TSA is beta testing a new “screening at speed,” checkpoint at the Harry Reid Las Vegas International Airport. This is a beta test only and doesn’t include the entire airport, nor is there a plan to roll the entire process out to airports across the country. Good thing too, because I can see a few questionable areas already. 

NOTE: this article does not address the new technologies being rolled out by Vanderlande or Micro-X.

First, I haven’t been through the new beta checkpoint so I can only speak to this based on the media reports I’ve seen. Second, I’m glad to see the TSA continuing to be innovative in the screening process, upgrading the automated imaging technologies for body scanning, and swapping out the older x-ray machines for the new Computed Tomography (CT) machines. I also like the the automated bin returns and putting everything into the bins so I can quit having my backpack straps get caught in the rollers. The entire bag screening process is an improvement and we’ve been seeing these elements roll out across the country for a few years now.

That said, there’s one fatal flaw I’m seeing in the video on the screening at speed checkpoint and that’s the absence of a TSA officer there to tell you how the process works. I understand there will still be some TSA personnel there, but not as many as normal and that’s a problem. The concept of having a TSA officer there on a computer screen as “help desk,” for passengers is not going to work. Instead of TSA officers assisting passengers with what they are supposed to do, it’s going to be frustrated, impatient business travelers trying to educate leisure and international passengers about how to get through the checkpoint. Plus, there is a security benefit to having more security personnel around who can spot suspicious activity.

We’ve known for years that the best way to improve the passenger experience at the checkpoint is to get passengers OUT of the checkpoint as quickly as possible. Almost nobody enjoys the screening process itself (and if you do enjoy it, well, I guess everyone needs a hobby). TSA has worked for years to streamline this process to ensure both security and efficiency are maintained. Also, as I’ve said numerous times, there’s a direct security benefit to expeditious screening and that’s by not providing a massive crowd in a screening line, which makes for a tempting active shooter or bomber target.

The TSA officer in the video who is helping the reporter online says she spends only about 10-15 seconds talking to each person. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out over the course of an hour how much that’s going to back up the line. Granted, you’ll have some passengers walking around that person to divest their belongings, but I guarantee you’re going to have plenty of people standing idly behind them because they don’t want to be rude and jump the line. Besides, who LIKES talking to a help desk??? Sorry, not me.

It takes a TSA Officer just a couple of seconds to tell a passenger what to do and it keeps the line moving. Why ADD time to that process on the assumption all the passengers will know what to do, or, will take the time to video call a TSA Officer.

Also, I like the open millimeter wave imaging device but I don’t like the “self-screening” element. I like the fact the technology is quicker than the existing “phone booth,” (does anyone remember what a phone booth is?), but I don’t want to stand behind some passenger who travels once every other year, as they play Twister to get their body in the right position to make the lights go green.  They have to stand there and figure out (a) how to stand, then (b) what the lights are for and (c) what they are supposed to do about it – then walk in and out a dozen times until it’s happy they took off their watch and belt. A TSA Officer can do that in a couple of seconds. I guarantee it’s going to take some leisure passenger a full minute to figure this thing out, meanwhile the line continues to back up.

Let’s hope the TSA realizes you still need someone there to explain to people what to do and assist them, or else this is going to become screening at slow speed.

Jeff Price

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