DFW Airport spruces up the surroundings at one security checkpoint

Andrea Ahles, October 27, 2013

Every air traveler knows that getting through the security checkpoint at an airport is like running the gantlet.

But what if instead of cold metal benches and gray X-ray bins, passengers are greeted with a comfy settee sectional and mood lighting?

“How do we make this the best wait of your life?” Dallas/Fort Worth Airport assistant vice president of planning Bob Blankenship said the airport staff asked themselves. The answer to that question is now on display at the airport’s Terminal E Gate 18 security checkpoint.

The airport partnered with the Transportation Security Administration, SecurityPoint Media and Marriott’s SpringHill Suites to create a more relaxing and less stressful security checkpoint. The remodeled checkpoint opened last week and will be in place through the end of the year as a pilot program for DFW.

The first thing passengers will likely notice is the hotel lobby-like lounge chairs and carpet near the entrance of the checkpoint. There are also large panels with nature photographs that block off the winding waiting line to create a calm atmosphere.

“We want to welcome people to the security checkpoint,” Blankenship said. On Wednesday, one traveler stopped to ask Blankenship if he was at the entrance to the checkpoint because it didn’t look like others at the airport.

Unlike the typical DFW checkpoint, where the waiting line to the TSA agent runs parallel to the check-in ticket counters, the new checkpoint has a zigzag line that is perpendicular to the counters, accommodating more people in line in a smaller area without spilling into the main check-in area. Mood lighting has been installed on the wall by the wait line, changing periodically from pale pink to pastel blue to soft green.

Customers can also view large monitors with flight departure and gate information while in line. Some monitors also feature concession information and let passengers know how long to expect to wait in the security line.

Blankenship said the wait time is estimated by sensors placed in the line and monitored by a firm in Austria, a technology they are testing as part of this 90-day pilot program.

“By letting people know what to expect and the wait time and how to prepare for the TSA, we think it will reduce the anxiety for travelers,” Blankenship said. Other details, such as pendant lighting, planters and directional sound speakers, are still being adding to the renovated space, which was paid for by corporate partners and not from the airport’s budget.

Marriott’s SpringHill Suites had been looking for an unusual place to market its business traveler hotel brand as part of its ad campaign — “experience so much more than you expected.” Craig Fowler, senior director of brand marketing of Marriott’s select brands, said the company had previously transformed a subway car and an elevator into comfort zones for its television ads, but had never done a real- world space before.

Fowler said his company reached out to several airports but decided to sponsor the DFW project, as the airport was already looking at ways to improve the security checkpoints as part of its terminal renovation program.

One concept the hotel chain added was to make it easier for travelers to put their shoes back on and to recompose themselves after moving through the checkpoint.

“We thought this was a perfect place to put some comfortable furniture in and a full length mirror,” Fowler said.

The airport also installed longer roller lanes coming out of the x-ray machines to give passengers more space to collect their belongings. The security bins are lighter and feature pictures of water droplets and blades of grass to create a calming effect.

“There is a real possibility we would keep the experience up past the end of the year, particularly if all the parties involved think it is improving the customer experience,” Craig said.

The airport surveyed customers at that checkpoint prior to the renovation and will survey travelers again in early November and mid- December about their experiences at the checkpoint. Depending on the customer feedback, the airport could partner with other sponsors to create similar checkpoints at other terminals, said Michael Baldwin, assistant vice president of airport concessions at DFW.

“We ask ourselves, ‘What is the ultimate experience we want to provide for our passengers?’ and we think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Baldwin said.

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