Denver Keeps Lines in Check with TQM

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

There are 28 security screening lanes divided over three security checkpoints in the 1.5-million-square-foot terminal at Denver International Airport (DEN). Checkpoints at either end of the building each accommodate some 1,000 people; a third smaller checkpoint handles the rest. In 2007, DEN served — and screened — nearly 50 million passengers.

As traffic levels have grown at the airport, so have congestion challenges at the security checkpoint, says Wade Cloyd, terminal manager at DEN. The responsibility of the security checkpoints had been under the domain of the airlines, but the airport found staffing to be “sporadic.”

“You couldn’t always count on [checkpoints] being fully staffed,” Cloyd explains. Additionally, there were instances when airport operations staff and customer service workers were called to help manage the queues.

“There were all kinds of people there to help,” he recalls, “but with so many different entities working in one area, everybody was reporting to someone else and there wasn’t a lot of control and uniformity. We had problems as to how the lines should be run when the lines went outside the queues, etcetera.”

Managing the traffic in 28 security lanes was combined with other aspects of the queuing process, including ticket/document checking, directing passengers, adjusting straps for the queue posts and the Registered Traveler program under the direction of Lori Beckman, former security manager at DEN (now president of Aviation Security Consulting). A bin advertising program was also added, all under the control of one vendor: Hospital Shared Services, Inc. (HSS), which provides support service programs to various industries, including healthcare and security.

The Virtues of Consolidation

Under a five-year contract with the airport, HSS serves as the main point of contact for all processes and logistics related to queue management under the Total Queue Management program. Having one vendor in charge allows the system to operate much more efficiently, says Cloyd.

According to Mike Lanam, VP for aviation and government services at HSS, Total Queue Management incorporates several components including:

  • Physical queue management

  • Diverting of passengers between checkpoints based on wait-times

  • Staffing of employee and premium lines as well as Registered Traveler (RT)

  • Bin advertising

“This whole system allows everything to be controlled by one vendor so you’re not relying on the airline; or, in some cases, there was nobody down there to manage it,” Beckman explains. “Now you have somebody who is always responsible for taking care of it.”

HSS negotiated with Verified Identity Pass for the RT (Clear) component and Security Point Media for the bin advertising concept; both companies work as subcontractors to HSS.

In addition to being the single point of contact for the airport, HSS also works to improve the queuing system at DEN. Brad Dalton, director of aviation and government services at HSS, says passengers entering the line without a clear understanding about divesting often held up the queues. “We’re not only pointing people to the right checkpoint or to the lesser line, but also explaining the process along the way,” he says.

Telling passengers they’ll need to pull liquids, aerosols and gels out and preparing them before they get to the ticket document checker are just a few examples. Passengers who are prepared for the security process move faster and more efficiently through the overall system, he notes.

Efforts by HSS to improve security screening wait times, in conjunction with initiatives put forth by TSA (such as the self-select program), are expected to have a positive impact at DEN, says Lanam. Analysis of the system, however, is ongoing and procedures will continue to be adjusted as needed.

“It appears that it’s speeding it up, but the more important thing is that the travelers are feeling more comfortable and are given a higher level of customer service. It’s not as stressful as the previous wait in the queue lines at Denver,” Lanam says.

All parties meet weekly to discuss how the program is working and consider improvements that could be made. For example: TSA was originally performing a second document check on travelers after they went through the RT line (in which they already presented their documents). In agreement with TSA, the RT attendants (HSS employees) now perform document checking for TSA. “It was a repetitive process that really slowed down lines,” Lanam explains, but has greatly improved since HSS employees assumed the function.

New Costs, New Income

Revenue from the Registered Traveler and bin-advertising programs funds a large percentage of salaries for checkpoint personnel, says Cloyd. In 2007, the airlines spent about $1 million to staff the checkpoints. This year, he expects costs to be very similar, but the airport now offsets the expenses with new revenue streams. Under a five-year contract with HSS, the airport receives $500,000 in revenue from RT for the first year and a minimum annual guarantee of $700,000 the four subsequent years, with an escalating clause if revenue is above and beyond. Revenue from bin advertising is estimated at $80,000 per year.

“The bottom line is the cost is less than half of what it was to the airlines before,” Cloyd says.

The bin-advertising program is more than just “slapping an ad on a tray,” notes Security Point Media co-founder and vice president of operations, Doug Linehan. “It’s a customer service application.”

It started as a TSA pilot program at Los Angeles International (LAX), but was so successful, TSA expanded it to other airports, Beckman explains. It is currently active at 15 airports, including DEN, LAX, and Lafayette, LA.

Facts and Figures

Project: Managing security checkpoint queues

Location: Denver International Airport

Contractor: HSS

Subcontractors: Security Point Media (bin advertising); Verified Identity Pass (Registered Traveler program)

Bin-Advertising Revenue: $80,000/year

RT Revenue: $500,000 the first year; minimum of $700,000 annually for four subsequent years

The program officially expired on May 31; but the TSA issued a two-month extension and hopes the program will become permanent and open to all airports.

Each of the bins has a number on it so passengers and TSA personnel can easily identify which bin belongs to which passenger. At DEN, the advertising messages are changed and equipment is cleaned or replaced every 90 days. Security Point Media uses a patented process of moving the SecureTrays™ on SecureCarts™. The process is also designed to reduce the rate of on-the-job injuries of TSA workers.

According to Linehan, the company has been “very successful” in reaching a highly sought-after demographic — the business traveler. “The folks that travel have disposable income and to get a message to them is somewhat difficult. This is a way to guarantee an impression,” he explains.

Advertising opportunities are booked solid for the remainder of 2008, including business from companies that have previously never advertised in an airport. The majority of advertisers are national brands, but some local companies have also purchased bin advertising.

“The program fits with the biggest of the big airports, the smallest and everything in between,” Linehan adds.  


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