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OM in the News: TSA, Thanksgiving, and OM Come Together

November 21, 2016
TSA’s airport operations center in Arlington, Va., opened this summer and coordinates checkpoint operations at the 30 largest airports. Here, screens show projected and actual passenger volume by hour, plus projected wait times, staffing levels and number of lanes open for terminals at Chicago’s O’Hare and New York’s LaGuardia airports

TSA’s airport operations center coordinates checkpoint operations at the 30 largest airports.

With the busiest travel day of the year approaching the Sunday after Thanksgiving (2.8 million people will pass through U.S. airports that day), the Transportation Security Administration says it’s better prepared to handle record numbers of travelers and should make it through Christmas without gridlock.

“This marks the first winter test of a new command center in Virginia, built to react more quickly to trouble spots at airports,” reports The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 18, 2016). The command center has screens on 3 walls displaying data from the 30 largest airports. They monitor wait times, equipment failures, number of lanes open, and projected and actual passenger volume hour-by-hour at security checkpoints. Airports with waits of under 30 minutes for standard screening and 10 minutes for trusted-traveler PreCheck lines are green, but turn yellow if waits jump higher in either category. A morning conference call with airports and airlines takes place 7 days a week. From there, TSA has shifted screeners and canine teams and used overtime to nip major delays.

On a recent day, a checkpoint here in Orlando, showed a 38-minute wait around noon, grabbing TSA’s attention. Extra officers were added, and by 2 p.m. the wait dropped to 5 minutes. TSA staffing is also up, with 44,800 uniformed officers. TSA says it will have enough officers and overtime dollars to keep all lanes open at peak holiday periods.

And automated lanes, commonly used in Europe and  Canada, have just opened at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and are in the works at other big hubs. They have multiple places for travelers to load trays for X-ray screening, so one slow passenger doesn’t delay everyone. If a suspicious item is detected, bins are automatically diverted to secondary screening instead of stopping the X-ray belt and waiting for an officer. The approach shows a 20-30% boost in throughput.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What OM approaches is TSA employing?

2. What other ideas do students have to streamline the screening process?

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