Airport security lines lengthen during checkpoint closure

3 key things to know about long airport security lines

  • Arrive at the terminal 2 to 3 hours before your scheduled flight
  • An airline industry group is encouraging travelers to alert TSA of long lines by tweeting about it with the airport code (such as ATL) to @AskTSA with the hashtag #iHateTheWait.
  • The two new lanes to open May 24 at the Terminal South security checkpoint are aimed at testing a new screening lane design to help ease bottlenecks. It will be a small limited test covering only 2 of 28 security lanes int he domestic terminal, but could eventually be expanded if it works.

As airport officials reach for fixes to extremely long wait times at airport security, lines for screening checkpoints stretched through the domestic terminal and snaked through baggage claim at Hartsfield-Jackson International on Monday.

Wait times were more than an hour long during a busy period of the morning, according to the Atlanta airport’s website, and the airport is now advising travelers to get to the terminal two to three hours before their flight.

Double-digit increases in passenger counts combined with budget cuts that have reduced Transportation Security Administration staffing have plagued Hartsfield-Jackson with long lines and wait times for the past year.

But another factor has created even longer lines in recent days. TSA last week closed the Terminal South security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson for a three-week stretch, as it redesigns two of the lanes to test a system that is aimed at speeding screening.

“The goal is to get all of this out of the way so that all available lanes can be operational by Memorial Day,” the kickoff of the busy summer travel season, said Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie.

Long airport security lines have also become a national issue, with wait times at some checkpoints reaching as much as an hour-and-a-half long, according to airline industry group Airlines for America. The group is telling travelers to alert TSA of long lines by tweeting about it with the airport code (such as ATL) to @AskTSA with the hashtag #iHateTheWait.

The tens of thousands of travelers that fly out of Hartsfield-Jackson every day are being added to the already-congested main checkpoint and the Terminal North checkpoint in the domestic terminal.

Monday morning is one of the busiest periods at the world’s busiest airport, with business travelers leaving for weekly trips adding onto the thousands of other passengers, including graduation and Mother’s Day travelers this past weekend. This Thursday and Friday are also expected to bring big crowds at the airport.

TSA officials say workers who staffed the closed checkpoint are now working at the main checkpoint, so lines are long but will move more quickly. For example, in a rare move, TSA had all 18 lanes at the main checkpoint and all six lanes at the Terminal North checkpoint open for the rush of travelers Monday morning.

The issue of long lines has come to a head in recent months, after Hartsfield-Jackson officials raised concerns about lengthy security wait times and threatened to consider privatizing airport screening.

In response, TSA is adding about 120 workers to its staff at the Atlanta airport.

New checkpoint technology

Another proposed fix is new technology to automate some of the work of moving passengers and carry-on bags through checkpoints.

TSA and Delta Air Lines officials plan to test two newly-designed security lanes that will feature RFID (radio frequency identification) technology.

Airport officials hope the two new lanes to open May 24 at the Terminal South security checkpoint will bring some promise of a better system that can ease bottlenecks in the security screening process.

One choke-point occurs when travelers stop the line while sorting through their pockets or countless items in their suitcase to pull out liquids or laptops or other items.

To address that issue, the two newly designed lanes will each have five stations for five different passengers to load bins at the same time — eliminating the need to wait for a passenger in front of you to finish loading a bin.

After loading a bin, the passenger would push it directly onto an automated conveyor system that shuttles the bin to the X-ray machine. The passenger then walks through screening.

If a suspicious item turns up during X-ray screening, the bin is automatically routed to a separate conveyor via an RFID tag on the bin. A TSA officer would then check the items in the bin.

Once retrieving belongings from their bins, passengers drop the empty bins onto a lower-level conveyor system that bring the bins back to the beginning of the lane. The system, similar to a bowling ball return, eliminates the need for TSA agents to manually carry bins from the end of the lane to the front of the lane.

The new design is modeled after systems used at London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol airports.

“By having automation at the checkpoint, you should have some time savings,” said TSA spokesman Mark Howell.