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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tagging People At The Airport

While I was sitting at the Orlando International Airport with a few hours to kill before my flight yesterday, thought it would be interesting to write about my experience from the morning.

Prelude to the story: think about how much airport security blows. The hassles, the lines…must be an easier way, right?

When I flew out of Orlando, first thing I noticed was that security was divided up based on your ‘ranking’ as a traveler- Family, Casual, and Expert. There are a few airports experimenting with this (more deets), but this was the first time I’ve seen it first hand. After making a quick and probably unfair assessment of the three lines, I decided Expert was probably the route I should take even though I’m not sure I am one. But I kept an eye on how things were going in each line to see if this segregation was actually working and making security a less problematic process.

Overall I think it worked quite well (for most people). For me, especially after having a horrific security experience at another airport a couple weeks ago, have to say I was loving the ease of the experience.

Expert
As you would expect, the smoothest sailing of the 3. Everyone in this line had no more than two (compact) bags, said little or nothing at all to fellow passengers (even the ones who appeared to be traveling in pairs or groups). Plenty of casually dressed people in this line, many college-age and twenty-somethings. Lack of business suited-up professionals was likely due to it being a holiday, but not surprisingly its not hard to pick out the business travelers.

The flow of the line was fast, faster, fastest. If you didn’t know the motions, people cut in front of you. Asked to go through the metal detector again? TSA agents asked you to step aside so more experienced and seasoned travelers could breeze through while you got your shit together (and no, I didn’t have to go through a second time). If you weren’t fast in collecting your stuff after it went through the X-Ray, people pushed things aside in order to grab their gear and get the hell out of there. A cold and efficient machine overall, and I can’t say that I minded one bit. From the time I stepped into line till I got my bag and was walking to the gate—approx 5 minutes (and it was fairly crowded, too).

Casual
An interesting observation- there were many people (mostly younger, but even some older) who hesitated noticeably between the Expert and Casual line. I saw people look at both signs, look at each other, move towards one line but still keeping an eye on the other, wondering if they were in fact “experts”. It also appeared that since many people who normally travel for business were, today, traveling for a holiday, they seemed to be torn as to whether they were still considered an Expert on this day. In my opinion, “expert” may not have been the right tag, as the majority of people probably wouldn’t use that word to describe themselves (just like even truly wealthy people often don’t consider themselves as such).

The line appeared to be just about as smooth as the Expert line, but moved slower as many people had larger bags, or multiple bags, and I noticed many more people being asked to go through security a second time. Relatively little to none of the line-jumping or “please-step-aside” attitudes of the Expert line. TSA agents seemed slightly (but not much) more patient, speed was a little more relaxed and there wasn’t a break-neck race to gather your stuff after X-Ray.

Family
Absolute chaos. Children screaming, little boys who didn’t want to give up their back packs or toys, Mothers trying to hold two kids at once while trying to take off their own shoes and jewelry, Dad’s trying to wrangle 5 or 6 bags up onto the conveyor, many times realizing that one or more of their bags was in fact too big to fit. Getting through the metal detector seemed to be an ordeal for many, as kids were either too excited and ran through without their parents, or hesitated and didn’t want to put their toys on the conveyer or in the bins. I saw TSA agents waiting patiently for people and rarely hurrying or snapping at anyone (not sure if this is always the case, though).

The frustration of various families didn’t seem to be directed at others but rather at themselves- for their kids behavior (perhaps feeling like others would assume they didn’t have control of their kids), for making a mistake and going through the detector with keys in their pockets, for dropping a bag off the conveyor after it went through X-Ray. I think the biggest difference was that travelers in the Family line seemed to be the most willing to accept the mistakes of other travelers, maybe because they were cognizant of the fact that they themselves were often holding up the line and creating bottle-necks in the process.

**I found it pretty interesting to be a part of, and it seemed that for most people around me, this was the first time they had encountered such a system, too. I can say that, in overhearing snippets of conversations in the Expert line, people seemed quite happy that the separations were in place.

Anyone else have any experiences to relate? A few other airports have similar systems- do you think this type of setup works? Or does it create a further divide between experts and novice travelers? Between first class and coach?

And from a brand perspective, what role could an airline potentially play here- if any?

5 comments:

Kaizen Consulting Blog said...

I got my laugh of the day reading your version of the family line.

Louie said...

Interesting to hear that story, I did not realize that even exisited. Thinking about how to play that angle for an airline it made me think of the work Fallon did for United and how they targeted business travelers. I think the 'Expert' line is a huge selling point to business travelers. There has been a lot of humor done in regards to airport security but I think you can touch on an emotional nerve with 'expert' business travelers that have experienced someone that should have been in the 'family' line that was ahead of them when they were in a hurry. I see another spin of a person not knowing if they are an expert or causal and spending more time deciding which lane is the correct one for them when they could have been though by the time they made their decision. Great story, thanks.

Jonah K said...

They started this a the right-most security checkpoint at MSP.

I have to say, after going through at least 4 checkpoints a week, this is a fantastic system. While I am patient, plan ahead, and have a very high tolerance for people who have never heard of air travel before, the expert line moved right along and was very low-stress.

I see this becoming WAY more common then that stupid Clear system (which I have only used once - ever)

avin said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Kaizen consulter- glad you liked it.

Louie- i had similar thoughts about this being a perfect in-road with business travelers. i guess my question is- since at Orlando this is an airport wide thing, can any airline really attach themselves to it?

Jonah- didn't know this started @ MSP, but good to hear it, and agreed- i would love to see this adopted at more and more airports.

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