While standing in line at the Transportation Security Administration que for flight security at my local airport, I noticed a curious thing. If you pay, you don't wait.
As usual I arrived early for my flight out to go through the ritual of undressing my feet, shuffling my laptop and emptying my pockets. Even though my flight was sheduled to leave at 7:30 AM, I thought it would be prudent to arrive at the airport at 4:30 to leave enough time for this process. It turned out to be a good guess. The line stretched for some 400' as it routed back on itself twice. There were two screeners checking IDs at the end of the line to disperse us into the security check equipment. After nearly 2 hours in this line, we came to the TSA screener who was looking at IDs and boarding passes. Each screener was working two lines. As we got closer to the screener, I noticed a curious thing about her station. She was sharing time between two lines, but the other line (the line I was not in) was for first class passengers. I looked back at my line to ensure it did not shrink - nope, some 400 people lined up behind me. The first class line had about 10. And worse, the screener would actually process more first class passengers at a time. That is, she would spend time issuing through three or four first class for each coach passenger. This means the line is not only shorter, but if you are in the longer line, you are treated as though there are four other lines shared with your screener. So, we asked, in the most polite way, how is it that we ended up waiting. Her response - "guess you got in the wrong line"...
So here we are in America after 911. We are at war, regardless of whether we agree with it or not. Everything changed after 911, right? Well, perhaps not so much. For the most part, we were hard pressed to see any evidence of this new post 911 world and were pretty much asked not to notice. But it all comes back the moment you arrive at the airport. You hear the grumblings of everyone in the line. Many similiar to "wow, a few guys slipped through the net and now we all have to go through this.." or some more understandably vitriolic variation on that basic theme.
Yes, it does piss us off and rightfully so. We want something to be done about it. We want to fly safe and will do what it takes to make that happen. We, for the most part, don't mind being treated like a criminal when we go through that line. All we ask is that the system work. We ask that the money we spend for this security is allocated wisely and fairly. We are not sure if this system is the best it can be, but we will undergo it for the sake of our collective shared sense of sacrifice for being a nation under new rules after 911. This turns out to be our one common shared sense of sacrifice. We would all go through the inconvenience and humiliation, equally. Or so we thought.
You see, if you are willing to pay more, you can, in great American tradition, avoid those things that everyone else must endure. This is pretty much the underlying plank of the Republican agenda. Private schools for those who can afford it. Private health care allow more choices for those with money. Private security inside wealthy gated communities, etc., etc. And when private money is not enough, well then, siphoning off the public funds to these private programs is just the next logical step for a country that values the more affluent. School Vouchers are just one such example. We all know the idea. The more money you have, the less you have to share in or care about what everyone else must endure. But this is the Federal Government. This is the TSA! This is an agency paid for by your taxes!! So how would it be possible that the Federal Goverment would allow a system to give anyone the ability to cut in front of other taxpayers waiting at the security checkpoint? By pointing the finger at the Airlines.
You see, the TSA says that they are responsible for everything EXCEPT the lines. The airlines are responsible for those. That's right. The barriers and ropes and signs that say "First Class Passengers Only" were put up by the airlines. TSA, with a straight face, says they have nothing to do with that. But try telling that to the screener with TSA on their shoulder who in addition to checking if your ID matches your face and your name on the boarding pass is also looking to see if you bought a first class ticket.
Well, you might say, the airlines pay for the TSA. Yes and no. The airlines are required to pay the TSA the amount equal to the money they spent in 2000. Yes, that is right, before 911. Where does the other funding come from? A charge of 2.50 per flight leg up to two connections from every ticket holder. Futher, the TSA is administered under the DHS. It says so right on their web site. And we all know who pays for that.
So now, the airlines are building elaborate lines for thier first class passengers. In a Washington Post article "First-Class fast lane" posted on August 2nd, 2005, it describes $1 million dollars spent by a domestic carrier at LAX to reconfigure the security lines in part to accomodate a separate escalator to allow first class passengers to skip to the head of the screening line. Of course it begs the question of how airlines that were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy can spend such money to cater to thier higher tier customers. I am sure the two Federal bailouts of 5 billion dollars had no influence on this. Oh, did we miss that part? Yes, your tax dollars went to ensure that many of these unhealthy businesses stayed afloat after 911. And what does the airline extend to you, it's coach customer for your investment in it's industry? It's middle finger, pointing to the longer line......