Some days, the lines for airport security can feel endless. But new technology at Philly International might lessen those dreaded preflight blues a little — by letting you know what you’re getting into.
PHL has been installing sensors that track how fast security lines are moving and calculate approximate wait times. Travelers can see those estimates, which are updated every 30 seconds, on screens at the airport or online.
The queue management system (“QMS,” for short), designed by California-based LiveReach Media, is up and running at three of six security checkpoints: Terminals A West, A East, and D/E. The A terminals have 12 monitors displaying wait times; the D/E checkpoint has nine.
The estimates can give passengers “an opportunity to decide which [checkpoint] to go through ahead of time, since our terminals are all connected on the secure side,” airport spokesperson Heather Redfern told Billy Penn.
The airport recently finished installing the tracking system at Terminal A, while the D/E technology has been in place for about a year and a half. The PHL construction team and the TSA are currently working together to design the setup in Terminals B and C, according to Redfern, with monitors expected by the end of this year. In Terminal F, the tech is expected to be installed by “early spring 2024,” Redfern told Billy Penn.
PHL’s QMS works by measuring “passenger dwell time” using a “fusion of sensors,” according to the airport’s website. The sensors are placed throughout the security lines, from the beginning of the queue to the end of the screening process.
The installation program began as a pilot in November 2021. The intention was always to implement some sort of QMS, per Redfern — the pilot was mostly a matter of figuring out what specific technology to use, seeing if it works, and confirming that travelers would actually find it helpful. Positive feedback was a big factor in choosing to move forward with the program.
“We were confident that it would ease traveler’s anxiety around what is considered the one of the most stressful parts of the air travel experience,” she said.
PHL’s average security check and passport control wait times tend to be a bit shorter than many other international U.S. airports, according to an analysis by the luggage storage company Bounce in 2022 — though it still doesn’t rank in the top 10 for speed.
Once the QMS pilot launched in Terminal D/E two years ago, Redfern said passengers there were more likely to be satisfied with their experience at airport security: 73% and 72% of surveyed D and E passengers, respectively, said the security process went “faster than expected” after the screens were installed — 10 and 14 points higher than those figures before the pilot began.
The tech at the three security checkpoints has cost around $2 million so far. The airport is footing the bill, and no city taxpayer dollars or federal funds have been used to pay for it, Redfern said.
Once PHL has installed the technology at all checkpoints, she said, it will be simpler for the TSA’s on-site operations management to direct staff resources to terminals most in need of them.
If you are looking online for checkpoint wait times, they’re available on the homepage of phl.org. Currently, Terminals B, C, and F are listed as “open” during their operating hours (as opposed to “closed”). Once the QMS technology is in place there, they’ll show estimated wait times, like the other half of the checkpoints do.