Salt Lake City International Airport has quickest security lines, says new study

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Security line at the Salt Lake International Airport in Salt Lake City, Oct. 5, 2017.

Harried travelers may not believe it, but Salt Lake City International Airport wins bragging rights for the shortest waits at security checkpoints among the nation’s 25 busiest airports, according to a new study.

The average wait there is 9.1 minutes — a minute and a half quicker than at No. 2 Washington Dulles International Airport, and 20 minutes better than at last-place Newark Liberty International.

That’s according to a study by Upgraded Points, a website that advises how to maximize use of credit card mileage points. It analyzed 2018 Transportation Security Administration data that report average wait times for each hour, every day of the week at the airports. It used that to compile daily and overall averages.

The study noted that Salt Lake City had “the shortest wait time on the list by far. So if you ever wanted to visit some national parks, now you have your excuse.”

It said the best time to go through security there is on Wednesdays between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., which had an average wait time of 2 minutes.

The worst wait is Sunday evenings from 11 p.m. to midnight, with waits of about 26 minutes.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Security line at the Salt Lake International Airport in Salt Lake City Thursday October 5, 2017.

Of course, those are averages — meaning some waits may be much longer and some much shorter.

Other airports with the shortest average waits were Washington Dulles, 10.5 minutes; Boston Logan, 10.6; Minneapolis-St. Paul, 13; and a tie between Charlotte Douglas and Detroit Metropolitan, 13.2 minutes.

The longest waits were at Newark Liberty, 23.1 minutes; Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental, 19.8; Miami International, 19.6; Baltimore-Washington International, 18.2; and the Las Vegas McCarran International, 17.3 minutes.

Salt Lake City International recently began posting current security wait times online at slcairport.com, and on five large TV monitors at the entrance to checkpoints. It uses technology that tracks (and times) passengers anonymously as they enter and pass through the lines.

Salt Lake City has the shortest waits even though it handles 25 million passengers a year but was designed to handle only 10 million. It is essentially building a new $3.6 billion airport in place while operating the current facility. The first phase of the project is scheduled to open on Sept. 15, 2020.

Airport director Bill Wyatt has said the new airport is designed to have even speedier security lines, with more screening stations and an automated screening process that may speed inspections by 20% to 30%.

At the airport now, people line up single-file to empty pockets and put belongings in gray bins. They push them single-file to the X-ray machine and grab them on the other side and stack bins. If problems occur, officers often ask aloud who owns the problematic bag — and rescreening and sorting out issues can back up the flow.

Wyatt said the airport plans to switch to a system similar to one now used in Las Vegas and a few other airports.

(John Spink | Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) Security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta stretch more than an hour long amid the partial federal government shutdown, causing some travelers to miss flights, Monday morning, Jan. 14, 2019.

There, numerous travelers at the same time (not single file) step up to side-by-side compartments where they place belongings into larger bins equipped with radio frequency chips. A conveyor automatically takes them into an X-ray machine.

Bins with materials deemed safe receive a green light and roll to the pickup area (where machines automatically send bins back to staging areas). Bins with suspect items are diverted automatically to a separate area for TSA inspection.

Because TSA says it can’t afford X-ray screening machines for the new airport, Salt Lake City and the airlines that serve it are buying and donating them — at the cost of millions of dollars — to keep the opening on schedule.