'Family lanes' take off at airports

WASHINGTON -- The Transportation Security Administration is opening "family lanes" at almost every airport checkpoint this Thanksgiving holiday to ease stress for parents traveling with children during the busiest travel period of the year.

The family lanes, which often feature assistants to help parents, will be open at 533 checkpoints in every large and midsize airport when millions of inexperienced travelers are taking to the skies.

Families will be directed by screeners to the specially marked lanes, where parents can feel free to move at their own pace through checkpoint screening. The lanes will be open by Nov. 20 and in place permanently, TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said.

It's the largest rollout yet of the family checkpoint lanes, which many airports started on their own this year and have found popular with travelers.

At the 45 largest airports, the family lanes also will have special scanners to screen large bottles of "medically necessary" liquids such as contact-lens solution and infant formula.

Passengers are allowed to carry bottles of such liquids that exceed the TSA's 3-ounce limit, but those passengers will be directed to family lanes equipped with bottle scanners, Howe said.

Forty-eight airports have set up family lanes while designating lanes for expert travelers and lanes for casual travelers. The expert lanes often move faster, and family lanes are typically slower, but many families like them because they feel more relaxed, Howe said.

"This is going to be a good program that will allow the TSA to focus its screening resources on passengers that maybe need a little more time," said Christopher Bidwell, security chief at the Airports Council International.

Some airports worry that the TSA plan to have at least one family lane at every checkpoint with at least two security lanes may slow down things for non-families. "We'll watch this closely," Miami International Airport security director Lauren Stover said.

Airport-design consultant Gloria Bender said the TSA will have to monitor checkpoints all day so that, if few families are traveling at a certain time, the family lane will be used by other passengers and not left empty.