Pittsburgh Airport opens free security fast lane for fliers with only one carry-on bag

Technological developments now allow any traveller to check-in, label and drop their luggage and even board the aircraft themselves. However, despite advances in biometric solutions, immigration and security screening has remained a bottleneck for non-premium passengers. Following an earlier initiative by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which lets travellers self-select their security lanes based on how experienced they are with checkpoint procedures, Pittsburgh International Airport has come up with a novel solution in the so-called ‘war on wait’. 

One bag-only express lane 
Since mid-September, Pittsburgh International Airport offers a special security checkpoint lane dedicated exclusively to travellers with only one carry-on bag, including purses, briefcases and computer cases. Jackets aren’t counted as an extra item, but anything else would require passengers to use the other security lines. “It’s sort of like the supermarket where you go through the 12-items-or-less line,” Pittsburgh Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said. “But there will be someone there to count so you can’t sneak into the line like you can do at the supermarket.” The Pittsburgh-only program has the approval of the TSA who is staffing the express lane. 

The one bag-only express lane, reportedly the first of its kind in the U.S, is the result of long security lines at Pittsburgh airport over the summer — sometimes an hour or longer during peak periods. Security wait times at many airports in the U.S. have increased in the past years, as fewer passengers are checking bags and taking more and larger bags through security checkpoints at the airport to avoid rising checked luggage fees. Pittsburgh International hopes the express lane will get more people thinking about packing light. Says the airport’s CEO Brad Penrod: “The Express Lane is a way to streamline the wait at the checkpoint for those who pack light and fit it all in one bag. The move comes as a result of more people carrying more items through the checkpoint to avoid airline bag fees.”

TSA ‘Choose Your Lane’ program
The one bag-only express lane at Pittsburgh Airport seems to have been inspired by the ‘Choose Your Lane’ program launched by the TSA in 2008. The TSA self-select lanes system relies on customers to sort themselves into three groups, based on their familiarity with checkpoint procedures. Modeled on signage used at ski resorts to rate a slope’s difficulty, the black diamond lanes are for business travelers and frequent flyers who need to get through checkpoints faster. The blue lanes are for casual travelers who don’t want to be rushed, and the green lanes are for those traveling with small children who need extra time. Screening is the same in each lane. A modified form of the program — a separate family line, targeted at families who do not speak English as their native language — was introduced in June 2008 at American Airlines’ new Terminal 8 at New York JFK Airport. 

The program is voluntary, though TSA screeners often direct passengers to lanes that seem appropriate for them. According to the TSA, the system (video here), which is currently available at over 50 airports, has reduced reduce anxiety and frustration and has brought down wait times in ‘black lanes’ with around 20 percent, whereas ‘green lanes’ have been around 10 percent slower. 

Furthermore, TSA officials say that the program gives travelers a sense of control and reduces the stress associated with long waits and cumbersome procedures. Skeptics have suggested, however, that people are likely to overestimate their abilities to get through a line quickly. The TSA, however, 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 in the New York Times. “Nobody wants to be that person with 20 items holding everyone else up. It’s peer pressure.” 

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