The productivity benefit of tiny wireless in TSA queues

An article in the Wall Street Journal (August 16, 2016) titled “How Tiny Wireless Tech Makes Workers More Productive” describes use of wireless tracking in a test in Atlanta to speed up security screening by Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Passengers place their articles in a bin with a transponder, then go to a separate line to be screened. After completing screening, they pick up their items from a bin identified using the transponder. The article claims that separating the passenger from their bin reduces queue bottlenecks and decreases the queue length by 30%. Do these results suggest a mechanism by which real time tracking can increase productivity by decreasing queue bottlenecks ? Does the separation of customers from their bags create other service issues, such as the need to have customers monitor baggage examination ? Might there be other service architectures that deliver the same productivity without the technology?

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6 Responses to The productivity benefit of tiny wireless in TSA queues

  1. Vijay Raisinghani says:

    This is a great system, however I am not sure technology speeds up particularly. I can see technology help security aspects of this transaction but speed improvement being entirely attributed to the technology might be questionable. Fundamentally there are 2 separate set of resources used to process the baggage screening (the belt on which people put the artifacts like carry on bags etc.) and people screening, (x-ray where people get scanned). So separating these lines is a good thing and can lead to increased productivity. Dependent on which is faster, i.e., belt screening or human screening, we would need resource like staging area to keep the scanned articles ready or the waiting area for people to wait for the items. The most likely scenario is that people are patted down for random checks more often items are scanned for longer and also human errors are more occasional than the baggage ones, i.e., carrying things on them which lead to false negatives, than baggage screening. In any case, keeping these 2 separate helps in monitoring the critical resource usage, i.e., the scanner, and the overall throughput of the passengers, i.e., number of passengers (including the baggage) going through the scan lines and coming out of the system. Additional waiting area or staging area for articles would need to be made available to accommodate for slowness in either of the process queues. As a general feedback, in India, typically this is the case for all airports – you have one scanner for baggage and multiple people scanners/pat down stations. They use the number tag system (simple plastic number plates) and things flow pretty quick, though I don’t have any metric of improvement compared to their earlier or single station system.

  2. Sarah Rosnick says:

    Um…I don’t think the issue and keeping people with their bags is an issue of efficiency and productivity. It has to do with keeping people near their bags in case there was a lethal item enclosed with them and the ability to ensure that if a bag is covered with dangerous residue – the person carrying it is held as well. When I used to shoot competitively, I was held at several airport security stations because I tested positive for explosive residue (thanks West Point.) At another point, my uniforms weren’t allowed through because a decorative sash x-rayed and appeared to be a knife to the individuals monitoring the station. It was another situation where the security component of the procedure was the paramount issue.
    If you can figure out a way to separate the issue of security from being efficient and having faster throughput, I think you’d solve the TSA’s entire problem 🙂 The technological advances that gave them a chance to x-ray quickly or process explosive residue quickly gave them additional and expedient visibility into what could have been a devastating situation for people (if I didn’t have good intentions, for example.)

  3. bairdjb says:

    I do not think that it can be extrapolated that the real-time tracking has increased productivity. I agree with Sarah that the purpose of keeping people with their belonging as long as possible is to ensure a high level of security. I would add that it is probably also to reduce the liability of something happening to the belongings while under the care, custody, and control of TSA.
    Without seeing the system in action. I would tend to think that the queue simply sifted from pre to post-screening of the traveler. There would still have to be a bottleneck where travelers are putting articles of clothing back on, getting a pat down or picking up the bag. I guess, more specifically, I am agreeing with Vijay to the extent that you can only go as fast as the slowest of the two processes. Yes, you might have reduced the bottleneck in the middle but you have not increased the efficiency of the entire process from start to finish.

  4. Freddy Horn says:

    I agree with Sarah. Luggage screening is part of an important security procedure. Having passengers close to their bags adds to the service quality level, i.e. making sure noboby brings explosive or dangerous items on a plane. The Atlanta system would also only help to accelerate the process at airports where baggage screening really is the bottleneck. I definitely know airports where this is the case. However, I also remember many examples when I was waiting to walk through security, with my luggage already screened and waiting for me on the other side. I often find that the “female agents can only pad down women and male agents can only pad down men” rule causes most of the waiting time, especially when a larger group of women or men arrive at security and hence add a lot of variability to the the process.

  5. Julia Eldridge says:

    I understand what they are trying to get at with this system as after the bottleneck of being screened for the first time with your ticket and ID, you are not at all prepared to go through the next bottle neck of placing items in the x-ray machine and getting yourself through the scanners and potential pat downs. We’ve all been there, when you are at a new security system, maybe in a new country and you don’t quite know the rules there: do I take off my shoes? Do I take out my computer? What about other electronics? Do my liquids need to be in their own bag and do those need to be taken out? etc. Beyond trying to figure out the rules there you now have to do all the shuffling of taking off a shoe as you push the bin forward and grab another bin for your computer as you see the conveyer belt in front of you almost empty and people piling up behind you, then you are ready to push your bags through, but you can still see the strap of the purse in front of you that hasn’t completely gone into the machine so you can’t quite leave your bag to stand in line to go through the scanner. Whew! No wonder Atlanta is trying a system to separate these two bottle necks, however I think Sarah’s points regarding security are a huge draw back to this system.

    One of the more efficient systems I have seen, for at least the baggage part (considering the full time in the system was at least an hour) was in Amsterdam, where there were many designated spots around where you put your bags that had individual trays that you pulled out, ready to go to put in all of your stuff at that spot. This helped lessen the the single server issue you have when you have to wait behind the person that didn’t follow directions and is now trying to take out his computer as you just have to wait behind him. Now there are essentially 5 servers for that one area, thanks Van Der Lande 😀

  6. Kim Coldiron says:

    I have to agree with Sarah and the others regarding the security issue of separating passengers and bags. Besides, how many times have you been asked if your bag was out of your sight for any length of time? This poses a whole new level of risk for harmful items to be carried into the airport or for someone to slip something into a different bag.
    Beau’s point hits home for me. I had a piece of jewelry stolen from a bin in the airport once while going through security. I travel extensively so this has made me a more observant when I am going through the checkpoints. I would personally be very uncomfortable with being completely separated from my “personal belongings”. When you think of the importance of our cell phones today, I am not sure how comfortable people would be with having their cell phone out of sight for very long.
    Additionally, Vijay & Freddy are spot on. In my experience, most of the delays in security queues are due to individual screening or pat downs. I have had to wait for a female assist on multiple occasions just because all the checkpoint officers happened to be male. This is a simple matter of better resource scheduling.

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