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Automated TSA Lanes Debut in Chicago

Give thanks! Just in time for the busy holiday travel season, American and United have launched automated security screening lanes at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Two of American’s 18 lanes have been converted, and United has added three automated lanes of its own.

These new security lanes could reduce wait times by an estimated 30 percent, and are designed to cut down on all the little inefficiencies that slow down checkpoints. According to United, “The new lanes enable up to five customers to fill their individual bins simultaneously and move through the screening process quicker, even if TSA agents need to perform additional screening on a customer further up the queue. The lanes also utilize a parallel conveyor system that automatically returns empty bins to the front of the queue.”

American provided more detail about its screening line features:

  • Automated belts that draw bags into the X-ray machines, returning the bins back to queue after completion of the screening.
  • Bags with a potential threat can be directed to a separate area to allow bins behind it to continue through the system uninterrupted.
  • Property bins that are 25 percent larger than the bins in regular screening lanes.
  • Unique Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags that are attached to each bin to allow for additional accountability of items as they transit throughout the system.
  • Cameras that capture photos of the outside of the bag, which is linked to the X-ray image of the bag’s contents.

American also said it plans to roll out automated security checkpoints at Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami and New York (JFK) in early 2017. United noted that it rolled out automated lanes in Los Angeles last month and plans to launch them at Newark before Thanksgiving.

These lines are not brand new technology, and if you’ve traveled outside the U.S. you may have seen them in action. I encountered similar checkpoints in London this past September, and I can report that yes, they’re better. Allowing several passengers to fill larger bins simultaneously keeps things moving faster.

Perhaps just as importantly, you feel like you’re moving faster since there’s a more palpable sense of progress and fewer pinch points. If one passenger is struggling with their baggage, for example, it doesn’t hold up the entire line since there are several other bin-filling spots. This also means you won’t feel your fellow passengers breathing down your neck while trying to finagle your laptop from your carry-on.

Readers, have you passed through one of these new lanes? What was your experience?

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