Michael Lind has a silly screed in Salon about elite security lines, beginning with the claim that “[s]ecurity checks were one of America’s most democratic places — until rich passengers got their own speedy lines.” (HT: Arthur N.)
Now, the argument isn’t quite as bad as David Post’s, since the author recognizes that the security lines he’s lambasting aren’t even run by the government.
But I think among the histrionics and juxtaposing of rich versus poor, it’s worth remembering:
- “The Poor” on the whole aren’t buying airline tickets and suffering through airport security in large numbers. Airport security itself is largely the plight of middle and upper-middle classes.
- “The Rich” – at least the really rich that class warriors like to heap scorn on – don’t go through airport security either, they’re more likely to fly private.
- Elite security lines aren’t predominantly the domain of passengers buying paid first class tickets, either. They’re frequent flyers, going through the checkpoint scores of times each year. Which means that people going through these lines likely spend more time waiting at TSA than the average non-frequent flyer going through the ‘regular’ line. Why focus on how much time one person spends on a given day in line versus how much time they spend in total in that line?
The next phase of premium security lines is “Pre-check” which will offer expedited screening mostly to… airline frequent flyers. Because the airlines already know a great deal about them, their travel patterns, how much they pay for tickets, even non-travel purchase behavior.
Airport security isn’t supposed to be about shared sacrifice (although it’s the frequent flyers who pay the most in security and aviation taxes and are most inconvenienced by security over the course of a year). It’s supposed to be about security, which means focusing resources on threats not spreading out resources to investigate everyone equally, regardless of threat. Can we expect even greater histrionics about pre-check? Michael Lind offers a preview:
These “trusted traveler” systems will not make America safer. Their unacknowledged purpose is to create yet another area of American society that is privatized and segregated by class, to the benefit of the mostly white economic overclass.
To the extent that it’s only frequent flyers that get to opt out of security theatre (taking off shoes, taking out liquids), we’re probably even less likely to ever get rid of it entirely, since the infrequent flyers are an even more dispersed interest than regular travelers, there’s little individual incentive for such folks to push for change. And that is certainly a downside to reducing the inconvenience of only the most inconvenienced individuals.
For a better-informed discussion of airport security, The Economist holds a debate on airport security between Bruce Schneier and Kip Hawley.