At Newark Liberty, United, TSA Officials Unveil Efficiencies They Say Lead to Better Safety

By David Cruz

There was a very satisfied air to the proceedings at Newark Airport this morning as representatives of the Transportation Security Administration and United Airlines unveiled the final phase of their automated screening lanes, ASLs. Touted as a high-tech solution to long lines at check-in, TSA officials were crowing about how much more pleasant this part of your commute is going to be.

“Really they represent a departure from yesterday and a glimpse into tomorrow,” said TSA Deputy Assistant Administrator Stacey Fitzmaurice. “Airports in the future must be about moving, from reservation to destination through an almost invisible, yet integrated, ecosystem of distributed security, with less stress and frustration for passengers and screeners and, most importantly, less vulnerability.”

“The new lanes [feature] four divest stations, so you’re divesting four people at a time,” explained Newark Liberty Airport Manager Matthew Dohn. “So there’s four individuals divesting their stuff. They put their stuff in the bin. They push their bin on a roller; they go through screening. It’s a much more efficient process.”

Efficient? It looks like it, although, aside from the conveyor belt automation, a human screener still has to look at the contents of the baggage via the X-ray like they always do.

“But, it’s just a more organized, calmer environment to handle those sorts of tasks for the TSA,” said Jon Roitman, senior VP, Airport Operations for United Airlines. “I … [think it makes travelers more secure] in the sense that, if you can imagine a congested checkpoint that doesn’t have a lot of organization around it and is a bit haphazard. You know, the TSA has to work to keep that organized but if you have automation to help keep that organized, there are other tasks that TSA can better focus on.”

To be clear, security protocols that would stop a would-be bomber are the same security protocols that have been in place. This is about getting you into the next security phase more efficiently. But better security is in the eye of the beholder, and the patience of the passenger. Today, passengers seemed to like the faster line, even if the security benefit wasn’t exactly obvious.

“This is new technology and it has the capability for enhancements in the future,” Roitman said. “Not only can you build it out, but there are potentially emerging technologies that could very easily be integrated into the newer systems as compared to the older systems.”

The airline and the TSA say the new system is more efficient and that the efficiencies will result in happier and, theoretically, safer passengers, although they add they won’t be a substitute for the patented TSA pat down.