As the US aviation market begins to see a resurgence in passenger demand, airport queues are beginning to grow. With physical distancing measures in place, this could bode for a chaotic summer ahead. Seattle-Tacoma Airport has launched a new initiative to cope with this, with pe-booked appointments for TSA screenings.
More travelers means bigger queues
With the resurgence in travelers in the US notable by the record TSA numbers last week, that presents a new problem for airports. Indeed, as early as mid-April, Seattle-Tacoma Airport was struggling under the burden of a spring break rush. As reported in the News Tribune, a spokesperson for the airport said,
“We’ve had three days in the last week and a half going back to Monday [April 5] and then this last weekend — Saturday and Sunday — we had situations where we had waits that were into the garage and over 60 minutes.”
Part of the problem here is the maintenance of social distancing. Sea-Tac has kept every other check-in line closed to avoid passengers mingling too close together. The airport has already advised passengers to allow two hours to pass through the airport for their flight, but as numbers continue to build, the situation is going to become even more unsustainable.
In a bid to expedite travelers ahead of an anticipated summer surge in demand, the TSA is in the process of hiring 6,000 extra screening officers. But at Sea-Tac, there’s another plan afoot to cut the queues in the terminals.
SEA Spot Saver
Starting from today, passengers flying through Seattle with a departure between 04:00 and 12:00 midday can sign up for a pre-booked TSA screening, and avoid the need to wait in line. The process works using a ‘virtual queuing system’, allowing passengers to work, relax or explore the ground-side area until it’s their turn to be screened.
Although currently in a pilot phase, the program is open to all passengers departing via TSA checkpoints two and five. These will include all Alaska Airlines passengers, all Delta passengers and some travelers flying with other airlines.
Checkpoint five is for Alaska Airlines passengers. Travelers can sign up for a checkpoint appointment time before arriving at the airport, up to 24 hours before departure. If they forget to do so, there are also QR codes at the airport to allow them to book a queue time on the day.
Checkpoint two will be handling passengers for Delta Air Lines and other air carriers. This works slightly differently, in that passengers cannot sign up for the Spot Saver in advance. Instead, they will need to scan the QR codes at the airport, which will then give them a screening time.
The service is completely free, and groups of up to 10 (at Checkpoint five) or 12 (at Checkpoint two) can use the Spot Saver under one reservation. Passengers are given a window of 15 minutes either side of their appointment time to arrive at the checkpoint.
This is the first time a US airport has adopted virtual queuing for its crowded screening lines. It’s due to run through to the end of August, after which time the Port of Seattle will evaluate its success. If it turns out to be a triumph, we could see such initiatives rolled out for more flights at Sea-Tac, and potentially other airports too.