Friday, March 11, 2005

On AirLines

Many have commented on the increased and then decreased security that accompanies a trip through an airport.

Shortly after September 11th queues as slow as they were long would snake along the rope line paths, pressing together the worried and wearied who were momentarily sharing the same space on their way to a different place. Shoes came off for x-ray as boots marched by for security; the suspected eyed the suspicious skeptically; and nearly all walked, stood, and sat thinking about the tragedy. But it hardly made sense for folks to wait so long to ride things that were so fast. It is as unsymmetrical as it intolerable. Frequent flyers complained frequently and old women stood still indignantly as young men at the gates looked and felt too close for things that might be hidden. The security reforms were reformed, eventually, and business tried to be as usual as it could.

Now the only thing that looks different are the lines going into the security checkpoints--a rather grandiose term for a suitcase CT and radioactive doorway. Signs are posted, enumerating to the pin point what we can’t bring through and two people stand by making sure that our tickets, pictures, and identities are just so; this is the line of defense most of us walk everytime we are at the airport and the one most of us dread. Local eyewitness coverage has long established the now worn topos of the sluggish security checkpoint line, crammed with grumbling travelers afraid of missing their flight and getting their toes stepped or rolled over by wheels on carry-on bags which, by every common sense notion of decorum, one would have expected to be checked-in and tucked-in its airplane’s belly. If you can look past your own misfortune at being caught in an extra long line, you might also notice a little sign that I don’t remember being there before all the extra security was added. It’s innocuous enough not to draw the attention of few but its intended readers. Each airline has a different color and pattern, but the message is always the same:
First and Business Class Passengers use this line.
In case you're uncertain, it’s always the shortest line. Apparently given a fair degree of autonomy in such things, airlines have decided to create separate security check-lines for their most valued customers.

Now, please don’t get me wrong; I am not opposed to the class system, I’m a teacher for heaven’s sake. Far be it for me to stand in the way of a company deciding to reward its best and most frequent customers, like most I long for the unexpected upgrade enough to want first class to be the last thing to go. But, I think that there is a significant difference between class distinctions within an airline’s gate areas, boarding practices, and seating charts. There is no federal mandate requiring that airlines establish and maintain such distinctions. There are, however, federal laws requiring everyone to go through a security check before getting into the airport’s terminals. Though it’s probably no rare thing for the government to allow some people to get better versions of things we are all supposed to have (public schools funded on local property taxes strikes me as one significant example) there is something unique about the line system in place at airlines. Everyone--of all classes--are placed together in relative proximity, the rules are enforced for our mutual safety (we’re all in this together, you might say), and we come from a culture that generally scorns line-cutters. It just don’t seem democratic.


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10/05/2005 1:56 AM  

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