New lines ease flow for airport security

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The security at Pittsburgh International Airport forked into three lines, and Lindsay and Vince Kehres, their 3-year-old son Evan in tow, gladly took the most winding path -- the green so-called "family" line.

"We are a family, so I guess we are going in the slow lane," said Mrs. Kehres of Alliance, Ohio, with a laugh. "But that's fine. We are going to take a lot longer than expert travelers. They don't have to stand behind us and roll their eyes and think, 'When is this family going to get through?' "

Mrs. Kehres, who was bound for Orlando, Fla., praised the Transportation Security Administration for creating three different lines under its new "Black Diamond" system.

Seasoned travelers who know the security drill cold -- business travelers who go light and travel at least twice a month -- can breeze through the "Black Diamond' line, a play on ski slopes classifications for expert trails. Casual travelers, those familiar with TSA procedures but with multiple carry-ons, are supposed to take the blue line (intermediate slope). Families with small children and people with special assistance are directed to the green line.

Mrs. Kehres was happy to go through the pokey line with her family, but said she will appreciate the expert line when she travels by herself as a businesswoman and wants to go quickly.

These new lanes are likely to make traveling easier during the busy summer travel season, even though the Air Transport Association of America projects a slight decrease in air traffic this summer. Some 211.5 million people are expected to fly this summer, down 1 percent from the 214.2 million who traveled in the summer of 2007.

Many travelers seemed pleased, if somewhat surprised, by the new system, which debuted April 22 in Pittsburgh, one of 12 cities to implement it. Pittsburgh was chosen to test the system because the airport authority embraced the concept and the landside terminal had enough space to accommodate it.

"I think it is nice to get a little reward for being a frequent traveler and moving through security a little faster," said Brett Jones, a personal trainer who travels frequently and was on his way to Amsterdam. "I travel two or three times a months."

Ann Davis, the spokeswoman for the TSA, said, "We are looking for ways to make the passenger security checkpoint more user-friendly and less stressful for travelers. This empowers passengers by giving them their opportunity to choose the lane that complements their knowledge of the security rules. You don't have a family of six with a stroller and multiple backpacks and liquids they have to clear standing behind a business traveler who flies frequently and has security procedures down to a science."

Since the system was implemented in Salt Lake City in February, she said there has been a 35 percent increase in number of people going through the security line in the same time frame. "They have also seen fewer prohibited items being intercepted in the family lane. They attribute that to families feeling less pressure to move more quickly and they have more time to empty their pockets and remove their backpacks and give them more time to focus so they are not waiting in front of business travelers who fly regularly."

Cammy McLallen, an infrequent flier from Erie, didn't understand the lines and just shrugged. "I am just going to get into line," she said before arbitrarily choosing the casual traveler line.

A man who only identified himself as Dan was unimpressed. "I don't know. What does this really mean to us?"

Of course, the travelers choose their own lanes, and so on a recent day, you could see an occasional family with small children taking the expert lane.

But Ms. Davis likened that to the supermarket shopper with 15 items sneaking into the 10-items-or-less express checkout lane. "That doesn't devalue the concept because a few people go to the expert lane when they don't know the rules as well." Sometimes, a TSA official will direct a traveler to a particular lane.

The real measure of the system will come in months after the novelty has worn off, said Kathy Ameche, an expert on female travelers and author of the book "The Woman Road Warrior."

"Right now, everyone is adhering to the rules and being a good soldier," she said. "The test is going to come the Wednesday before Thanksgiving."


Cristina Rouvalis can be reached at crouvalis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1572.


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