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TSA Rolls Out 'Innovation Lanes' To Slash O'Hare Security Lines

By Alex Nitkin | November 14, 2016 2:41pm
 The new lanes were introduced for United Airlines and American Airlines passengers at O'Hare's Terminal 1 and Terminal 3, respectively.
The new lanes were introduced for United Airlines and American Airlines passengers at O'Hare's Terminal 1 and Terminal 3, respectively.
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Shutterstock / American Airlines

O'HARE — Aviation officials Monday unveiled re-tooled lanes designed to more quickly and efficiently shuffle passengers through security lines at O'Hare Airport.

Dubbed "innovation lanes," the new checkpoints include automated features and organizational tweaks that officials say will make life easier for both passengers and Transportation Security Administration workers.

Instead of the traditional system where passengers nudge bins down a steel table until they can manually push them into an X-ray machine, they'll file into one of five individual "stations" and push their belongings onto an extended conveyor that whisks their bin forward.

"Today whenever you show up to a screening, you really can't go any faster than the person in front of you," said TSA spokesman Mike McCarthy. "It's frustrating for people who travel light, and cause anxiety for people at the front. But now, you just go to an open station, you push your bin forward whenever you're ready, and you don't have to wait for people on either side of you."

The bins at the new lanes are 25 percent larger than the current standard, meaning carry-on bags should fit inside them, McCarthy added.

In addition, another conveyor belt will carry used bins back to the front of the line, eliminating the need for TSA workers to wheel them back around manually, he said.

Three "innovation lanes" went into operation at O'Hare's Terminal 1 on Monday for passengers flying United Airlines. Another two lanes opened last week for passengers flying American Airlines in Terminal 3, officials said.

Although the new lanes were designed and commissioned by the TSA, both United and American Airlines helped fund their rollout at O'Hare, according to McCarthy.

Airport officials began looking for new ways to tamp down security lines this spring, when staffing shortages caused massive backlogs at airports all over the country, including O'Hare.

"This summer we saw peak wait times at over 100 minutes, which is really unacceptable," said Jonathan Leach, chief operating officer for the Chicago Department of Aviation. "With additional staffing we've seen wait times go down to five minutes or less, and we want to use new technology to continue to improve that."

"Innovation lanes" made their American debut at Atlanta International Airport earlier this year, McCarthy said. Before that, they'd seen success at airports in London and Amsterdam.

The TSA is hoping to expand the new technology at O'Hare and other airports, including Midway, although the agency has "no specific timeline" for the process, McCarthy said.

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