Security upgrades designed to relieve airport stress

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by BYRON HARRIS

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WFAA

Posted on December 20, 2013 at 11:31 PM

Updated Saturday, Dec 21 at 9:18 AM

DALLAS — Next to fear of flying, the most stressful part of air travel for many passengers is going through security.

Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport and the Transportation Security Administration are working to relieve that through new upgrades.

Observing travelers waiting in security checkpoints, anxiety is frequently written all over their face: "Am I going to make it through the TSA check in time to catch my flight?"

"It's time sensitive," said Bob Blankenship, the assistant vice president of planning at DFW Airport. "[Passengers] really don't know how long it's going to take them to clear security [and] that adds to their anxiety. They wonder if they're going to get to their flight on time."

The security wait can vary from city to city and season to season.

At some airports with one large terminal and few checkpoints, the process can be sluggish since all passengers funnel through one area. But, sometimes that can be an advantage, allowing efficiency of scale.

Last summer in Seattle, which has one big terminal, passengers were warned that clearing security could take a full hour. Just looking at the lines was daunting for travelers.

DFW has five terminals and 15 checkpoints, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage, Blankenship says.

Nationwide, the TSA says most passengers make it through security in less that 20 minutes. The agency says it communicates with airlines at every airport daily to determine passenger loads.

DFW officials say most of its travelers are processed in 10 minutes. Now, the airport is working to make the experience less stressful.

Instead of looking like a Post Office, one new checkpoint looks more like a hotel lobby with mood lighting, pastel signs, electronics that track how fast the lines are moving and overhead monitors that show passengers how long they'll have to wait to get to the front of the line. The checkpoint has a commercial sponsor, Springhill Suites, which pays for the amenities.

Once inside the checkpoint, posters show passengers what items they'll need to place in bins rather than waiting to hear it directly from TSA agents.

DFW officials say early data shows travelers move quicker through the checkpoint. After they've been scanned, there's a homey couch where passengers can put their shoes back on and gather their items.

Next year, the TSA will offer the option of premium security screening, which could save passengers even more time. The PreCheck program gives travelers access to an expedited security line. PreCheck requires an $85 fee, an interview and a fingerprint and background check. Passengers can already enroll in Indianapolis and other cities will follow next year.

Some passengers already have access to a PreCheck through enrollment in a Customs program called Global Entry, which also requires a fee, interview and background check. Other airlines have facilitated PreCheck enrollment through their elite frequent flyer programs.

TSA already makes security checks easier for older travelers and children. Its mission, the agency says, is not speedy checkpoints, but rather solid security. That said, Congress is considering raising security fees passengers already pay as part of their ticket cost. Currently the cost is about $5 a ticket. It could go up and travelers may demand more speed.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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