In the coming months, the most frustrating bastion of terrorist-induced annoyances may finally be coming to an end. I’m not talking about the Patriot Act or another Call of Duty ft. Middle East Crisis XII. Much worse: Airport security checkpoints.
Airline travelers have been dealing with heightened security for thirteen years and the only thing that hasn’t changed about the rules and regulations is the time it will take to get through. Swiss Army knives disappeared first. Shoes became a threat; sodas were just too large to be allowed. Speed stripping became so common it should be a sport.
And, of course, the lines. Some are five minutes. Some are two hours. It’s impossible to know until you’ve arrived at an airport, so might as well show up two and a half hours early just in case.
The one consolation is that at least everyone else is going to have to wait on average what The Economist estimates is 19.5 minutes, too. Since the Bureau of Transportation put the number of passengers who flew domestic flights in the United States at 657,645,552 in 2012, this comes to about 8.9 million days of lost time due to security checkpoints for the year of 2012. Queueing should be the new American pastime and Americans wanted a solution.
Unfortunately, some companies have taken advantage of this. This Winter Break, while waiting in a security checkpoint line, I noticed some movement in my periphery. No one should have been moving that fast in an airport unless it’s Appleton. I turned and saw a single person walking through an empty line to the sole TSA agent waiting for them at a podium. This individual presented his papers and was waved through to the scanners, ahead of the hundreds of people who had been in line for an hour. In block white letters a sign labeled that entrance for users of CLEAR.
It was a strange feeling. When traveling, I am constantly reminded of the numerous clubs of rare earth metals I don’t belong to during boarding. I already walk past the first class, and the business class, and economy plus. Some things in America, I used to think and smile as I waited in airport security checkpoints, can’t be worked around. Death. Taxes. This line.
I get that it’s a trade-off. If someone is willing to pay, they can save time; but this is a United States government security checkpoint, not Flash Pass time at Disney Land. More importantly, CLEAR doesn’t solve any time problems. It just lets one person cut their time and transfer it to everyone still waiting. Not so with the expanded TSA pre-check. With the wide-ranging program that selects who is cleared using several criteria—these range from being a member of the armed forces to frequent flyers, or travelers who have worked with other TSA programs that require a background check—the actual time per traveler should down dramatically, as there is no need to de-robe, remove a laptop or bag liquids.
And yet, I have seen newspapers and bloggers complain about the expansion of the TSA pre-check program for the very reason that it’s expediting queue time while being accessible to a larger audience. If most people have it, the reasoning goes, then the TSA pre-check wait time won’t be much shorter than the normal line, which is perhaps the silliest reason to be angry at improved efficiency I have ever read.
TSA pre-check still goes faster than the standard line. It still speeds up everyone’s travel time without just shifting time losses from one person to another. It still beats the terrorists. What needs to happen next is further expansion so that any traveler, no matter their financial situation, can qualify. With improved queue times at airports, hopefully they’ll put programs like CLEAR to rest.