March 3, 2008 -- DENVER — The Transportation Security Administration is experimenting with checkpoint lanes designed for families to ease the pressure on parents struggling through an airport with young children.
In one of the first efforts to ease airport security for infrequent travelers, "family" lanes are being tested at the Denver and Salt Lake City airports alongside "expert" lanes for travelers who know every nuance of security screening and lanes for "casual" travelers.
Screening is the same in each lane, and the program is voluntary. Segregated lanes could open around the country if the tests show the concept speeds up security lines.
"The principle is a good one, and I think it will be very effective in airports that want to roll it out," said Earl Morris, TSA's security chief in Salt Lake City.
Airports and airlines have largely focused on speeding up security for their best customers with exclusive lines for frequent and first-class passengers.
Jeremy Hirschfeld smiled as he and his wife, April, shepherded their children Rachel, 9, and Matthew, 3, through the family lane Friday in Denver. "It's a pretty good idea," he said. "You know what you're getting into when you get into the line."
Thirty feet away at the "expert" lane, road warrior Chris Pestak was equally happy to be separated from people such as the Hirschfelds. "I'm not behind somebody with a bunch of kids and a bunch of carry-on stuff," said Pestak, an engineer from Cleveland. "It's a good way to speed things up."
The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, supports the concept. Business travelers can "opt to the lane that allows them to move through the process quicker," spokesman David Castelveter said.
The concept is criticized by Steven Brill, whose Verified Identity Pass has been hired by 14 airports to speed up security for fee-paying customers. "Everyone who's traveling with a kid is ghettoized," Brill said. "Adding to the frustration of certain people so you lessen the frustration of others is not good public policy."
Airport consultant Gloria Bender said families could benefit from their own lanes if they have additional screeners to help them.