Hartsfield-Jackson completes 22 smart lanes at TSA checkpoints

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has finished installing 22 smart lanes at security checkpoints, completing the full roll-out of the new lanes aimed at speeding the screening process.

Atlanta airport general manager Roosevelt Council announced the completion of the lanes during testimony at a Congressional hearing on Thursday.

The roll-out of the smart lanes started about a year ago, as one of the efforts to address long security lines that plagued Hartsfield-Jackson and airports across the country.

“Stories of long security lines made national headlines” last year, Council said.

Hartsfield-Jackson was the first airport in the nation to test the new smart lanes. They were funded with a $1 million investment by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines for the first two lanes and another $12.5 million paid for by the airport for an additional 20 lanes.

The completion of the deployment of the smart lanes Wednesday evening means that of the 27 security lanes at the three security checkpoints in the domestic terminal, 22 are smart lanes.

Since Hartsfield-Jackson launched the smart lanes, other airports and airlines have begun installing them around the country.

The smart lane setup “keeps slower passengers from holding up the line,” he said, by allowing five passengers to load bins at a time.

Council said a standard security lane can handle 160 people per hour, while a smart lane can handle up to 208 passengers per hour.

Particularly during busy holiday periods, Council said that “can make a difference between a 35-minute wait and an under 20-minute wait,” which is the airport’s goal.

But some travelers have been confused by the new system at the security checkpoint. Council acknowledged as much during his Congressional testimony.

“A learning curve exists for passengers who are unfamiliar with the technology,” Council said. “However, we are confident that in time, people will understand the process and enjoy the time-savings.”

Part of the issue is that the efficiency of the smart lanes depends on travelers understanding how the system works, including that they can jump ahead to put their items into bins even when passengers in front of them haven’t finished filling their bins yet.

Some travelers have also encountered confusion with the different system of pushing bins onto the conveyor.

And the automated bin return system works more efficiently when passengers put their bins on the bin return stack at the end of the lane, but many passengers leave their bins on the conveyor once emptied.

“While it’s too early to fully assess the strengths and weaknesses of smart lanes, our findings over the last year have shown positive results,” Council said. “Their performance over time will be the true measure of success.”

The benefits include strengthened security, by diverting bags that set off an alarm to a separate conveyor not accessible to the passenger, he said.

And speeding screening holds the promise of cutting back on crowds in the terminal that can become “soft targets.”

“Terrorists are increasingly targeting public spaces,” said U.S. Rep John Katko, R-NY, chairman of the House transportation and protective security subcommittee. “Anything we can do to reduce that target is a good thing.”

Council said for airport officials, “the white space between when you get out of your car at the curb and get to the checkpoint -- that is our focus when it comes to security, and trying to ensure people can get through the checkpoint onto the secure side.”