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Monday Rave: Security Line, Experts Only

Andrea Sachs

After countless flights over innumerable years, I am now a certified pro at airport security. Faster than you can say "bag check," I can slip off my shoes, pull out my computer and toiletries, place them in the tray, and saunter through the metal detecting machine, boarding pass in hand. I know which earrings and belt buckles set off the alarm and remove them accordingly.

So, I was excited to recently join other veteran fliers in the Black Diamond Self-Select Lanes, which cater to travelers who know how to move swiftly and expertly through the security lines. The Transportation Security Administration launched the program in February in Salt Lake City, and more than 30 airports, including Dulles, now feature these appointed lanes.

The Virginia airport can be a bear to use. In addition to its sci-fi people movers (which will be replaced next year with AeroTrains), its security lines are often congested and twisted in a maze with no exit in sight. The new lanes attempt to free up traffic by targeting travelers who know not to carry pocket knives and Jell-O. According to the TSA's criteria, you must be a "frequent traveler who knows how to get through checkpoint quickly & efficiently," is "very familiar with TSA procedures and always prepared" and "understands 3-1-1 liquids policy." Check, check and check.

When I arrived at the airport last week, there was no pop quiz or vetting process. An official directed me to the lane not because of my savvy skills but because the security lanes on the ticketing level were overcrowded. In fact, he directed everyone to the lanes, frequent and first-time fliers both.

Despite the egalitarianism, the black diamond lanes were a blessing. Because the security area is tucked away between baggage claim areas 7 and 8 on the lower level and because many travelers were resistant to split from the pack, I had only one person ahead of me. Fortunately, he knew the drill, and I was in and out within moments. Which got me thinking: Maybe only pro travelers know not to follow the hordes but instead to break off and take the less-trammeled route. For me, it's Black Diamond forever.

By Andrea Sachs |  August 25, 2008; 9:30 AM ET  | Category:  Andrea Sachs , Monday Raves
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I just flew out of Dulles and was told I couldn't use the downstairs security lane because I was not traveling alone. What difference does that make? My husband and I both know how to get through as quickly as possible. My liquids are in a ziplock before I even get to the airport. What does it matter if I'm traveling alone?

Posted by: wondering | August 25, 2008 12:58 PM

I wish TSA DID do a pop quiz. I used the Black Diamond lane at Dulles - and was held up first behind two 30-something year old ladies who had to be TOLD to take their ID out of their wallets, and then they wanted to have a discussion with the screener about THAT, and then the elderly gentleman who failed to take his cell phone out of his pocket, as well as his keys, change, oversized Texas belt buckle. Thanks for broadcasting to everyone this nice little secret that makes Dulles semi-bearable. It will surely soon be overrun with the usual mindless mobs. (Note - who told you, Wondering, that you couldn't use it because you weren't alone? That is NOT correct. Also, I wonder who told the author that "they" were sending everyone down to the Black Diamond lane? Was "they" in a TSA uniform, or was "they" one of the minimum-wage, English-language-challenged sloths that frequently run amok at Dulles?

Posted by: Premier Exec Frequent Traveler | August 25, 2008 3:47 PM

*sigh* Back in February, my husband and I flew from MSP to SFO. He's a frequent business traveler, I am olive skinned with curly hair and have only in the past two years or so stopped getting routinely pulled out for those "random" searches. Both of us know our TSA rules, regs and procedures cold.

When we got to the head of the security line, our carry-on was on the conveyor belt, as were our shoes, coats, belts and watches, 3-1-1 bags and laptop in the appropriate gray bins. And we were presenting ID and boarding passes to the agent.

The TSA guy looked like he was ready to kiss us both because he hadn't had to engage in the same inane conversation about what needed to be done. Because getting to the head of the line, people were still wearing their parkas and boots, and despite passing *two* displays on 311 bags (one which provides ziploc bags), they were astounded anything had to be pulled out of their bags at all.

I hope we get a Black Diamond lane out here (and that they pre-screen you for it). That would make security soooo much better.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | August 25, 2008 5:44 PM

Part of the reason that people are so baffled about whether or not they actually have to remove their baggies for 311 is because it's not always enforced. I'll go so far as to say rarely enforced. I've flown more than usual this summer, haven't pulled out my liquids (although they were bagged and ready to go) and never once had a screener call me on it. Maybe this is because I'm a middle-aged, fair-skinned white woman with straight brown hair and a painfully Anglo-German name, traveling alone?

Posted by: BxNY | August 26, 2008 8:43 AM

When I am at BWI, I scan the various security gates and avoid lines with:

- families
- elderly
- physically challenged
- punk rockers (seriously, they have to take all those piercings off!)

Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.

Orlando Int'l has diamond lanes, but does not enforce them. I think every airport should have a special line for 1st class and those who have an elite status on their boarding passes.

Posted by: Dan | August 26, 2008 11:57 AM

Question...wouldn't screening for black diamond lanes just slow them down?

Posted by: cbr | August 26, 2008 4:58 PM

We will be flying international-out of Atlanta soon. Do they have a Black Diamond self sellect lanes? I woudl love to know before we get there.

Posted by: Channah | August 27, 2008 11:42 AM

For a map showing which airports have black diamond lanes, see the TSA website at: http://www.tsa.gov/approach/black_diamond.shtm.
(Yes, Atlanta has them.) Same page has a link to a TSA blog for those who want to rant (or rave) about the lanes.

Posted by: Sue | August 27, 2008 2:06 PM

So far Ive done the Black Diamond lane at CVG, IAD, and MDW. The only thing is that they tuck away those lanes so far away from the others thatI wonder if you lose any of the time you save by getting through faster.

Posted by: JD | August 28, 2008 9:44 AM

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