Sunday, June 15, 2008

Airport opens concourse express lane

ATLANTA - Travelers in a hurry at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport now have a new ally in the form of an express lane down the middle of each concourse.

A yellow zone prohibits standing or meandering so people already near their gates do not pool out into the passageway. The red zone in the center is for people moving expeditiously, and will be strictly enforced.

"If you're lollygagging in the red zone, you might expect to get brushed," said express lane enforcer Jack K. Carlson. "We haven't seen any incidents yet, but you never know. Helps if you just obey the guidelines."

Frequent travelers have nicknamed the zones "bump lanes." Carlson pointed out that airport safety personnel will not actively participate in enforcement of the express lane other than to remind travelers that they are "standing in the way of someone in a big hurry."

If tests go well in Atlanta, other major airports may adopt the practice. Surveys show that one of the most persistent complaints of travelers is the inability to get to their gate in a timely fashion.

"People tend to fill up whatever space is available to them," said Wendell Fulton, a research scientist in crowd dynamics. "At malls, on roads and in airports, many of them switch off their situational awareness and waddle like drunken hordes of manatees. Obviously, this frustrates anyone behind them who's actually trying to get somewhere."

Reminded that manatees are sea creatures and do not waddle, Fulton replied, "That gives you a pretty good appreciation of the problem, then."

Critics charge that the creation of an express or "bump" lane endorses assault on other travelers. Carlson said that the legality of the lanes can be rolled in with the other agreements travelers make when they enter airport premises.

"You've already agreed to the search of your person and belongings, along with other Patriot Act stuff you can't know. We just add this to the fine print and we're covered."
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