The New Way to Jump to the Front of Airport Security for Free

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Airports across the country are allowing travelers to make an appointment for TSA screening, partly in response to pandemic travel stress

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Seattle’s airport rolled out its reservation system earlier this year and made it permanent in September. Airports in Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth are operating reservation systems, and Newark has just launched a program for passengers departing from its Terminal A.

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Unlike TSA PreCheck or Clear, which charge a membership fee, these programs are free.

The opportunity for travelers to make an appointment is the first major change to the security-checkpoint process since Clear and TSA PreCheck, said Dave Wilson, director of airport innovation at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

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Each airport has its own protocols, but generally travelers can sign up for security appointments 15 minutes before their flights. Eligible Los Angeles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and Seattle travelers can begin booking appointments up to 72 hours prior to their flights. Once at the airport, passengers show a QR code and enter designated checkpoint lanes that lead them to the front of the normal security line.

The reservation is not intended for passengers with Lane Clear or TSA PreCheck who already have dedicated lanes. Airport directors said the reservation system is optional and intended for leisure travelers who fly less frequently but want certainty about the time it takes to pass through the security line.

An airport spokesman said about 264,250 people used Seattle’s SEA spot saver reservation system during its pilot period from May to the end of August. Traveler surveys showed that over 95% thought it was easy to use and saved their time. More than half of travelers said they spent their spare time relaxing, eating, drinking and shopping.

By waiting in line for less time, people have more time to reach restaurants and shops, which airport directors said is an added advantage.

“Happier people spend more money,” said Mr. Wilson.

Most programs are in the pilot phase and are available at specific airport checkpoints. Airport directors said there was not enough data to say whether the system was creating long lines for others. They said they are monitoring programs to measure their impact on normal screening lines and passenger wait times.

A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration said the agency is working in partnership with airports and airlines on the new initiative.

Making the passengers aware about the reservation programs has been a challenge. Airports rely heavily on airlines to notify eligible passengers. Passengers do not always use their appointment slot, whether they arrive early and choose to enter through the normal screening line or arrive too late and miss their appointment window.

Pamela Glass, a business operations analyst, terminated her Clear membership during the pandemic because she was not traveling often. Without early screening, the 34-year-old said, she probably would have arrived at the airport one and a half to two hours before her July flight from Seattle to Newark.

After learning about the SEA Spot Saver program, she made an appointment about an hour before departure. She was under security before the 15-minute appointment slot was over.

Ms. Glass said she plans to continue using the free program as long as it keeps her protection time under 10 to 15 minutes.

Airport directors said the limited space at some security checks could make it difficult to open these programs more widely. The Fast Lane will compete with Priority Boarding, TSA PreCheck, Clear and Normal Screening Lane.

Los Angeles World Airports Chief Executive Officer Justin Erbasi said Los Angeles’ LAX fast lane is in Terminal 7, where the passenger checkpoint is new and has space for multiple screening lanes. He said the airport will have to assess how to operate fast lanes in other terminals, some of which have smaller checkpoints.

LAX will run the pilot program until January, then evaluate whether to continue or expand. More than 10,580 passengers have used the program since its launch in October.

United Airlines, which operates from Terminals 7 and 8, said about 90% of passengers surveyed found it easy to use the lanes to locate and register for appointments.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the fast lane is in Terminal D, where international flights depart.

The airport tested the program in that terminal partly because international travel plans are underway and those vacationers will be more likely to use the facility, said Ken Buchanan, the airport’s executive vice president of revenue management and customer experience.

Airport officials said that on peak days, an average of 50 people made reservations for the DFW program, while 4,000 to 5,000 people go through security at the terminal’s D18 checkpoint on an average day. Mr Buchanan said the airport has had limited publicity because the service is only available at one checkpoint, but is expected to expand to the entire airport.

Where to Make Reservations for TSA Screenings

These airports are accepting appointments for general TSA screening:

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport passengers. Can take appointment through SEA Spot Saver Program,

Los Angeles International Airport passengers taking off from Terminals 7 and 8. Can take appointment through lax fast lane,

DFW International Airport travelers can sign up to fly from Terminal D Security Fast Pass Program The checkpoint is working on D18.

Newark Liberty International passengers taking off from Terminal A Cane Book Appointment via VirtuaLine,

Orlando International Airport travelers can Make a free appointment through Reservation LanePowered by Clear. These reservations do not provide access to Clear Plus lanes, and passengers are required to go through standard TSA screening.

Allison Pohle at [email protected]

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