Security

Another airport lets you reserve your checkpoint time

The uptick in air travel brings with it an uptick in airport security wait times. So airports around the country are getting creative in testing new ways to keep those lines from getting out of hand.

You may remember our story about the “Spot Saver” program Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is piloting this summer that allows passengers to reserve a time to go through the security checkpoint.

The “virtual queuing” test at SEA runs through August 31, 20201 from 4 a.m. to noon (the airport’s peak travel period). The program gives passengers who have neither TSA Pre-Check nor CLEAR memberships a way to streamline their security checkpoint experience by getting an appointment time (with a 15-minute window) to access the security line.

There is no fee to use the program, which is set up at two SEA checkpoints and open to all passengers.

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Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is testing a similar program

At Boston Logan, the test is running through July 7 in Terminal B, from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The program at BOS is in partnership with the accesso, a company that provides virtual queuing for theme parks and attractions around the world. At BOS, the Virtual Security Line lets passengers use their mobile devices to reserve a spot in the line. They are then notified (with a countdown clock) when it is their time to approach the checkpoint, get their QR code scanned, and enter the checkpoint line.

We hope these test programs work out and convince these and other airports to make virtual cueing for checkpoint times a permanent amenity.

In the meantime, keep in mind that security checkpoint lines are usually longer in the summer. But now we have physical distancing, out-of-practice travelers, and lots more nervous travelers, so be sure to pack your patience when you head to the airport now.

This airport lets you reserve your security checkpoint time

Now you can reserve your time on the TSA line at SEA Airport

(This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for USA TODAY)

The good news: air travel is picking up.

On Sunday May 2, TSA screened more than 1.6 million passengers, the most since March 12, 2020.

The bad news: long wait times at security checkpoints may be back coming back too.

Courtesy Port of Seattle

At times during spring break, the lines to go through the security checkpoint stretched into the food court at Orlando International Airport (MCO). At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, lines snaked across the sky bridge and into the parking garage.

TSA is in the process of hiring 6,000 new screening officers ahead of the predicted summer travel surge. And that should help move things along.

So too could a new pilot program that debuts Tuesday at SEA airport.

The program, called SEA Spot Saver, will attempt to streamline wait times by offering digital reservations, or “virtual queuing” for passengers to go through the screening process.

Here’s how it works

The program will operate daily through August 31, 2021, from 4 a.m. to noon (the airport’s peak travel period) at two checkpoints (2 and 5) and offer expedited screening to general screening passengers for free. No membership or account sign-up is required.

Expedited, non-reserved screening remains available to passengers enrolled in Trusted Traveler programs such as TSA PreCheck and CLEAR.

SEA Spot Saver will be testing two options.

Alaska Airlines passengers can sign up for a security checkpoint appointment online up to 24 hours before their scheduled departure time or once they are in the terminal.

Passengers will receive a QR code to use at checkpoint 5 at their reservation time. This option is offered by Pangiam, and powered by WhyLine and Copenhagen Optimization.

The second option, operated by VHT, is for passengers flying on Delta Air Lines and all other carriers. This option allows passengers to begin booking a checkpoint appointment time by scanning a QR code once they are in the terminal. Passengers will show their emailed reservation appointment at checkpoint 2.

Both options give passengers a 15 minute window for their appointment times. The Alaska Airlines option lets you book up to 12 passengers in a group. The Delta/other airlines option lets you book a group of up to 10.

SEA will be the only airport in the United States currently testing a “virtual queuing” system as a solution for crowded general screening lines. 

Montreal-Trudeau International Airport (YUL) has offered screening reservations since 2014 through SecureXpress, but that program is currently on hold due to the pandemic.

“The pandemic has left very few passengers coming and going through YUL,” said YUL spokeswoman Anne-Sophie Hamel via email, “As such, there is no line-up to get through security, and the service is simply not useful right now.”

From October 2020 through April 30, 2021, Denver International Airport (DEN) piloted the VeriFLY app and program. Passengers could book a timed checkpoint appointment, but they also had to file health data information before arrival and get temperature checks on site.

Port of Seattle officials say that after the pilot program is completed late this summer, they will evaluate usage, customer feedback, and line efficiency and, if successful, launch a broader program. 

“These are the innovations and ideas that we love to make our guest experiences more convenient and stress-free, especially as more people get back flying again,” said Charu Jain, Alaska’s senior vice president of merchandising and innovation. “With very little effort, guests can lean on technology to get them through the security process quicker.”

READ ID deadline delayed. Again

If one of the many things worrying you during this pandemic has been how to get to a Department of Motor Vehicles office so you can get a driver’s license or identification card that is REAL ID compliant, you can relax.

The Department of Homeland Security has decided to delay the deadline for this. Yet again.

The latest deadline for this was supposed to be October 1, 2021. But now the deadline has been pushed back 19 months to May 3, 2023.

“Protecting the health, safety, and security of our communities is our top priority,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. “As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.” 

What is the big deal about REAL ID?

After the terrorist hijackings on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Real ID act with the idea of adding extra layers of security to the driver’s licenses and other identification documents travelers show when seeking to board an airplane.

Many states have had a hard time (or were opposed to) meeting the stricter requirements, so enacting the law has been delayed many times already.

Now, if nothing else causes the READ ID deadline to be pushed back yet again, beginning May 3, 2023, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification (such as a passport) at airport security checkpoints for domestic air travel.  

How do you know if you have a driver’s license that’s REAL ID compliant? In most states, there is a star in the upper, right hand corner. To see what the procedure is in your state, check the DHS REAL ID page.

Don’t take your gun to the airport

It’s been a while since we took a look at the count of guns and other dangerous items travelers try to take through airport security checkpoints.

For the record, firearms, grenades and a long list of other dangerous – or dangerous-looking items – aren’t permitted airside in airports.

Yet each week passengers do show up at airport checkpoints with guns, live ammunition and other prohibited items in carry-on bags.

During the peak Thanksgiving holiday period, between November 18 and December 1, TSA officers found 153 firearms in carry-on bags.

Of those 153 firearms discovered, 127 were loaded. And 47 of those firearms had a round chambered.

In addition to firearms, TSA officers also found this novelty item at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on November 25. Grenades and inert grenades, no matter how cute, are on the list of items to leave home.

These grenades also showed up recently at airport checkpoints.

In this picture:

An empty grenade discovered by TSA officers at Louisiana’s Monroe Regional Airport on December 1.

An empty grenade discovered during X-ray screening at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on November 24. 

A novelty belt buckle grenade discovered at Louisville International Airport on November 28.

According to TSA, the most common reason travelers give when firearms and other dangerous items are discovered in their carry-ons is “Oops, I forgot that was in there.”

What happens to people who get caught with these items at the airport?

Some get fines up to $13,333. Some get arrested. And TSA Pre-check members run the risk of losing their status.

Now 3 airports offer gate passes to non-ticketed passengers

Another airport invites non-ticketed passengers to hang and visit

You can do it a Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and you can do it at Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Now Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) will let you do it too.

Detroit Metro Airport now allows non-ticketed passengers to spend time on the post-security side of both the McNamara and North terminals.

The “DTW Destination Pass” program allows non-flying ing guests to come to the airport to shop, eat, check out the art, planes pot, people watch, escort a friend or family to their gate or be there when a loved deplanes. 

“The new regulations allow us to expand our gate pass program that already exists for our Westin hotel guests,” said Wayne County Airport Authority CEO Chad Newton in a statement, “Now we can welcome more community members into our home to create memorable moments—from watching planes to greeting family and friends.”

DTW’s Destination Pass program isn’t permanent (yet) but is being piloted through the holidays with an end date of January 5, 2020.

Here’s how it works:

From Tuesday through Sunday, up to 75 non-ticketed passengers will be able to enter the secure side of both DTW terminals from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Visitors will need to apply for a pass through the DTW website the day before their planned visit. Applicants will get an email notification letting them know if the application has been approved. If approved, detailed instructions will be sent electronically.  

Pass holders will need to go through the same security screening as all other passengers going through the security checkpoints. During peak checkpoint times, passengers heading to flights will get priority over pass holders at the checkpoints.  

After their visit, pass holders will be asked to fill out a survey.

When the pilot program is done, “Wayne County Airport Authority will be evaluating the use of the program, along with the airport’s cost to provide this service. We will also be reviewing the completed participant surveys,” said airport spokeswoman Lisa Gass.

Other airports invite non-ticketed visitors as well

While DTW’s Destination Pass is being piloted, the gate-pass programs at Pittsburgh International Airport and Tampa International Airport are permanent.

Pittsburgh International Airport kicked off the trend with the “myPIT Pass” program in August 2017. The program operates Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Non-ticketed passengers may apply for a pass by showing a U.S. government-issued photo ID at a special counter in the terminal.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) introduced its TPA All Access Pass in April 2019. TPA’s pass allows non-ticketed guests who apply at least 24 hours in advance to visit one of four airside areas of the airport each Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is a limit of 25 people per airside.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) tested a gate-pass program for a few weeks during the 2018 holiday season and had 1,1650 people take advantage of the program. The decision to bring back the program on a temporary or permanent basis is still under review.

According to Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lorie Dankers, before any airport can offer a gate-pass program to non-ticketed fliers, the airport must submit a formal proposal to the TSA to amend the local airport security plan. If TSA approves the plan, an airport is permitted to invite non-ticketed passengers past security.

So perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of a trend.

(My story about airport gate passes first appeared on USA TODAY in a slightly differing form.)