This summer's combination of record numbers of air travelers and high levels of security has focused flyers' attention squarely on airport security lines, the bottleneck in the air transport system that has played a key role in degrading the quality of the travel experience.
And that focus has raised awareness of, and sometimes anger at, the expedited lines which permit a lucky few travelers to get to and through the security checkpoints much faster than the less privileged masses.
Currently, such lines are available in some airports to first-class passengers and elite frequent flyer program members. The Registered Traveler program, still being tested at Orlando Airport, will eventually give access to the speed lanes to flyers who pay an annual fee and undergo pre-screening.
The debate, as a piece in today's USA Today illustrates, tends to boil down to a face-off between the haves and the have-nots. Those in the express lanes are understandably happy to be there and endorse the system. The teeming masses left to grind their way through the slow lanes understandably find the double standard irksome.
Sure, first-class ticket holders are entitled to a bigger seat and a better meal. They've paid for those privileges. But shouldn't everyone be equal in the eyes of airport security?
Like many, the situation leaves me ambivalent. Philosophically, I'm inclined to take a "we're all in this together" stance. But practically, I'd gladly pay to obtain a Registered Traveler credential in order to minimize the time wasted in lines.
As is often the case with such dilemmas, we're probably better served by looking beyond the divisive us-them conflict and collectively pushing the airlines, the airport authorities, and the federal government to design a security-screening system that works efficiently for everyone.