Pro tip: If you’re traveling this busy holiday season, look for the automated screening lanes at Miami International Airport’s Concourse D — they’re designed to get you through security faster.
The two new lanes, which are only available to American Airlines passengers, debuted this month at the Concourse D international connector checkpoint, in partnership with American — which is funding them — the Transportation Security Administration and the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. That makes MIA the 11th airport in the U.S. to debut the technology. The airport expects to expand to more lanes at a later point, said Daniel Ronan, federal security director for the TSA in Miami.
But don’t expect a robot to be sorting through your belongings or pushing them into the X-ray machine. The “automated” process speeds the conveyer belt system that moves travelers’ carry-on belongings into the X-ray machine for screening. Human monitors are still required.
Automated lanes debuted at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in May 2016 and are currently in airports in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Chicago and Minneapolis. Internationally, automated lanes can also be found at airports in London, Dublin, Amsterdam and Dubai.
Ralph Lopez, American Airlines’ vice president for the Miami hub, said the new technology has lessened the time travelers spend in security lines by about 20 to 25 percent in the airports that already have the automated screening lanes.
“It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We are seeing a great improvement in throughput and the speed of transit through the checkpoints so it’s really exciting,” Lopez said. “...Bringing automated screening lanes to Miami was a priority for the American team. We worked diligently to launch these lanes well before Thanksgiving to give TSA and other staff members plenty of time to acclimate to the new process and the new technology.”
The lanes have been running at MIA since Oct. 10, Lopez said, and the feedback so far has been positive. The airport is hoping the new technology will help ease some of the stress of the holiday travel season. About 3.8 million travelers flew through MIA in November and December last year — about 17 percent of the total passenger traffic in 2016.
The new technology has lowered the time travelers spend in security lines by about 20 to 25 percent in the airports that already have the automated screening lanes.
SmarterTravel.com, an expert travel website, said that anecdotally, members of its editorial team who have gone through the lanes find them more organized, though one person said passengers seemed confused by the new procedure.
“SmarterTravel recommends that travelers continue to arrive at least two hours before their flight to give themselves time to check in and get through security, especially since the procedure may not be what you expect,” said Sarah Schlichter, senior editor at SmarterTravel, in a statement.
Traveler Jeff Buckles, of Fort Payne, Alabama, went through the new security lanes at MIA in just a few minutes Tuesday morning. He said he’s never been through lanes similar to those, but that he felt the process was speedier than the traditional lanes. “It was smooth,” he said.
How it works
The lanes are different from traditional security lines in a few ways. Instead of funneling all passengers through the end point of the X-ray conveyer belt, the automated lanes feature four stations — meaning a quicker traveler is less likely to get stuck behind slower ones. And instead of waiting for TSA personnel to replenish bins, each station is automatically restacked.
Bins in the new lanes are 25 percent larger than in traditional lanes, allowing passengers to fit most of their belongings, including rolling bags, into just one bin. (Electronics still have to go in their own bins with nothing above or below them).
The bins are under each station, not off to one side, so passengers can just pull one up, fill it with gear and push the bin into an automatic conveyor belt that runs into the X-ray scanner.
The process won’t change the usual TSA requirements: Shoes and belts still have to come off, and liquids must go in zip-lock bags outside of luggage.
But the time it takes for TSA to process those items will be quicker, Ronan said.
“So if you’re one of those well-traveled passengers who knows exactly what you’re doing and hate to wait, you can go to a different divesting station that’s open, put your stuff in, push and go,” Ronan said. “You can now work at your own pace instead of working at the pace of the passenger in front of you.”
The bins then travel through the X-ray machine. If TSA officer monitoring the machine finds anything that needs further inspection, those items are diverted by the conveyor belt to a separate area. That saves the TSA officers time too, Ronan said, because they don’t have to stop the process, get up, and pull the bin that needs to be searched out of the machine. TSA can also screen multiple bins at the same time.
Once the bins are cleared, they go directly to the passengers. Bins then go back to the stations via a conveyor belt, which means no waiting for a TSA officer to roll in a new set of bins when the available ones run out.
“It’s all happening automatically without any disruption to the screening process,” Ronan said.