Passing through airport security in San Diego recently I saw something that made me wonder about how the principles of democracy are applied in airport screening.
There was a separate line for first-class passengers that allowed them to walk right up to the screeners while hundreds of people waited in the general line.
Now, as I understand it, funding for the TSA and airport screening comes from three sources: the 9/11 security fee on each ticket, fees levied directly on airlines and direct taxpayer support. So I don’t see much of a case for giving first-class passengers preferential treatment. This is, after all, a government service.
The security fee of $2.50 per segment or a maximum of $10 per ticket is the same for all classes of ticket. As for direct taxpayer support, you could argue that first-class passengers usually (though not always) tend to pay more taxes. But this country has never apportioned its public services to favor those who pay more taxes. Rich people don’t get an extra vote, better highways, more garbage pickups or more protection from the armed services. It’s a nation, not a department store, and some things are supposed to be suffered equally.
So that leaves us with the airlines’ contribution. Certainly, the airlines would want first-class customers to have a better experience at security. And you might argue that their contribution to the cost of security screening might be grounds for making that happen.
But I don’t think that’s sufficient. All kinds of industries pay all kinds of taxes, but in no case should that buy privileges for some citizens over others. A fundamental principle of democracy — though admittedly not of capitalism — is that all citizens have basically the same rights.
So I, as a taxpayer, don’t think first-class passengers should get to walk ahead of the rest of us at security. Even when (very occasionally) I’m the first-class passenger.
This is not an objection to the preferential treatment that premium-class travelers get from the airlines. They paid for that, and in our private sector you should get what you pay for. That’s the difference between a customer and a citizen.
I might be persuaded to make a distinction between special pass programs for frequent travelers and this system of shunting all first-class passengers to the front of the line. At least the frequent-traveler programs are supposed to be funded entirely by the fees paid by those travelers.
I’m not entirely convinced that the government should be engaged in selling express passes through security, but it would certainly be less objectionable as a separate and self-supporting system that does not interfere with the rights of the rest of us in our regular security line.