, November 28, 2013
‘The more you can calm down the situation at the airport, the easier it is to find somebody who is an anomaly — that’s what we’re looking for,’ says one TSA official.
Plush couches. Soothing music. Tranquil pictures on the wall. It could be a hotel lobby. Except at Charlotte- Douglas International Airport, these are the amenities at a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, an experiment to ease tensions as passengers pass through security.
Charlotte’s Checkpoint E, along with the one at Dallas/Fort Worth’s airport, each began three-month experiments in October to see whether checkpoints could be made any more calming, under a project organized by SecurityPoint Media and SpringHill Suites by Marriott.
So far, airport executives and TSA officials say travelers and workers at these two airports want to make every checkpoint like this.
“What they have done is calmed the situation down,” TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski said. “The more you can calm down the situation at the airport, the easier it is to find somebody who is an anomaly — that’s what we’re looking for.”
About $500,000 in remodeling didn’t cost airports anything because SpringHill Suites offsets its expenses with advertising and the chance to introduce travelers to its amenities, according to Craig Fowler, Marriott International’s senior director of brand marketing.
Leather couches are in the area where the security line begins. Colored lights dance on the wall, with a warmer effect than harsh white lights. Floor-to- ceiling pictures on the walls alternate views of hotel rooms with pictures of flowers or water.
“The idea was to transform a normally stressful moment in the traveler’s journey with enhancements that are surprising and delighting,” Fowler said.
Joseph Ambrefe, CEO of SecurityPoint, said the goal is to improve the traveler’s experience without sacrificing security. Shoes are still removed and bags are still scanned, but in more pleasant surroundings. Ambrefe says it is too early to quantify whether passengers are getting through the checkpoint faster.
Television screens update passengers about the length of their waits to get to screening machines. The video screens also carry advertising for SpringHill Suites.
To eliminate TSA officers’ shouting instructions or blaring public-address announcements, directional speakers remind passengers when it’s time to remove belts or metal from pockets. Alternating with the official messages is music from the SpringHill Suites channel on Pandora.
“The concept is designed to inform and instruct our customers about the screening process at the security checkpoint while simultaneously creating a welcoming, calming environment for travelers from SpringHill Suites,” said Jennifer Long, the passenger-experience manager at Charlotte’s airport.
At the checkpoint, wider, flatter trays for belongings are decorated. The trays are also numbered and carry computer chips so that they can be tracked more precisely if a specific tray needs to be scanned twice.
“We want to lead the way in making passenger screening a positive encounter, while maintaining the highest levels of security,” said Ken Buchanan, executive vice president of revenue management at the Dallas airport.
After screening, there are soft red couches where passengers can sit while putting on their shoes, tall tables to help slip a laptop back into its bag and a full-length mirror for a quick check before heading to the gate.
“The idea was to replace those hard, cold steel benches with something that people would feel comfortable sitting down on,” Fowler said. Halinski of TSA says the experience is so pleasant that officers from across the Dallas airport all want to work at Terminal E’s Checkpoint 18.
“What they have done is make an incredible experience for the folks that go through that particular checkpoint,” Halinski said. “Every TSO we have wants to work in that terminal because it’s nice.”