Delta Air Lines

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.”

Travel Tidbits: smuggled finches, Iceland adventures, middle seats, and more

There does indeed seem to be an uptick in travel and travel news. Here’s some of what we spotted today.

Delta Air Lines will stop blocking middle seat starting May 1. They were last US airline still blocking middle seats.

Delta also announced on Tuesday that it is extending the expiration date on travel credits and bringing snacks back starting April 14. Passengers flying Delta One or First Class on select domestic coast-to-coast flights will see hot food options return in early June. First Class customers on some other U.S. routes will be served boxed meals beginning in early July.

Alaska Airlines now part of oneworld airline alliance

As of March 31 Alaska Airlines becomes the newest member of the oneworld airline alliance. That means that “as a Mileage Plan member, you can earn Alaska miles on all 14 member airlines when you fly to as many as 1,000 destinations in more than 170 countries and territories,” the airline said in a statement.

The new membership also means the benefit enjoyed by Alaska’s elite flyers will be honored on other member airlines.

“You’re an MVP Gold? Without doing a thing, you now also have Sapphire tier status in oneworld (75K fliers are Emerald and MVPs are Ruby in the alliance),” the airline notes, and, “Depending on your tier status, oneworld travel priveleges include priority check-in, access to more than 650 international first and business class lounges, preferred boarding, fast track through security, priority baggage benefits and more.”

Hair Rollers harbor finches

People try to smuggle things – foods, animals, drugs, etc – through airports all the time. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently spotted a guy who was trying to 29 finches in these hair rollers.

Iceland is hot right now

If Iceland wasn’t high on your travel list before now, the volcanic eruption going on now should be grabbing your attention. Another reason to make plans to head that way: this package offer from Icelandair available to book through April 13 for travel from 10 US cities. Along with roundtrip airfare and three nights hotel, with breakfast, vaccinated travelers get a visit to the new Sky Lagoon, a Northern Lights Board Tour and a one-day pass for the Hop On Hop Off city sightseeing bus.

Travel Tidbits

Here are some of the travel tidbits we’ve gathered so far this week.

Delta extends middle seat block

Most other airlines have stopped blocking the middle seats. But Delta Air Lines says it is extending its policy of blocking middle seats on all flights through April 30, 2021. Perhaps others will do the same.

“We want our customers to have complete confidence when traveling with Delta, and they continue to tell us that more space provides more peace of mind,” said Bill Lentsch, Chief Customer Experience Officer, in a statement. He added that the airline will “continue to reassess seat blocking in relation to case transmission and vaccination rates.”

SkySquad partners with At Your Gate

As Valentine’s Day approaches, here’s a nice match-up of airport services.

SkySquad, a service that provides airport assistance services from the curbside to the plane door, and from the gate to the curb, is partnering with airport food delivery company At Your Gate.

SkySquad’s customers include families with young children, seniors,
pet owners, and anyone who needs a helping hand through the airport.

The company currently operates at Washington’s Reagan National Airport (DCA), Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). The partnership with At Your Gate extends the SkySquad services to JFK, Newark, Boston, and Philadelphia airports. At those airports At Your Gate staff will step in to escort SkysSquad customers through the terminals.

Bonus United Miles for donations during Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, United Airlines, Chase and Visa are giving bonus miles for donations made to select non-profits that provide educational opportunities to Black students and which support human and civil rights policies.

Now through March 15, 2020, United Explorer and United Club cardmembers will receive five miles for every dollar up to $1,000 donated to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and The United Negro College Fund. More details here.

New Centurion Lounge at Denver Int’l Airport

American Express has opened its 14th Centurion Lounge. This one is at Denver International Airport (DEN) on the Concourse C Mezzanine, near Gate C46.

The new lounge is 14,000-square-feet (the second-largest Centurion Lounge location to-date) and has some enticing amenities, including Italian-inspired cuisine, a live-action cooking station, a Craft Beer Bar with seasonal selections from Colorado breweries. The lounge also includes a new feature: a game room with pool and shuffleboard tables, and other activities.


Travel Tidbits from Here and There

As another month of being grounded kicks in, here are some travel tidbits that got our attention.

Delta Air Lines’ “No Mask- No Fly” list is growing

If the rule is “Wear a mask when you’re on the plan,” then we’re all for passengers being put on no-fly lists if they don’t comply.

Delta Air Lines says it now has about 130 people on its “no mask – no-fly” list.

Miss airline food? This company will sell you some

Tamam Kitchen, which provides in-flight meals for Israel’s El Al airlines, Turkish Airlines and some other international carriers that fly out of Tel Aviv, is selling its meals to people on the ground.

The Future of Business Travel

We found some interesting insights about what business travel might look like in the future in a new global survey from SAP Concur, a company that tracks business expenses for companies.

96% of business travelers surveyed expect their employer to make critical changes when travel resumes.

Those changes include mandatory personal health screenings for traveling employees (39%), limiting business travel to only the most business-critical trips (39%), and easier access to PPE like gloves or facemasks (33%).

What is the plan if employers do not make changes?

65% of respondents intend to act if their employer does not make these changes:

Nearly one in five (18%) plan to look for a new role inside or outside the company that does not require travel. That number is higher in the U.S., where nearly one in four (23%) plan to consider new roles that do not require travel if their concerns are not addressed.

Where do you stand on these questions?

Coronavirus brings more bad news for travelers.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is bringing with it a lot of fast-breaking, bad news for travelers and the travel industry.

Over the weekend, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines announced the temporary suspension of flights to Milan, Italy and United Airlines announced a temporary suspension of flights to Tokyo Narita, Osaka Singapore and Seoul.

And, because travelers are holding back on buying new plane tickets, on Sunday American Airlines announced it will join JetBlue and Alaska Airlines in offering a change fee waiver on new tickets purchased in the next two weeks.

Alaska Airlines also shared some notes about the efforts it is taking to keep planes clean and passengers safe.

The airline says using wipes to clean armrests and tray tables is fine, but they’re asking passengers not to use cleaning wipes on the leather seats because commercial wipes will deteriorate the top coat of leather.

“The wipe might look dirty, ” says Alaska, “but it’s actually the leather dye color that’s coming off.”

Bad news for travelers may keep coming for a while, so it was refreshing to have Saturday Night Live do this silly bit about traveling through New York’s LaGuardia Airport.