TSA Queueing and Skewed Incentives

If you’re not a traveler, I apologize for my travel focus lately, but let’s see if there are still some lean lessons to be learned.

I’m lucky with airports and avoiding long lines, typically. I fly out of DFW, which is good about not having security lines longer than a few people. Part of this is by design. Unlike most airports that have one or a few huge security checkpoint areas, DFW has many security checkpoints spead out the length of the terminals, one every 10 gates maybe. It always flows well.

I flew out of LAX today, which had a single chokepoint, I mean checkpoint, that most everyone was going through for American Airlines. It was at least a 30 minute queue and cycle time.

What always strikes me at these airports with long queues is the constant expediting of passengers whose flights take off in the next 45 minutes. A TSA person is constantly coming through the queue and shouting “Anyone on the 2:26 flight, come on up now” and those people get to skip the queue. This increases the amount of queue management, labor cost, delays for other passengers, general confusion, etc.

I know they’re trying to help people get on flights on-time, but isn’t that the wrong incentive, rewarding those who show up late? Why would you show up two hours early and stand in line for 30-45 minutes if you can show up 45 minutes before your flight and get expedited through?

Shouldn’t they give prizes or special treatment to those who show up early? What do you think? Do you have skewed incentives that reward the wrong behavior at your plant?

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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