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Friday, March 7, 2008

New lanes may speed up airport security

WASHINGTON — The government said Wednesday that it's going to expand an airport security program that creates special checkpoint lanes for families and "expert" travelers.

Beginning in April, the Transportation Security Administration plans to launch the program in at least six new airports. "There's no real cap on the number of airports," TSA spokesman Christopher White said. "If this is well-received by the six airports, we'll continue to expand."

A test that began last month in the Denver and Salt Lake City airports found that segregating passengers speeds up security lines and eases traveler stress, White said.

The program creates three lanes: one for families, another for "expert" travelers who move quickly and a third for "casual" travelers. Instructions for passengers are posted at checkpoints.

The program is voluntary. Parents with children are not forced into or barred from any lane, although TSA screeners often encourage them to use family lanes.

In Denver and Salt Lake City, both the expert and family lanes are moving faster, White said.

Families feel less pressure to rush at checkpoints and are increasingly remembering to remove liquids from their carry-on bags. That reduces the number of bags that go through time-consuming hand-searches when screeners spot bottles while scanning the bags on X-ray machines, White said.

Airports are interested in the program, said Debby McElroy, policy chief for the Airports Council International. "It's an opportunity to have a less stressful experience for passengers, especially those who may not be as familiar with the passenger-screening process," McElroy said.

Many airports want to know more about the program because it's new, McElroy added. Salt Lake City's test began Feb. 13 and Denver's started Feb. 20.

Orlando International Airport has told the TSA it is "receptive to a pilot program," airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said.

Caleb Tiller of the National Business Travel Association said the concept "is very appealing to people who travel regularly." But steps should be taken to make sure that passengers go to the appropriate lane, Tiller said.

In selecting the next six sites, the TSA will look for a variety of airports and checkpoint layouts, White said.

Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Betsy Talton called the program "a great first step" to improving security checkpoints.

The family lanes are one of the first efforts to ease security for infrequent travelers.

Airports and airlines have largely focused on speeding up security for their best customers with lines for frequent and first-class passengers.

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