Members of the Clear program can scan their high-tech ID cards at kiosks and go through special TSA lanes to bypass crowds.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport opened 10 new security lanes to reduce wait times for the quarter-million passengers who filter through the world’s busiest airport each day.

The additions, four in the South Terminal and six in the North, bring the total number of gates to 32.  The airport spent $26 million to add the lanes, mostly to renovate areas that were used for other purposes.

The airport relies on the Transportation Security Administration, created by the federal government in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, to staff the gates.  According to Jeff Pearse, the airport’s director of marketing and business development, the goal has always been to keep wait times to 10-15 minutes.

The opening of the new gates coincides with a new nationwide TSA program that allows customers to choose their gates based on their level of familiarity with the agency’s security procedures.

Reminiscent of the difficulty-rating system found at many ski resorts, the “Diamond Self-Select” system has color-coded signage that guides travelers to the appropriate lanes.

The system reserves black diamond lanes for “expert, elite or frequent business travelers,” according to an airport press release. 

“Casual travelers with carry-on baggage and a basic understanding of security procedures” should gravitate toward blue squares, while green circle lines are for those flying with children or who have special needs.

As its name suggests, the “self-select” program doesn’t have a standard to manage which traveler falls into which category.  Travelers determine their own level of knowledge and choose accordingly, and officials hope this filtering mechanism will keep lines moving.

Travelers coming back into the country also have a new option to skip lines.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which like TSA is under the Department of Homeland Security, recently opened the Global Entry program that allows pre-screened international passengers to bypass the traditional passport control line and instead interface with kiosks. 

The program aims to improve security by allowing officials to filter out “low-risk” passengers.  For frequent business and leisure travelers, this could mean a savings of 20-40 minutes (at peak periods) on the end of a long trip. More about Global Entry…

These changes come on the heels of the Clear program’s introduction at Hartsfield.  The registered traveler program operated by Verified Identity Pass Inc. allows screened passengers to go through special TSA lanes. 

Clear provides frequent travelers with a high-tech card that lets them go through “designated fast lanes” at 19 airports nationwide, according to the company’s Web site. Membership costs $199 for one year, while a two-year deal costs $358.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...