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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Self-service for airport security? It’s happening in Las Vegas.



Travelers at McCarran International Airport (now Harry Reid International Airport) in Las Vegas on Aug. 4, 2016. (Brandon Magnus/The New York Times)

By Christine Chung


As most air travelers can attest, the experience at an airport’s security checkpoint can be far from serene. There are many rules — often shouted by Transportation Security Administration officers — about what you can bring with you, how to array your belongings and where to stand. Lines can be painfully long and anxieties sky high. And throughout the process, there are security officers.


But at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, a new kind of security screening, unveiled by the TSA on Wednesday, is led by the passenger themselves.


The system, which uses video monitors, facial recognition software and body scanners, is not about shaving time off the travel journey, but about improving the overall passenger experience, said Christina Peach, a deputy assistant administrator for requirements and capabilities at the TSA.


“Individuals want to be able to complete the screening process at their own pace and with minimal interaction with our officers,” she said.


The new pilot program officially opens to the public Monday. Here’s what to know.


Where is it and who can use it?


The self-service screening process, which is only available for travelers with TSA PreCheck clearance, will be available at two security lanes within the “Innovation Checkpoint” at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. (The airport tests emerging technologies and new processes at six “Innovation Checkpoint” lanes.)


Traditional security screening will continue to be available for passengers.


How does the screening work?


As a traveler approaches the security lanes, a screen will display instructions about how to arrange personal belongings in bins and what possessions to remove (electronics and belts, for example). With a camera feature on a small tablet, facial recognition technology will be used first to verify your identity.


Then, you’ll go to a divestment station, the area by the conveyor belt where you drop your belongings and put them in a bin. There are two stations per lane, allowing two passengers to use the lane simultaneously. Video monitors at each station will play step-by-step instructions. The aim is to get one bin per passenger, Peach said.


You’ll push your bin to the conveyor belt, which then moves the bin to be scanned. After this, you will step through a body scanner that resembles a glass box.


If a bin is flagged, it is routed down a different path and a TSA officer will conduct a search.


Once you collect your bag, you can leave the empty bin and it will move automatically back to the stack.


Will TSA officers be nearby?


TSA personnel will still be on hand, but not as many of them will be manning the screening lanes. On any given day, there are usually between 10-15 officers working at the Innovation Checkpoint’s six lanes, Peach said.


Now, some can be remote. Passengers who need extra help can push a button to speak to an officer by video monitor, and officers will still handle security pat-downs and extra bag checks.


How long does the screening take?


It will vary, based on the individual passenger’s pace, Peach said.


When does the pilot end? Will it move to other airports?


The initial pilot is expected to run for several months. Peach stressed that it’s a prototype and that the agency will be collecting data and passenger feedback.


Some elements of the system, however, may eventually trickle out to checkpoints across the country, she said.


Will the future of security screening be one without any TSA officers physically present?


TSA officers will always be working at security checkpoints, Peach said, either standing by the passengers or working in remote screening locations.


“The officers are their most valuable assets,” she said of the government agency. “It really is having the officer as a part of the system, even if they’re maybe not as visible.”

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