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Airport changes aimed at making lines move faster
Maggie Clancy and her mother, Jeri Yinger of Bozeman, make their way through the Billings Logan International Airport on Thursday, bound for Pennsylvania. When they return they will be able to take advantage of the new family security checkpoint lanes.

When Maggie Clancy, 5, and her mother, Jeri Yinger of Bozeman, return to Montana from Pennsylvania next week, they'll have an advantage when clearing the busy security checkpoints at the airport.

The Transportation Security Adminis-tration will be implementing new family lanes in all airports. The lanes also will be used to check passengers who need to carry more than the approved 3 ounces of liquid. The signs and new checkpoints are expected to be in place by Nov. 20.

Yinger and her daughter flew out of Billings Logan International Airport on Thursday on a trip that combined business and a family visit. Yinger said she hasn't had too much trouble getting through security at airports with Maggie in tow, but the new family lanes will make it easier.

In Billings, where there are only two security checkpoints, no new lanes will be added with the new TSA mandate. The family/liquids lane will be marked with a sign, but since Billings is a smaller airport, the rule will be flexible, said Dwayne Baird of TSA public affairs. Overflow from the other lane could be redirected to speed up the process, Baird said.

"There are times in the day when only one lane is open," said Tom Binford, director of aviation for the city of Billings. "Will they have a family lane? Yes, but they'll probably all still go through the same lane. Even in a very busy time our wait times would be less than a larger, busier airport."

Not long ago, a system that is a takeoff on downhill ski trails was adopted in larger airports. Black-diamond security lanes are for experienced travelers and a lane marked by a blue square is for infrequent travelers. Following that theme, the family/liquids lane is marked by a green circle - the easiest ski run.

Shari Wynn, a management consultant, travels almost every week and was flying out of Billings on Thursday. She hasn't seen too many delays because of families or people clearing unapproved liquids, but is interested in seeing whether or not her wait times are reduced as a result of the changes.

"I guess I'm going to find out what it's going to be like in the next couple of months with the holidays coming," she said.

Even with the change, officials at TSA recommend that travelers arrive earlier - at least an hour and half ahead of their flights - during the weeks around Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving holiday is the busiest travel time of the year, Baird said.

"If you're in a hurry, you're going to forget things, and that causes delays," he added.

Even with the new lane for checking liquids, TSA will still be enforcing what it calls the 3-1 rule. Containers of liquids and aerosols can contain no more than 3 ounces and passengers are allowed only one quart-size zip-top bag to carry them in. Exceptions are allowed for baby formula, baby food, liquid medicines and other health essentials. Those items should be security screened through the family-liquids lane.

Since terrorists hijacked airplanes for attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, airports have stepped up security procedures. Initially, the security caused long delays, but new methods that have been implemented since then are easing the wait for passengers.

"Wait times have diminished to the point that we don't even track them anymore," Baird said.

Contact Laura Tode at ltode@billingsgazette.com or 657-1392.

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