April 17, 2024


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TSA unveils the first self-screening security line at Las Vegas Airport

LAS VEGAS — The Transportation Security Administration unveiled the nation's first self-service screening system Wednesday at Harry Reid International Airport. Starting Monday, PreCheck passengers can participate in a pilot program designed to modernize checkpoints and give travelers more independence.

During the morning demonstration at the Las Vegas airport, TSA officials compared the new program to supermarket self-checkout lanes. Instead of TSA officers walking passengers through the two-step process, travelers will scan their bags and themselves. This will allow them to set their own pace and minimize their interactions with TSA employees.

Agency staff will continue to verify ID cards, supervise secondary bag screening, and search passengers suspected of carrying prohibited items.

Officials said the goal is not to speed up screening processes but to improve passenger experience.

“We would love for this to eventually speed things up, but that's not the primary goal at this point,” said John Fortune, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Rapid Screening Program. “The goal is primarily to reduce the officer's burden at the checkpoint and make the experience more enjoyable and convenient for passengers.”

How does self-check security work?

The new system occupies two lanes at the Innovation Checkpoint in Terminal 3, a real-life laboratory where the agency tests new safety technology. The checkpoint also handles regular PreCheck travelers, who will be welcome to try out the new procedure from 5:30am to 1:30pm daily. TSA may also invite passengers at other checkpoints to participate in the program. Children under 12 and passengers who require special assistance must use the standard lanes.

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The self-service screening system, which has evolved from concept to reality within two years, combines technological components that passengers may recognize, such as CT scanners. However, travelers will need to learn some new steps — and abandon some habits they've developed at other airport checkpoints.

“The traveling public has never seen this before,” Fortune said. “They haven't experienced what it's like to go through a checkpoint like this.”

On the morning of the big reveal, “passengers” (really TSA employees) demonstrated the self-service screening process. Volunteers boarded one of six stations and followed the instructions displayed on the screen. “do you need help?” The button at the bottom left of the screen connected to a live video of an officer who was ready to answer.

At one station, a volunteer put all of his items — a spinner, a belt and a wallet — into one box, a change from current procedures that require passengers to divide their personal belongings among multiple trays. He added a lightweight jacket to the pile, which is the opposite of PreCheck's actions. He pushed the trash can onto the moving belt and moved to the personal screening machine.

The TSA officer ushered the passengers into a large glass box. The avatar provided guidance. The body parts shaded in green are the correct position; Red sections need to be modified. Arrows and outlines helped achieve the correct posture: arms loosely at your sides, feet slightly apart.

If the device detects a suspicious object, a red arrow will appear, sending the person back outside for stripping. The passenger will place the object in the trash and try again, and again, if necessary. It took one volunteer several tries.

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“Is it my watch?” she asked. This was not the case, and she was eventually allowed to proceed.

“Have a nice flight,” read next to a cartoon image of an airplane.

Meanwhile, boxes swaying along the track will take one of three paths.

  • Copastic hand journeys will continue forward, where passengers can claim their belongings and continue on their way.
  • If the device detects something suspicious, such as liquid larger than 3.4 ounces, the trash will be turned over to an officer who will manually search the bag. One big difference from the current procedure is that the officer will not have to carry any heavy objects to a separate screening area and risk injury.
  • The third scenario includes very dangerous objects, such as weapons. The scanning device will transfer the suspicious bag into a locked box, out of the passenger's reach.

In another change from current protocol, passengers cannot return their trash to the stack. The tray will return on its own, but only if it's empty, a feature that will hopefully reduce the number of generic ads looking for the owner of a forgotten laptop or wallet.

Contactless technology is growing

Las Vegas' self-service security system is just a prototype, But it's part of a new contactless technology trend at airports. It may never advance beyond the innovation checkpoint, or it may expand to other airports, following the same journey as credential authentication technology (ID only at security checkpoints; no boarding pass required) and facial recognition ( About 50 airports so far).

TSA officials said the testing phase could last from a few months to a year. During this time, the agency will collect passenger data and feedback and fix any glitches.

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“We expect there will be some challenges. The question is, how easy are these challenges to solve?” Luck said. “It can be an iterative process where we hope to get a system that is smooth enough that it can be rolled out to the traveling public.”

More innovations and developments could be headed to Vegas, Fortune said. Riders can help test shoe and flatbed scanners with overhead scanning capabilities (imagine an E-ZPass toll system, people). He hopes to experiment with tools that would replace inspections and, in a future flight of fancy, structures that would compress self-service technology into individual pods. “This will be two or three years away,” he said of the latest invention.

Biometrics are appearing at more airports. Delta Air Lines has deployed a facial recognition program called Delta digital ID At airports including Atlanta, Detroit and Los Angeles, and at LaGuardia and JFK in New York City. Instead of pulling documents, eligible members of the airline's SkyMiles loyalty program can simply look at the camera to hand over bags and secure.

Last week, United Airlines announced its first offer “Without touchIdentity verification at airport checkpoints in Chicago and Los Angeles for PreCheck members. American Airlines offers its own version at Reagan Washington National Airport.