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Over Thanksgiving weekend, millions of Americans will be spending some quality family time waiting in line at the airport security checkpoint. The Transportation Security Administration is trying to make that experience a little less painful. And just in time for the travel rush, the TSA set up family lanes at, as it promises, every single checkpoint. NPR's Tamara Keith takes us to the airport.
TAMARA KEITH: If you're in a hurry to catch a flight, you probably don't want to get in the security line behind Kara Erindell(ph) and her two young sons.
KARA ERINDELL: This is - Nathan(ph) is three and Jack(ph) is eight months.
KEITH: This is Erindell's first time flying alone with the boys.
ERINDELL: For Thanksgiving, we're going to Florida to visit our - who are we visiting?
NATHAN ERINDELL: Mimi(ph) and Papa(ph).
KEITH: They've just passed through the new family lane at Reagan National Airport outside of Washington, D.C. The lane is marked with a green circle and is designed to give parents like Erindell some breathing room to deal with all the stuff that kiddos require, like strollers and car seats and big diaper bags packed with liquids like baby food and formula.
ERINDELL: Sometimes when you go through with children, you feel pressured to move fast because of the business people or - you know, they're used to coming through, and with kids you have to take of the shoes and the jackets. So it was really nice to have a dedicated lane.
KEITH: The dedicated family lanes have been in every airport in the country for almost a week now, and TSA spokesman Christopher White says they're working. Getting parents traveling with small kids into their own lane does make a difference, but it's not what you'd think. The main difference is the lanes for experienced travelers now move faster that they did back when they had all those strollers gunking things up. Which begs the question, who's benefiting more - the families or the other travelers? White says the agency created the lanes after conducting focus groups with passengers.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE: The one thing that was very surprising in our research was that the stress felt by families was not felt because of TSA or our officers. It was felt by the business person tapping his foot behind them. And that led to, you know, more prohibited items, less time to get prepared. So by establishing family lanes in every airport in America, we give people that extra time they need.
KEITH: Travelers are aloud to self-select, so there's technically nothing to stop a family from hopping in a faster moving non-family lane, except maybe those foot-tapping business travelers. Rebecca Goodheart(ph) throws her son Zachary's(ph) car seat onto the conveyor belt.
REBECCA GOODHEART: Here, sweetie. Here you go. When they tell us we can go, we're going to go through that security, OK. So, wait right here.
KEITH: She hands him his ticket, and they walk through the metal detectors.
GOODHEART: Now we have to go get dressed again, OK? On this foot, OK?
KEITH: Goodheart puts Zachary's shoes on and leaves him to figure out the Velcro as she puts her own boots back on. She says there's no way she'd use the family lane if she was traveling without her son. When she's on her own, she avoids people with kids. She says it's just a lot of work traveling with a toddler.
GOODHEART: I've got to take off his stuff, take off my stuff, and then get him. And then if you have a car seat, it has to go through security separate. It takes forever.
KEITH: Sean Brown(ph) looks like he agrees. He's traveling with his two daughters and has just had a stressful trip through the family lane.
SEAN BROWN: I forgot my boarding pass in my jacket, so I had to have a boarding pass assist. And here you go, sweetie. Put that on. So it was, I guess, better than it could have been.
KEITH: He means it wasn't a complete disaster. After all, even with a special lane for families, it is still airport security. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.