Law Professor David Post gets a bit unhinged over airport priority security lines. (Line breaks added for readaibility.)
Traveling down here from DC, I had my usual angry reaction, when standing on the TSA security checkpoint line at Reagan-National airport, at what has become the norm: special treatment for First Class and other “priority” travelers. You don’t have to be an Occupy Wall Street-er to find this entirely outrageous.
I get it that money can buy many things, and that that’s not an inherently bad thing – but one thing it should not be able to buy is improved government service. We have a word for that: ”bribery.” If passengers could pass $100 bill to the TSA agent on duty in order to get moved to the fast lane, we’d all condemn that heartily. Why it’s somehow OK when air passengers pay the extra money for First Class tickets and thereby get into the fast lane escapes me.
What’s next? A special line at the DMV for luxury cars (no waiting!! open 24/7!! )? A special, secret phone line for high earners connecting them to the Social Security Administration that will get their questions answered more quickly than the hoi polloi? It’s deeply anti-democratic and destructive, and if it’s not unconstitutional, it should be
There’s so many undeveloped arguments packed into the paragraph above.
Here are eight things I think the Post position fails to consider.
- Domestically, most first class passengers haven’t paid for the seat — they’ve been upgraded, because they are frequent travelers.
- It’s not ‘the rich’ it’s middle class middle managers. The rich either don’t have to travel (people come to them) or fly private (and so no TSA).
- On net frequent travelers spend more time going through airport security (because of the number of times they do it in a year) than people in non-premium lines.
- The greatest disadvantage of long security lines, or variable and unpredictable security lines, is airlines whose businesses are hurt — because driving or the train becomes a relatively better choice for short-distance travel. Premium security lines help minimize the business impact on the private entities harmed the most by the process.
- And anyone can get premium security, increasingly the TSA is trying to push the masses through Precheck — based not on class of service but such as on being a frequent traveler, going through Global Entry or PreCheck pre-screening.
- Everyone shouldn’t be treated equally at security because each traveler doesn’t have the same threat profile. That’s the point of PreCheck, and focusing on greater threats or giving less focus to lesser threats allows resources to be targeted to improve security. There’s a direct tradeoff here between ‘equality’ and ‘security’ if you buy that the TSA provides any security function whatsoever.
- A focus on premium security as a flashpoint in rich versus poor seems strange, because for the most part it isn’t the poor who are flying. Passengers (like law professors) in regular security queues are themselves already quite privileged.
- Meanwhile, the government’s position is that they control the checkpoints only and not the queuing up to those checkpoints. Management of the lines isn’t, in this way, a government function.
What do you think? Are premium security lines unfair to the masses?