Your Government Services For Sale

I’ve ranted previously about the priority lines at some airports that allow first-class passengers to scoot to the front of the line for security screening. And now I’ve discovered something even more annoying.

My original objection to first-class lines was simple. Access to government services — and security screening by the Transportation Security Administration is a government service, even if it doesn’t always feel like one — should be distributed evenly and fairly to all citizens.

As business travel guru Joe Brancatelli subsequently explained to me, the current arrangement is a compromise between the airline industry and the government. The airports control the lines to reach security screening and the TSA controls the screening process itself.

I get the concept, but I still think it’s wrong. Why should people who pay more money to an airline, which is a private corporation, get faster access to a government service?

Turns out, United Airlines has made this inequity more obvious and more annoying. United is selling access to the priority lines at 18 airports in the United States. (“Other airports may be added in the future,” United’s Web site says.) For $19, you too can be a line jumper.

Now I recognize that government can charge extra for expedited government services, say to get a passport in a rush. And I recognize that private corporations can charge extra for expedited services, say to get in the VIP lines at Disney World.

But since when can a private corporation charge for an expedited government service? That just isn’t right.


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