NPR logo More Legroom... and Special Treatment at Security

More Legroom... and Special Treatment at Security

One of the inconveniences produced by Sept. 11 is the longer lines at airport security checkpoints. Up to now, you could bear the embarrassment of being forced to reveal that your socks have holes because we were all in it together. Rich and poor, powerful and powerless, Republican and Democratic — we all waited patiently for our public humiliation.

That's changed now. In many airports, if you've got a first class ticket you get to go to the head of the security line. I witnessed it yesterday traveling from Albany, N.Y., to Baltimore. Sixty or more of us commoners were crowded into the maze criss-crossing the broad hall leading to the X-ray machines. But when someone showed up at the end of the line with a first class ticket, they were sent straight to the head of the line. In some airports all you need to do is meet one of the airline's magic mileage requirements. You've flown 50,000 miles in the past year? Come on down... you get to butt in.

Now, I've got nothing against people who buy expensive first class tickets getting better seats, better food and first access to the airplane when boarding. But security is something organized and paid for by the government. What class of ticket you hold, or whether you're a high-mileage frequent flyer should not count when you're lining up for a government service.

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The government agency that runs security, the Transportation Safety Administration, tries to wash its hands of the issues. A spokesman for the TSA says the airlines own the real estate in front of the security checkpoints, so they decide in what order people line up. That seems like a cop-out to me.