With the holiday season just around the corner, I bet many of you are thinking about your travel plans.  How will you get to see your loved ones?  Or how will they get to see you?  If air travel is part of your plans, then you’ll be happy to know that your next trip to the airport might be a little bit easier.  No, security isn’t going to be done away with, but an improved TSA checkpoint design is starting to arrive at more airports throughout the United States.  These checkpoints have long been common in Europe, and they make it easier to get through those lines a bit faster.

These redesigned checkpoints arrived at San Francisco International Airport this past week, and they abolish two major security bottlenecks that have been the plague of flyers since we had to start removing our shoes. But let’s talk about how they work:

Instead of having to wait for the person in front of you to sort their belongings and shove their bin into the scanner, the new design has multiple loading stations (typically, three to five) where people can unpack at their own pace without holding up the line. After each person loads their bin, they place it on the conveyor belt and go on their way, even as that one guy still looks for his laptop.

TSA is referring to these as “Automated Security Lanes”, but that’s not exactly what’s happening as TSA agents are still watching you.  The lanes themselves are automated and the bins get returned to travelers who are waiting to go through the checkpoint. Instead of a TSA employee needing to wheel a cart of empty bins to the front of the queue, bins are automatically returned on a second conveyor belt beneath the scanner. Passengers who need an empty bin can continually grab one from below their loading station.

While these look and sound like a great idea, they can certainly cause issues for people who have never used the system before.  It’s kind of like my mom trying to use the self-checkout lane at the grocery store when she normally goes to see a cashier.  It’s slow, painful, and not pretty.  During a demonstration of this system on Wednesday, passengers were hesitant to step up to the loading stations and TSA staff had to clear the empty bins and stack them in the return slot.

That said, these automated bins are long overdue, so hopefully, we will start to see them at more airports over the next few months and years.  San Francisco is the sixteenth airport in the United States to install these automated bins.  Airport drama aside, these are a really good use of technology.  And by that, I simply mean, technology was used to automate a process.  The technology itself isn’t that complicated and has been around for a while now. Yes – this is available at 16 airports throughout the United States, but it’s not consistent and in some cases only operates in certain terminals at certain airports.  Hopefully, these will become available everywhere to make air travel a little bit easier.

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