Last updated: 02:15 PM ET, Thu July 21 2016

Smart Lanes Are About To Become Much More Common

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | July 21, 2016

Smart Lanes Are About To Become Much More Common

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

United Airlines has announced that it will fund the installation of new automated security lanes at its hub airports. The upgrade project will begin at Newark International. Both Chicago O’Hare and LAX will also get the new lanes before the end of the year. 

This has become an important trend in the fight against excessive checkpoint delays. After TSA efforts to improve wait times at security checkpoints proved unsuccessful, airlines took matters into their own hands by funding this kind of upgrade. 

Airlines embracing faster security lanes

Delta was the first airline to fund the installation of the so-called "smart lanes." It built two lanes at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson earlier this year. The smart lanes feature a longer conveyor belt and five stations where passengers can fill bins with their laptops, carry ons and shoes. The bins use radio tracking, so passengers do not have to wait to go through the body scanner at the same time as their bags. 

Bags can automatically be separated for additional screening, and bins are returned to the filling area on a parallel conveyor. This limits the need for extra TSA agents to perform menial tasks like returning bins to the head of the line. 

ATL's new lanes were successful enough to get the attention of American Airlines, which is currently in the midst of a multi-million dollar project to install the same kind of equipment at checkpoints its passengers use in Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami and Chicago. 

READ MORE: Atlanta Testing New Automated Security Lanes 

United taking the idea to the next level

United’s Newark project will be the biggest security lane upgrade to date. The main checkpoint at Newark’s Terminal C will get a total of 17 new smart lanes. The O’Hare upgrade will be at Terminal 1, while LAX’s Terminal 7 will also get a redesign. United has yet to announce how many lanes will be added at the two other airports.

Other steps to speed up screening

The airline is also pushing for more of its passengers to sign up for TSA’s Precheck program. The airline is opening a temporary Precheck enrollment center at its space at Penn Station in New York City. There are also plans to create a temporary enrollment center at Chicago’s Willis Tower and to open additional centers at United’s hub airports. 

Later this summer, United will allow MileagePlus members to redeem their loyalty points when enrolling in Precheck. 

READ MORE: JetBlue Will Pay For TSA Pre-Check For Frequent Fliers 

The end of long checkpoint delays?

The smart lane trend seems to be gaining steam, and airlines seem to be willing to spend a small portion of their profits to speed up the security process. The TSA, which has been criticized for excessive wait times earlier this year, seems to be embracing this trend. 

With 17 lanes, United’s Newark checkpoint upgrade is the largest installation of smart lanes to date. It shows that this trend is moving from the testing phase to the mainstream.  


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