‘Self-Select’ Security Lines Come to La Guardia

The Transportation Security Administration unveiled separate airport security lines for three different kinds of travelers. Enlarge this image. The Transportation Security Administration introduced a new screening system at La Guardia Airport on Wednesday that tries to speed things up — and reduce anxiety and frustration — by asking travelers to choose a line based on their familiarity with checkpoint procedures.
The system relies on customers to sort themselves into three groups, each assigned a color and shape: a green circle for families with small children and strollers, groups, travelers needing special assistance and travelers new to flying; a blue square, for casual travelers who are familiar with T.S.A. procedures and have multiple carry-on bags; and a black diamond, for “expert” travelers who are well-versed in the procedures. The latter are “always ready with items removed” (no metal, no shoes), fly more than twice a month and travel light. Members of “elite” frequent-flyer programs are included in this category.
The program, which began as an experiment in Salt Lake City in February and was introduced in Denver and Boston in March, arrived at La Guardia Airport on Wednesday, the 24th airport where the program has been implemented.
The program will be coming to Newark Liberty International Airport “in the coming months,” said Lara Uselding, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security. And a modified form of the program — a separate family line, targeted at families who do not speak English as their native language — was introduced last week at American Airlines’ new Terminal 8 at Kennedy International Airport.
At La Guardia on Wednesday, travelers seemed to have favorable impressions of the new system.
Igor Gaisinsky, 37, was with his wife, Chau Diep, and four other adults and four children, on vacation from Windsor, Ontario. They were the only ones in the family line at that moment, but Mr. Gaisinsky, who travels five or six times a year, said it made it less stressful for him, when traveling with children, not to have to feel the stares of dozens of impatient fliers waiting behind him.
“It looks like if it were busier, it would really expedite my family,” he said.
Brett Weinhouse, 40, of Westchester County is a business manager and travels dozens of times a year. He entered the “expert” line, even though he was on vacation, headed for Birmingham, Ala. He carried eye-lubricating drops in a clear plastic bag.
“Only an expert would have this in a bag,” he said, with a bit of pride.
Although there has been no rigorous study of the program’s effectiveness, T.S.A. officials have said that anecdotal evidence suggests that lines have been moving more quickly. At the very least, they said, the program gives travelers a sense of control and reduces the angst associated with long waits and cumbersome, if essential, procedures.
They also said the program would free security screeners to look for suspicious behavior.
Skeptics have suggested, however, that people are likely to overestimate their abilities to get through a line quickly, and that relying on passengers to sort themselves is a recipe for failure.
Those in charge of the Self-Select Lane program, as the authorities are calling it, said such worries were unfounded.
“It’s kind of like going to the line for ten items at the grocery store,” said the program’s national director, Earl Morris. “Nobody wants to be that person with 20 items holding everyone else up. It’s peer pressure.”
Business travelers seemed especially appreciative of the new program.
“It’s frustrating when you have to wait behind somebody who doesn’t know that they have to take their shoes off or is trying to get a gallon drum of some fluid on the plane and arguing with the people about whether they’re allowed to take it on,” said Waymond King, 46, a business traveler from Tallahassee, Fla., visiting New York on business.
In the family line, Juanita Jones, a security agent, deftly screened Locia Alomoto, who was traveling with her infant, Jemal, in a stroller. Ms. Jones calmly explained what Ms. Alomoto could take (baby formula) and what she couldn’t (bottled water). She asked Ms. Alomoto to remove Jemal’s shoes. Then she folded up the child’s stroller as Ms. Alomoto held the baby.
“I don’t mean to brag, but I am in the right line this morning,” Ms. Jones said of her ability to shepherd families through the screening. “We try to help the mother when she’s traveling alone with her child. Or the father, if that’s the case.”

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