David Post thinks so (rather dramatically).
I noticed, as I was waiting in line at the security checkpoint at the San Francisco airport waiting to board a flight back east, that there was a “Priority Line” for “uniformed crewmembers” and “First and Business Class customers.” Excuse me, but what the f*** is up with that? I have no problem with the idea that people with greater resources can purchases conveniences in the marketplace (like a First or Business Class ticket). But the airport security checkpoint is a government service manned by government employees.
David, you really just noticed elite security lines?
Jeanne makes some good points in favor of elite lines, and I’d like to expand on those.
Of course, most people using those lines aren’t “the rich” but elite frequent flyers, since most passengers are domestic where 90% of seats up front are upgrades and where elites traveling as ‘self-loading cargo’ are invited to use those lines generally as well.
Most airports are run by governments and yet they work closely with airlines, determining who gets which gates (not giving equal access to all comers), who gets which slots (determined by the Department of Transportation at slot controlled airports but subject to much political pressure), and even which planes take-off in which order with the biggest airlines at a given airport having the greatest sway especially during irregular operations though air traffic control is provided by the government as well.
It’s reasonable to ask why all of these things are provided by the government in the first place, including security where it’s not obvious that a government workforce is superior to a private one, but it’s surprising to see this law professor so outraged by the notion that government making tradeoff decisions is so shocking, violating his fundamental sense of decency.
And of course this goals well beyond air transportation, the ‘rich’ presumably have greater access to expensive hybrid vehicles which are allowed to bypass traffic in HOV or HOT lanes.
The government says that they control the checkpoints only and not the queuing up to those checkpoints, and that’s generally correct, the entrances aren’t manned by TSA staff.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to queue the way the government sets up lines, as well, such as for ‘trusted traveler’ programs that skip normal security lines (where, whatever their effectiveness, the strategy is to focus screening efforts on high risk passengers rather than wasting resources on low risk ones) and Global Entry which expedites return to the U.S. in exchange for advance pre-screening.
In the case of airport security (theatre), a real cost is imposed on the airlines — long or more importantly inconsistent and unpredictable queues that increase the time it takes to travel and makes airlines less competitive with trains or driving on shorter routes and raises the hassle factor for customers, air marshals taking up seats that might go to customers especially on the full flights so often experienced today, IT expenses required to comply with no fly lists to name just a few.
Is it unreasonable for the government to try to impose these costs in a manner which does the least damage to the affected businesses? Their frequent flyers are their repeat customers, responsible for a disproportionate share of revenue. Reducing their inconvenience reduces the amount of revenue foregone by airlines as a result of government mandates.
And while this is hardly a rich vs. poor issue (it’s more business vs. leisure traveler, and few leisure air travelers represent ‘the poor’ for which “what the f*** is up”-style outrage might be morally appropriate), it’s in the limit true that both the rich and poor spend roughly the same amount of time over the course of a year in a queue at the DMV — it seems to me better to focus on fixing the DMV rather than punishing frequent business travelers although even at the DMV at least some states allow you to send someone in your place, which elite frequent flyers can’t do at airport security — it’s not at all the case that all citizens would spend the same amount of time in line at the TSA checkpoint over the course of a year.
In fact, frequent travelers using priority security lines still spend more time in security lines than infrequent travelers and here the analogy certainly breaks down, because someone flying every week of the year for work is going to be in lines much more than infrequent travelers. Here one might ask why it’s fair to make them spend so much more time in line for security than the average American? Isn’t that punishing them unfairly?
And that’s precisely what expedited security programs like Trusted Traveler at least aim to get at, there’s no reason to spend as much time with them since they’re going through every week and can very much already be known to the system, and don’t need to have their time taxed so much more in the aggregate than everyone else.