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Insta-CoGo: TSA's Intriguing Test . . . Will It Work?

Cindy Loose

An interesting test is taking place at security lines in Denver and Salt Lake City airports: Separate security lines are marked for families, for casual travelers and for "experts." No one is forced to go into one line or another, but the hope is that frequent travelers who know all the rules and can breeze through security will select the line marked with a black diamond (for, you know, experts). And that the casual traveler who is not as prepared and forgets or doesn't know the rules will choose the casual traveler line, and families will put themselves in the family line.

Sounds like a good idea to me. After all, frequent travelers not only know the rules but plan ahead -- they wear slip-on shoes instead of boots or tennis shoes that have to be unlaced to be removed; they know their belt buckle is going to set off the alarm, so they take it off it, etc.

The family with the car seats and strollers and kids who refuse to take off their shoes -- well, they also have their own line (should they choose to use it).

The question is: What will people do? Will they self-select and choose the queue right for them, assuming they aren't in a big rush, or will they always go for the shortest line? Or if all else is more or less equal, will they hit the expert line --on the assumption that even if they aren't experts, the experts in front of them will keep the lines moving faster?

This is not just a test of security measures -- it's a test of human nature.

By Cindy Loose |  March 4, 2008; 7:02 AM ET  | Category:  Cindy Loose
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I love this idea. Once when flying with my kids we were randomly selected for the extra security screening. Because of the two carseats, strollers and four carry on bags we took up the entire conveyor belt. Each item had to be hand screened by the TSA. Though the entire process took less than five minutes I thought the business traveler behind me was going to have a stroke. He kept telling us to move our stuff, the TSA kept telling us not to move our stuff. It certainly made a stressful situation more stressful. Segregation really seems to be called for here.

Posted by: Family Traveler | March 4, 2008 7:30 AM

Great idea; I just hope that infrequent travelers don't mess it up. (They will)

Posted by: Liz | March 4, 2008 9:54 AM

The people who will screw this up are the ones who "think" that they are experienced frequent travelers. Families with a lot of crap should welcome the separate line and appreciate the lack of eye rolls and heavy signs from those of us who show up with the right shoes, laptop in hand and liquids neatly packed in a quart-sized bag.

It's those folks in the middle with a "carry on", briefcase and large purse full of god knows what who refuse to remove their shoes "because they never cause a problem" who need to smacked with a bat.

Posted by: Lloyd Dobler | March 4, 2008 10:15 AM

I agree. The families will probably be fine, but some casual fliers will overestimate their travel-savvy. Still, I think it's a great idea that will generally improve the process.

Posted by: jane | March 4, 2008 12:06 PM

I'll concur with the above. I think the families will welcome a line where they don't feel like they are holding more experienced travelers up.

It will be the "casual" traveler that holds up the "experienced" line. Good in concept, perhaps flawed in execution. Maybe if they have a sign or guidelines ("Did you wear slip on shoes?" "Are your electronics in a separate screening bin?" "Is your bag packed so TSA agents can easily examine unusual items?") it might help smooth things along.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 4, 2008 12:16 PM

Well, I'm in that middle group. I think the idea is a good one but have to admit that if I'm running late for a flight, I'm getting in the shortest line. Period. I've never held anyone up because of shoes, laptop, whatever issues and don't think I'd be a problem (precisely the kind everyone worries about, I know). I'm not missing my flight just because I don't fly that frequently. Sorry.

Posted by: non frequent flyer | March 4, 2008 12:50 PM

I would LOVE this! I fly enough for buisness I can the routine down, and when I had a buisness trip the Monday after Thanksgiving, I really realized how much the families and non-frequent travelers slow things down. I really hate the securities lines. And, honestly, I would leave my husband in the non-expert line and go through the other myself. I get so annoyed that he will *not* wear slip on shoes. And not even tennish shoes. He flies in the same lace-up boots he wears everywhere else.

Posted by: RT | March 4, 2008 12:51 PM

I have to say, I relish that day when I can say to someone "Maybe you should move to the 'casual travlers' line."

Posted by: Liz | March 4, 2008 12:51 PM

I may be able to get through security line easily, but I sure can't type.

In my first line, can=have.

Posted by: RT | March 4, 2008 12:54 PM

having just been though SLC, I noticed but didn't think it did much good. The screening area was the typical small space where everyone's bunched up; it was even worse as everyone stopped trying to figure out (1) what line they 'qualified' to to go in; (2) what the different distinctions meant - and if they really were 'enforcable' or just suggestions; and (3) what line was the shortest from start to the end of the snaking maze (this is more complex when you're trying to follow three different lines - kind of like one of those 'work your way out of the maze' puzzles).

It make the whole process slow and confusing. My take - the process ends up with the added "let's make a deal" quality of should you choose door (line) A, B, or C - and the fatalistic knowledge that you'll have made the wrong choice.

Posted by: swdc | March 4, 2008 1:07 PM

Again, I love this idea. Each line could have specific things for those travelers. Nothing for the experts but they should get the quickest TSA agents. Extra plastic bags and seats for the families and casual travelers. Watching 80 year olds struggle back into their shoes is one of the saddest things about flying today. The family line could be located in an area with some extra space. Trying to hold a baby, pull a car seat, stroller and diaper bag off the conveyor belt at the same time is very difficult. Doing all this while trying to keep track of a toddler is even more challenging. Having some chairs and a bit of extra space would be terrific.

Posted by: Family Traveler | March 4, 2008 2:08 PM

Nice idea in theory that won't work in practice. People will take it on themselves to try to demand that other people move to a different queue and you'll get arguments and the like. It reminds me of churches that establish a "comfort room" where parents can take crying babies to calm them down. Somehow, the attitude among other parishioners becomes that parents with children are expected to spend ALL of Mass in the "comfort room." A parent with, say, a 7-year old kid who don't have much luggage between them could certainly use the "experienced" queue, but it's a virtual certainty that some self-important person would demand that they move to the "family" queue (to which I would hope that the parent would say "Mind your own $%&*ing business").

Posted by: Rich | March 5, 2008 2:42 PM

Rich---I'm sure you don't actually want parents to use that kind of language or attitude in front of their children. May I suggest something more along the line of:
"Thank you for your concern for us, but we're fine in this line."

Posted by: cindy loose | March 5, 2008 3:24 PM

In parts of the country where people are a little bit less self-important than they are here in DC, this might work. But in DC? Not a chance, unless it's *required* - in other words, if you have children under 10, you go in the "family" line, regardless of how often you/they travel. If you need a little extra time or have more than 1 carry-on, you go in the "casual" traveler line, etc.

This is precisely why I coughed up the $128 for my registered traveler card. I won't have to deal with any of this stuff 'cause I'll be in a completely separate line anyway.

Posted by: dcgirl1899 | March 5, 2008 9:55 PM

"I'm sure you don't actually want parents to use that kind of language or attitude in front of their children."

It doesn't really bother me. Perhaps the kids will refer to "Daddy's airport words" instead of "Daddy's driving words" or "golf course words."

Posted by: Rich | March 6, 2008 11:54 AM

BTW, upon re-reading, perhaps it was not clear--I do not have kids. But I don't think it would be fair for people to operate as though someone with kids MUST use the "family" queue. It might well be that they fly with the kids often enough that they'll be faster than many adults.

Posted by: Rich | March 6, 2008 1:00 PM

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