You wouldn’t be alone if you’ve overlooked the TSA’s signage system for allowing people to “choose their own lane” for passing through airport security. The Diamond Self Select Program has been around since November 2008. Yes, I think I’ve noticed the signs for Casual and Expert Travelers, but haven’t completely taken the time to understand how they work. I always just choose the shortest line. Don’t we all?
I’ve always assumed I don’t qualify to stand in the “Expert Traveler” lane with my kid, stroller, stuffed animals and various other bags filled with snacks and entertainment diversions when everyone I see in that lane is wearing a suit and carrying only a briefcase. You must have to be a business traveler or frequent flyer to use that lane, right? No, I belong in the Casual Traveler lane as a leisure traveler with the rest of the masses.
Turns out, those assumptions have been all wrong.
The lanes aren’t meant to divide people up by what type of traveler you are, but rather at what pace you’re comfortable with going through airport security so as not to feel as though you’re holding up the people behind you.
The Expert Traveler wants to move quickly, has slip on/off shoes and liquids in a one-quart bag easily accessible. They may travel with a limited number of bags and know exactly what is expected of them from TSA agents so as not to hold up the line.
The Casual Traveler wants a little more time to go through security at their own pace. Maybe they don’t travel as frequently and have multiple bags, a laptop, lace-up shoes, lots of jewelry or other items that mean using more bins and a little more patience.
I wasn’t even familiar with the Families and Special Assistance lane. This lane can be located so far off to the side of all the other lanes crowded with people, that they’re easy to miss.
Lucky for me, I accidentally discovered it at a recent trip home from Las Vegas. Now, I wish I had known about it for the past four years. It literally made the difference between us making our flight and missing it.
I owe us getting home that day to a friendly TSA agent who saw me traveling alone, pushing my five-year-old in her stroller that she still insists on riding in, a bag over each shoulder and pulling a suitcase behind me. My jaw dropped to the floor as we arrived at the security screening area and I saw row after row of travelers – what looked like as many as 500 people – winding back and forth through the concourse area in a single line that could easily take an hour to get to the end of. We were already racing to get to our gate. The TSA agent sees me and waves me to the front of the line! How is this possible? There is only one family of three ahead of me, also with a stroller. We’re through the scanners and heading to our gate within minutes. And minutes were all we had to get there too.
Every airport across the nation should have a Families and Special Assistance lane for those who need more time to get their kids, strollers, possibly extra bottles of liquids for babies or medicinal purposes and everything else that goes along with traveling with little ones or disabled or elderly travelers through security. Based on my experience standing in the Casual Traveler lane with lots of other families behind and ahead of me for all these years, these lanes are being greatly under-utilized.
Take advantage of them while you still can. I know I will.