Sky Talk

American Airlines, TSA to install new screening technology at several airports


New automated screening lanes are coming to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport that could reduce wait times at security checkpoints by 30 percent.

American Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration announced a joint initiative on Tuesday to install new screening technology at DFW, Chicago O’Hare, Miami and Los Angeles airports by this fall. American said it will spend $5 million to install automated screening lanes at several of its hub airports.

“Automated screening lanes are pretty new to U.S. airports and incorporate the latest technology so that things done manually today can be done electronically tomorrow,” said American’s chief operating officer Robert Isom in a letter sent to employees. “They enhance security and decrease the time that customers spend in line.”

This spring, airport security wait lines swelled as the TSA changed some of its screening protocols and faced staff shortages. Long lines at Chicago O’Hare airport caused 70,000 American Airlines passengers to miss flights in May.

To help ease the wait, Congress approved funding allowing the TSA to hire 768 additional agents who were deployed to the busiest U.S. airports, including DFW. American also announced in May that it would spend an additional $4 million on contract staff to help passengers move through security lines more quickly.

During peak times this spring, travelers were waiting from 30 minutes to an hour to get through security checkpoints at DFW Airport. Those times have decreased to about 15 minutes to 30 minutes, the airport said last week.

The new screening lanes will have automated belts that draw luggage into x-ray machines, and larger bins equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to ensure TSA agents are pulling the correct bag out of a line if it needs additional screening. Cameras will also capture photos of the outside of the bag which is linked to the x-ray image of its contents.

“To ensure that we remain up-to-date in an evolving threat environment, TSA continues to test and deploy state-of-the-art technologies,” said TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger in a statement. “This collaboration with American Airlines is an important step in enhancing the traveler experience while maintaining effective security.”

American and the TSA will also test computed tomography (CT) technology at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. CT technology is currently used only to screen checked luggage. The TSA said CT technology could make it possible for passengers to carry liquids, gels and laptops in their carry-on bags without needing to place them in separate screening bins.

“Neither initiative is a slam dunk to solve TSA woes, but they are both huge steps in the right direction,” Isom said.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk