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Should Some Flyers Get Through Security Faster?

Dear Tim,

Could you address who pays for airport security checkpoints (I thought it was the U.S. government via fees on tickets) and why and how airlines have any control over them, such as access of their elite passengers to special security lines?

It seems to me that providing special lines at check-in counters is the airlines’ prerogative, but getting through U.S. Government security checkpoints should NOT be.

C. G. Knight

Dear C. G.,

With [% 2673767 | | American %] and [% 2676403 | | Southwest %] recently bestowing upon their [[Elite Programs | elite frequent flyers]] expedited access to security checkpoints, this is a question with real world impact.

The security clearance procedure consists of two separate and distinct components.

First, travelers either choose or are directed into lines leading to the checkpoint. And second, after reaching the front of those lines, travelers pass through the metal detector while their carry-on bags, coats, and shoes go through the X-ray machine. Let’s call the two phases of the process the waiting stage and the processing stage.

The waiting stage is controlled by the airlines. They are at liberty to manage the flow of passengers however they please, adding and deleting lanes, designating some lanes for the exclusive use of their best customers, and so on.

The processing stage, on the other hand, is the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Because the TSA is a government operation, funded by fees paid by flyers, it runs on democratic principles: The person at the head of the line is next to be processed, whether he’s an oil baron flying in first class or a holidaymaker whose flight is part of a cut-rate vacation package.

The question is whether it’s proper for the airlines to favor one traveler over another, by creating priority lanes that allow preferred customers to reach the processing area faster.

My own feeling is that all travelers should be treated equally throughout the process. Security clearance is an imposition that should inconvenience everyone equally. So the airlines’ use of priority lines is fundamentally unfair.

But I’ve heard from many readers who disagree. Their take: Passengers who pay more should get more, including expedited security clearance.

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