BEING an economy traveler, the process of getting on the plane, and being on the plane itself, always reminds me of the class where I belong – the hoi polloi.
And during my recent trips, I was further reminded of my plebeian-hood when I was told to “move to the other line” when I was at the airport checking in for TSA security. “This is the premiere access,” I was told. It turned out I had been standing in the line designated for the immortals.
The class segregation extends to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s pre-clearance processing area, which is cordoned off in two sections. “Premiere passengers to the left; economy passengers to the center against the wall, premiere passengers to the left; economy passengers to center against the wall,” the gate agent spoke repeatedly like an android as Honolulu-bound passengers walked into the area. It was hysterically imposing.
I’ve always been familiar with the privileges of the elite fliers such as priority boarding, first class seating, free champagne, gourmet food (not the mystery food wrapped in aluminum foil) and free headphones, but I was never aware of the VIP security lines at TSA and USCBP until my recent encounters with the social police.
I must have been oblivious all this time. I don’t know why I never noticed it before, but my subsequent research revealed that the elite lines for security checkpoints and the two-tiered treatment of passengers have been post-9/11 fixtures at world airports. I’ve learned that some airlines charge a fee of between $25 and $39 for a “Trusted Traveler” program that guarantees access to the priority security check.
By sheer luck, I was elevated to a higher social status on my way back home. My boarding pass, stamped “premiere,” landed me in the queue for the gods, allowing me to move briskly through federal lines. But to be honest, I was saddled with guilt. It could be offensive to one’s egalitarian sensibility.
I don’t resent the frequent travelers who obtain loyalty rewards and first class passengers who pay extra money to travel in style. But it seems quite odd that the federal government collaborates with airlines and is involved in this perpetuation of the artificial class system.
This is hardly “the rich vs. the poor” profiling, according to an airport insider, who said there are “valid reasons” for the two-tiered security lines. “Trusted travelers,” he said, are allowed to skip the regular checkpoints so that security officers can focus on screening “suspicious” passengers.
“And that’s precisely what expedited security programs like Trusted Traveler at least aim to get at,” writes an anonymous travel blogger for the website Views from the Wing, “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.”
I’m still not sure how one can justify the federally-sanctioned class stratification at the airport, but as a trusted taxpayer I would hope that there is also a priority line at Rev&Tax and any other government agency with long lines.