New security lanes in Atlanta: Will they help?

Using the new automated security lanes at the South checkpoint

Step 1: Once you get to the screening area, approach one of the five stations and take a loading bin from beneath the station.

Step 2: Fill it with all your items, including a roll-aboard suitcase, for example. The bins are 25 percent larger.

Step 3: Push the bin onto a conveyor belt, which will move it into the X-ray machine, then walk through the checkpoint. You don't have to wait for the person in front of you to finish. Each bin has an RFID radio frequency identification chip for tracking.

Step 4: Retrieve your belongings on the other side of the X-ray machine. Your bin is automatically returned to the front of the line via a lower-level conveyor belt.

If a bin’s contents needs to be manually screened, it is bumped over to an alternate conveyor belt for an officer’s inspection.

Two new automated security lanes at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport drew a crowd on Wednesday — of both fliers and national media.

The re-tooled lanes, which feature more automation and multiple stations for passengers to load their belongings into extra-large bins, are the first of their kind in the nation.

They’re modeled after a system at London Heathrow Airport, where Gil West, chief operating officer at Delta Air Lines, said security lanes can process double the passengers of typical lanes.

Delta, Hartsfield-Jackson’s biggest tenant, is putting nearly $1 million into research, development and implementation of the new lanes operated by the Transportation Security Administration.

“Everybody is painfully aware of the line waits,” West said.

The two lanes reopened Tuesday after the upgrades, and with a limited number of passengers produced a 30 percent increase in throughput, West said.

But they are only two of 28 lanes in Hartsfield-Jackson’s domestic terminal, and record crowds along with limited staff are still expected to cause congestion this summer. TSA expects to see highs of more than 85,000 passengers passing through Hartsfield-Jackson security checkpoints daily throughout the Memorial Day weekend and recommends travelers arrive two to three hours before departure.

Wednesday, officials from TSA, Delta, the airport and the city, along with local and national media and TV cameras, gathered for a look at the new lanes as they handled a regular flow.

TSA officials will evaluate the Atlanta project with an eye on expanding the design nationally.

It was clear new technology alone does not relieve the frustrations of security screening these days.

Traveler Tenishia Keller called the experience of going through the new lane “hectic.”

“I had to wait,” Keller said. But, “I guess the bigger bins help.”

Matt Velarde, a traveler from Chicago, said he was worried about missing his flight but found that the new lane “moves a lot faster.”

Jose Gonzalez, of New York, said he ran into an issue with screening of his bag but added: “It definitely looks more efficient than the system they had before.”

The new lanes had temporary outages on the first day, TSA spokesman Mark Howell said, noting that regular lanes also have outages.

West said the process may take longer at first with the new system, adding that the test may show a need for signs to be added to direct passengers to bins, for example.

“I really have high hopes for doubling our capacity,” West said.

Vaughan said one benefit of the new system is that it reduces the need for officers to carry bins from the back to the front of the checkpoint.

“The officers can focus on security,” Vaughan said.

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger has touted the new lanes as a promising new technology. But it could take years to fully deploy.

Hartsfield-Jackson was chosen as the test bed because of its volume.

“It’s a good place to get sample data,” Howell said.

Among officials at Wednesday’s show-and-tell was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who last week ousted Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell. Reed hasn’t given a specific reason but has expressed frustration with the long lines and said “urgency” is needed to deal with them.

Reed said he’s “pleased that we are the model” for other airports.

Along with its funding of the new lanes, Delta said it is putting $4 million into additional workers to supplement TSA staff in Atlanta and at other airports.