February 20, 2013

DTQ: Should You Go In The Family Security Line At The Airport?

Dulles Airport, by Eero Saarinen, photo: Ezra Stoller, 1964

Dulles, I love you, but you're bringin' me down.

Let's just start by agreeing that after 25 years of construction and $190 billion, the new underground security screening & train system at Dulles airport totally sucks. And to make matters worse, a few months ago, they closed the unmarked Road Warrior Bypass security entry in the middle of the baggage claim area, so now you're all stuck.

Last week on our extended weekend skiing trip to Utah, we sunk into the Dulles TSA dungeon, and settled in with the kids, complaining to each other that the priority line was just as long as the commoners' line.

When suddenly, like an angel, a senior-looking airport manager lady pulled us out and said, "Oh, you should go to the family line." Which, the what?

And so we followed her, slightly giddy, and sure enough, there it was: though with only two families in it, you could barely call it a line. And I'm like, sweet! A successful trip to the Mile High Club will land you at least a decade of walk-on security screening!

We graciously thanked the manager, who went off to round up more children, and our line lady explains that Dulles just started their family priority line at Christmas, and they only do it in the afternoon, "after 3 o'clock, because there are a lot of international flights." OK, well, then, we got really lucky! [NOTE: There's nothing about this family line/program on the airport website.]

What a load of crap. Somehow between the TSA boarding pass initialer and the two families ahead of us, we managed not to move forward one person for like 15 minutes. Finally, the dad at the desk was sent away, back to the check-in counter--to get a boarding pass [!?!]--while his family of four were shunted aside and put under the watchful eye of some standaround.

The next family was no better. Already, they'd been buggin' because their littlest girl, maybe 4yo, had a non-stop whine and a lollipop. No matter how many times her mom reassured her, she didn't believe her dad was coming back from the parking lot.

Anyway, we ended up getting cross-wise at the desk with a pinch hitting TSA agent who'd come in to expedite things, while the whiny bunch hogged the other guy's attention. And after all this, we got funneled into one X-ray machine line, out of 20 or whatever for everyone else. The family priority line had grown significantly behind us. And by the time we got through, I saw we were putting our shoes on next to an elderly couple who'd been about three people ahead of us in the priority line. So the whole thing was a bust.

Which makes me wonder if it's ever worth it? My kids are fliers. We have it down. But more than speeding kids along, I wonder if the goal of a family line isn't also [mostly?] to improve the "regular" lines by weeding out the system-jamming babies, strollers, and misfits.

In which case, no thanks, we can handle it? Or, well, whatchyou got? Let's see just how short the line is? What are your experiences or suggestions?


We've had good experiences with the family lines at other airports. Never tried IAD. The biggest advantage is they automatically route you around the naked picture scanners (although they tend to let you bypass it even if you go through the regular lines as long as you have little ones in tow).

I have always assumed that the family line is meant to get the slower moving family groups out of the regular line, not a courtesy to families. Even when we are pointed to the family line, I pass and go to the normal line. I've got enough going on dealing with my own family while traveling. I don't want to deal with other peoples' kids' issues too.

Charles and Ray could have solved this whole mess. Security done while on the people movers!

It's definitely been worth it at O'Hare.

This happened to us in the Orlando airport in Dec. They said "oh we have a family line" and we thought with all our stuff that meant they knew how to get car seats and strollers through faster. But instead we got the line of 1 scanner and same number of people as lines with 2-4 scanners.

This is also where the elderly on wheelchairs went.

We were fuming. We had plenty of time but that was the longest security line I've been in period for the past few years and I travel for business quite a bit.

Also Liz, what terminal at Ohare has a family line? I haven't seen it. Fly American.

Well, not anymore.

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