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How Fast is TSA Pre Check?

23 Apr

We compared wait time values between regular lanes at TSA and TSA’s new PreCheck lanes. For a quick reminder, TSA PreCheck is an expedited screening experience for those deemed to be low risk travelers. While other countries and airports have been doing this for years, TSA finally realized that not every traveler – especially those crafty invalid military veterans, 85 year old seniors, and unaware toddlers – are armed to the teeth with explosives. In exchange for $85 and a prescreening at a physical TSA office, passengers can jump into the TSA PreCheck club. Benefits include keeping your shoes on, keeping your jackets on, and not having to remove liquids and electronics from your bags. You also get to use a metal detector instead of the cancer-fomenting back scanners.

TSA PreCheck works by “carving” out PreCheck lanes from the regular lanes. No new lanes are being built as most airports only have so much real estate available. So the same number of travelers are still processing through the same number of lanes: it’s just that the speed of the PreCheck lanes are *hopefully* faster.

And thus far, they are…. but, there’s a caveat! TSA developed the PreCheck program in October 2011. Since then, it’s been reported that a little over 1 million travelers have signed up, resulting in 30 million visits to PreCheck lanes. If you remember that the US receives 2 million daily travelers at its airports, 30 million is a trivial number. As of this post, there have been 1.86 billion travelers that have passed through US airports since PreCheck’s inception. 30 million thus represents 1.6% of the airport visits.

While admittedly a very slow going adoption curve for a “superior” service, what happens if more people sign up for PreCheck? It is possible that the PreCheck lines could become slower than the regular lines as more people sign up. Without active management of the queues, TSA could become a victim of its own success. More people would have been processed through the old, regular lane than are currently being processed in the new PreCheck lane. So actually, wait times have increased for the time being.

Now the data! We looked at a year’s worth of data across several airports. We examined the maximum wait time for PreCheck lanes against the maximum wait time for regular lanes during the same 30-minute periods. On average, here are the results:

- The waits at PreCheck lines are longer than the regular lines ~4% of the time

- The average wait for a PreCheck passenger is ~36% of the wait for a regular passenger

How Different Airports are “Solving” Airport Wait Times

16 Nov

Frequently we hear reporters ask how different airports are producing wait times for passengers. We could have saved a lot of time by publishing this post long ago and giving the link to reporters. Here’s our understanding of what technologies are being used to produce real-time wait times

- Dulles International Airport: Overhead camera system

- Hartfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport: Manual counting from airport employees

- Bush Intercontinental Airport/Houston Hobby Airport: Bluetooth

- Denver International Airport: Manual counting from airport contractor

- Dallas Fort Worth Airport (Terminal A): Overhead camera system employed by American Airlines

- Tampa International Airport: Bluetooth

- Indianapolis International Airport: Bluetooth, but they stopped using it after evaluating accuracy

- Chicago O’Hare International Airport and John F Kennedy International Airport will be bringing real-time waits with a WiFi/Bluetooth hybrid system

We’ve also seen what we think is the best solution for real-time waits, mainly because it costs $0.50 per security lane. You might have seen some of these genius inventions before at Disney properties…

American Airlines: Our Very Expensive Airport of the Future

1 Nov

American Airlines is sprucing up select terminals with its vision for the what the future of travel will look like. Better lighting. More power outlets. Ergonomic features. Yet with all the advancements one thing is stuck in the past: security wait times.

To help passengers wayfind to their gate American Airlines contracted Countwise, a camera hardware provider, to install a camera system to deliver real-time waits to passengers on large screens above the checkpoint. To implement a successful roll out, American Airlines will need to install a set of cameras above each checkpoint for every airport in the country. By our counts, the top 100 US airports have 407 checkpoints in total. At an average cost of $100,000 per install and maintenance, American Airlines could provide this value to passengers for a meager $40,000,000.

Of course, this doesn’t really help passengers get wait time information for future departures. But you can be comforted in knowing that your wait time uncertainty will at least be greeted by plenty of power outlets.

WhatsBusy and CLEAR Partnership

25 Oct

Ever been frustrated that there’s no faster way to move through a security line? Well WhatsBusy and CLEAR have partnered to allow passengers to bypass the security line. WhatsBusy will be displaying wait times on its mobile and desktop applications. For airports where CLEAR equipment is installed, a traveler can grab a free 3-month CLEAR pass on WhatsBusy’s site towards the bottom of the page.

CLEAR passengers zip through security in less than 5 minutes. So now if you see a line on WhatsBusy, you can breeze through it with CLEAR.

Thanksgiving Airport Traffic – When is it the Busiest?

25 Oct

It’s always interesting to look at data. So what days really are the busiest during the Thanksgiving holiday, and how that does vary by airport? Let’s look at the checkpoint traffic for the major US airports. We see in most cases that the traffic is lowest on Thanksgiving Day (maybe not that big of a surprise) but where the peaks fall before and after Turkey Thursday. The black line represents Thanksgiving Day. Thee outputs are all for 2010 for Atlanta Airport, Los Angeles Airport, and Chicago O’Hare Airport.