Can better security at airports help cure drag in the lounge?

In 2022, just about everyone with access to an airport lounge ended up asking the same question at some point. Why is this place so crowded?

I have long argued that if everyone is a “VIP”, no one is. Priority Pass doesn’t seem to count, and as a result I often find the terminal more civilized than many lounges. In recent months, as record numbers of travelers took to the skies again, things spiraled out of control.

But even when you mitigate those issues, as brands like American Express will soon do, it’s an interesting issue of crowding, and you could argue that a lot of it has to do with grazing times, and that it could be caused by airport security.

Is airport security a lounge factor?

All airlines will offer slightly different accounts, but if you ever dig into the data on customers’ “grazing time” in lounges – including how long they enjoy them – you will see a very clear difference among lounge customers.

Business travelers spend far less time at airports and in lounges than leisure travelers do.

So why do leisure travelers spend so much more time in lounges?

An answer that applies to many travelers is that they enjoy the experience more. As a frequent flyer often found near the front, I get to enjoy lounges all the time, but for others it’s a travel celebration – and that’s a wonderful thing. Stay longer, drink more, eat more – all that.

But that doesn’t account for everyone, and even some people who fall into the “enjoy the experience” category stay longer for a different reason. There are fears surrounding airport security. Business travelers, by virtue of constant repetition, are often faster through airport security and have more basis for time estimation.

Many of my favorite flights involve getting through security right before a plane starts boarding. Only on rare occasions or on leisure trips am I happy to arrive early and relax in a lounge.

No one wants to miss their flight, especially these days, and when you don’t drive through an airport often, you’re more prepared for the horror stories. Between strikes, poor staffing, airline uncertainty and record numbers flying through, people are filling their arrival times more than ever.

Will new machines help?

At airports globally, a newer generation of airport security scanners is entering the mix. These new Analogic machines don’t require anything to be taken out of bags to efficiently scan things like an MRI machine.

They have been tested for years and have already become a fixture at some airports. The reception has been decidedly mixed, but that may be because with some “new” equipment there are problems with training and teething.

In the few times I’ve used them, I’ve been impressed with their speed and efficiency.

The UK will require all airports to use these next-generation scanners by 2024, and current 100ml liquid restrictions will end with their introduction. Passengers don’t need to take liquids or laptops of any kind out of their luggage, and this is where you can start doing some meaningful math.

Reliable safety times eliminate the need to paddle trips

If you take JFK’s Terminal 4, which claims to serve approximately 46,000 departing passengers daily, you get a clear picture of how every second affects airport security. If everyone in line has to bring out a laptop and liquids, count on 30 seconds per passenger just for this exercise.

There are far fewer minutes in a day than the total number of seconds this corresponds to. If all 46,000 passengers stood in one line and it took 30 seconds per passenger to remove liquids and laptops, it would take up to 15 days to screen one day’s worth of passengers.

Removing even 30 seconds from each and every passenger can significantly improve the reliability of airport security wait times – even with TSA – and it can have a very positive impact on grazing times.

If passengers could guarantee 15 minutes or less for airport security, there would be far less need to arrive so early. This, combined with more access to online check-in from airlines as well as mobile boarding passes, could be a game changer.

Leisure travelers will still stay longer than business travelers no matter what, but if the average visit goes from 3 hours to 2.5 hours, it can have significant impacts throughout the travel day.

After all, technology may just be the cure for airport lounge congestion.

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