For most of us, there may be no more tedious activity than waiting in a traffic jam. In this case, I mean waiting to clear security at an airport. Since 9/11, we have all become accustomed to the routine of shedding jackets and shoes, removing laptops and putting liquids and gels in 3-ounce containers.
At the risk of making your blood boil at the mere mention of the Transportation Security Administration, it’s time to step out on a limb and give the TSA credit for steps taken in recent months to reduce the natural anxiety we feel as we shuffle along in line.
The improvements are timely because the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, the most dreaded travel times of the year, are upon us.
The checkpoint process
The most recent development from the TSA is the establishment of “family lanes” at checkpoints at every U.S. airport. In many larger airports, the process goes a step further with the creation of three lanes for different types of travelers, using the same kind of diamond symbols that designate expert, intermediate and beginner ski slopes.
At the airports with all three types, the black diamond or expert lane is for those who look to a TSA agent like experienced business travelers who know the routine. Those judged to need a little more time are sent to the blue lane. Families with children and other passengers with special needs are directed to the green or beginners lane.
This appears to be speeding up the process, unless you have the experience I did at Dallas Love Field this summer on a weekday afternoon, when there were few passengers in line. With just a briefcase, I was sent to the expert lane while two family groups behind me were sent to the green lane. The families got through first while I waited for a guy in a suit to unload into five bins his two laptops, an assortment of other electronic gear, a carry-on suitcase and his jacket, belt and lace-up shoes. I’m glad I had plenty of time before my flight.
But TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis told me that in general, the family lanes “are creating a lot of efficiencies. We’re seeing greater satisfaction with the process.”
Of special interest to web workers, TSA has begun to approve certain types of laptop bags that can be sent through X-ray scanners without being removed from the case. More than a dozen manufacturers are making laptop bags that should pass muster with TSA agents. You’ll find there are different styles: Some have separate cases for a laptop that detach from the rest of the bag while others let you keep all the compartments together and unfold the bag to place it on the belt.
Liquids (ban) to go
One of the best possible developments involves TSA installing at checkpoints next-generation X-ray machines that will distinguish between a bottle of water in a bag and, as Davis put it, “something more sinister.” That means chemicals that could be used to create an explosive device.
TSA director Kip Hawley has said recently on his blog that by the end of next year, the agency hopes to be able to lift the rule limiting liquids to 3-ounce bottles, although they will still have to be removed from bags and placed in a bin.
The really good news, Hawley says, is that advances in technology mean all restrictions on liquids could be lifted by the end of 2010.
I’ll drink to that.