In the Loop

Are you a 'Black Diamond' at airport security?

Posted at 1:10 PM on May 13, 2008 by Jeff Horwich (8 Comments)

(TSA graphic)
WSJ's Scott McCartney (subscription may be required) brought some popular attention today to the new Black Diamond airport security screening program now rolled out at a few airports by the Transportation Security Agency (eight cities so far, according to the Journal).

Basically, you're supposed to sort yourself based on how much of a hassle you're likely to be going through security.

To simplify the concept (at least for skiers) they adopted the "black diamond," "blue square," "green circle" code: Are you an "expert," a "casual traveler" (though apparently not frequent enough to be an "expert" yet) or are you a green circle "family" or "special assistance" case?

The TSA (here's their latest press release) has a scintillating and dramatic video that takes five minutes to walk you through basically what I just explained in about 50 words.

McCartney's column is upbeat; people in Orlando certainly seem to be fans. The idea is increased speed for people in a hurry, and less stress on slower people.

My big question is the middle category. Now...I'm not an everyday business traveler. And I'm hesitant to declare myself an expert on anything. But when it comes to going through airport security...dare I say I know most of what there is to know?

Who has been on a plane more than twice in the past five years who is not basically an expert? It's hard for me to imagine someone arriving at the security lanes and thinking, "Now, how does this whole thing work again? I'm supposed to walk through where? I'd better take the casual route 'till I can wrap my head around this dag-burned system."

Then again, maybe I'm missing something. What additional levels of knowledge might I still need to attain black diamond level?

Comments (8)

Is it just me, or is that black diamond image pretty ominous looking? Couldn't it have been something a little friendlier . . . like a yellow diamond? Or a purple horseshoe or red balloon? Wait, no . . . maybe not those.

Posted by Sanden Totten | May 13, 2008 1:29 PM

And the image is a woman with her hands on her hips. She's in the "expert" line, but she's still impatient.

Posted by Jeff Horwich | May 13, 2008 1:38 PM

I think the "Elite Status" on your ticket/frequent flyer card should be the criteria for the Black Diamond. All you would need is Elite status once, and the profile carries forward year after year for the Black Diamond line. Just show your card. If you earned Gold or Platinum status, you have the drill down pretty well.

Posted by Christopher | May 13, 2008 2:01 PM

If you have to go through the metal-detector twice, you're not an expert.

If it takes you more than 10 seconds to put your carry-ons on the conveyor belt, you're not an expert.

If you get pulled aside for something noteworthy in your bags, you're not an expert.

If you're not wearing slip-off - slip-on shoes, you're not an expert.

If you have to remove your belt, you're not an expert.

In short, experts are prepared when they reach the conveyor belt.

Experts dress to not set off metal detectors.

Experts pack to facilitate removal & replacement of laptops and suspicious liquids & creams in their carry-ons (or just place them in checked baggage).

Experts have their IDs & boarding passes ready when they reach the first TSA checkpoint.

Experts don't forget telephones, keys and change in their pockets.

Experts clear the area quickly once through the screening process.

In short, there are probably so many Average travellers who think they're Experts, it'll be quicker to go through the Blue Square line.

Posted by bsimon | May 13, 2008 2:39 PM

Thanks, b. That's awesome! And actually pretty useful. Glad I left the question open ;-)

Since the different security lines are all self-selected, anyone can wind up taking on the Black Diamond. What fate awaits the "casual traveler" who hops to the big-kids' line without being fully prepared? I shudder to imagine it.

Posted by Jeff Horwich | May 13, 2008 2:43 PM

My guess is that if you make the mistake of going "expert" when you really aren't, you'll know pretty quickly. A policy of fierce brow beating and under-the-breath insults for any novices (like myself) trying to sneak into the black diamond lane should be effective.

Posted by Sanden Totten | May 13, 2008 3:27 PM

bsimon hit it on the head. Besides my in-laws have two very well sesond travelers for kids my nephew and neice have been on more flights in their 13 and 11 year old lives than almost all of my blood family has in the35 years I have been alive. so put that in your pipe and smoke it TSA!

Posted by Bill Anstedt | May 15, 2008 3:53 PM

I am a former TSA screener and author of: I Might As Well Be Naked: How to Survive Airport Screening With Your Clothes On!

My comment is that you hold yourself accountable when you choose the black diamond ski run when sking. You better know how to ski REALLY GOOD!

The problem at the airports is that most people will use the expert lane because it's shorter than other lanes and they don't want to wait, even though they are not expert travelers.

Unless these lanes are monitored every second of the day, you will see passengers cutting in line.

Out of 369 tips from my book, my biggest tip for any passenger is know if you are selected for secondary screening ahead of time. It's easy! Print out your boarding pass from home. If you're successful, you will not be selected by the airlines. If you cannot print your boarding pass, you are selected by the airlines for secondary screening.

Now, just because you are not selected for secondary screening by the airlines doesn't mean you will not be selected by TSA at the walk-through metal-detector. For more great tips, check out my website.

Happy and Safe Travels!
Natalia Ippolito

Posted by | May 17, 2008 10:41 PM

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