pilot program. But officials with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Dulles and Reagan National said they are keenly aware that travelers in the nation’s capitol are also eager to find way to speed their trips.

Margaret McKeough, chief operating officer at the authority, said they will continue to work with the airlines and with their partners at TSA to find innovative ways to move passengers through security more quickly. She noted that Dulles and Reagan were not among the airports where passengers have been stuck in long security lines over the past few months. Even so, they are anxious to prevent that from happening during the busy summer and upcoming holiday travel season.

She added that they are interested in seeing if the pilot programs work and what lessons they can take from them.

Newark will receive the first of the new lanes this fall. When installation is finished, the airport’s C terminal will feature 17 automated lanes, according to United Airlines, who is partnering with TSA on the initiative. The security agency said the technology aims to improve safety.

“Our main priority is to protect the traveling public in an evolving threat environment,” TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said in a statement. “We continue to test and deploy state-of-the-art technologies to ensure that we remain current.”

But the lanes will likely be a welcome innovation for air travelers if they can expedite the screening process. Mammoth security lines have sprouted at airports since spring as a consequence of a TSA staffing shortage, which has resulted in tens of thousands of missed flights.

The new lanes feature automated belts that feed bags into the X-ray machines, and send bins back into the queue after the screening concludes, the TSA said. Also, potentially threatening bags can be diverted so bins behind them can proceed along the conveyor without holding up lines.

As part of the enhancements, new, 25-percent-larger bins are equipped with radio tags so they can be tracked throughout the security lane. TSA says the bins will also be photographed.

United joins American and Delta as the only domestic carriers to host the modernized lanes, which allow up to five customers to fill their bins at the same time. United said lines will proceed faster even if TSA agents need to perform additional screening on customers further up the line.

Delta was the first domestic airline to install the technology. It opened two automated lanes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in May at a cost of $1 million, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. American Airlines is adding the screening stations at O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Miami airports this fall at a cost of $5 million, the Dallas Morning News reported.

United said its modernized lanes will be installed in Chicago and Los Angeles later this year, though it did not announce a specific date.

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