Feb. 15, 2008— -- The Transportation Security Administration wants passengers at Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) to look deep inside themselves and answer a critical question: Just what kind of traveler are you?
Now that the agency has launched a new experiment at SLC that allows fliers to select their security line based on how comfortable they are with the screening process, your answer is important.
The pilot program is called Black Diamond, a name that may sound familiar to those who frequent the region's ski slopes. Easy courses are marked with green, moderate ones with blue. The most difficult receive a black diamond.
The TSA hopes the ski-based rating system will translate to the airport.
Are you trying to keep your kids off the conveyor belt as you look for your missing boarding pass? Then you may want to choose the green lane. It is designed for families and those who may need a bit of extra time to navigate the process.
The blue lane is for those who are familiar with flying but may have multiple pieces of carry-on luggage.
As for the black diamond lanes, the TSA hopes experienced travelers, the ones who have their boarding passes ready, shoes off and laptops out of the bag, will slalom through.
TSA spokesman Christopher White says one goal of the program is to reduce stress on passengers.
"Less stress is actually better for security," White says. "Those who are suspcious stand out more."
All three lanes will maintain the same level of security.
The TSA acknowledges that the program is new and there may be bugs to work out. For instance, one lane is called a frequent traveler lane and may confuse members of airline frequent flyer clubs.
The agency will adjust the program as it grows, but for now the expectation is that experienced fliers will move quickly through lines and families won't feel pressured if an experienced flyer is looming over their shoulders.
"One feedback we get from travelers is that they feel pressured by those around them," says White.
The pilot program will expand to Denver International Airport in the coming weeks.
All of this is part of a broader TSA effort to improve its process and reduce stress in the system. Passengers flying on Continental Airlines out of Houston can now take part in a paperless boarding pass program, while Burbank's airport offers a customized lane for travelers with only one carry-on bag.
Earlier this year the TSA launched a blog that allows passengers to vent their frustrations, criticisms and suggestions to the often-maligned agency.