I recently did a bit of traveling—pleasure, not business—and while I love having any opportunity to get out of “This Town” for a few days, I absolutely loathe air travel. It’s all terrible; the overpriced food and drink (protip: always make it a double shot for $2), the stale, circulated air, the terror-inducing, oh-god-oh-god-we’re-all-gonna-die turbulence… and of course, the screaming babies.

Of course, in order to experience any of this, one must pass another trial – the TSA security line. You never know what to expect when you show up at the airport. 6 AM flight? You may think you’ll have plenty of time to get through security, but the airport doesn’t schedule enough agents to have sufficient capacity to deal with all the other early morning travelers—plan on waiting at least 30 minutes. The agents themselves don’t approach the job with a uniform degree of conscientiousness. Forgot to take a pocket knife out of your purse or carryon? If you’re a pleasant looking young woman, you may get away with it 4 times out of 5. (The 5th time, prepare to kiss your stuff good-bye. Or go back and mail it to yourself, necessitating another 30-minute trip through the rope stanchion maze). And what the hell is with the guy who taps the iPad with the arrow? Do taxpayers really need to be supporting salary + government bennies for these positions?

If you’re a member of the elite class of travelers, you can opt out of this security theater by enrolling in the TSA Pre (check) program. The $85 fee is probably well worth the money for frequent fliers, which usually fall into two categories: People with jobs that pay for travel, and people affluent enough to travel a lot (military members apparently get to enroll for free). The budget-minded family of four that takes one vacation a year is probably not going to shell out an extra $340 for the program, nor are the infrequent travelers, nor any kind of ticket buyer who buys when they’re cheap and never pays for upgrades (that’s me). In this way, TSA Pre splits the market into sophisticated travelers, and “cattle.”

This bifurcated customer base is important. The travelers for whom time is money, who are on the clock when at the airport, and who won’t stand for missing a flight because some government organ donor needed them to put their toothpaste in a plastic bag, have effectively been neutralized as critics of the system (or their employers have, anyway). The rest of the “cattle” (which, to be sure, includes plenty of erudite & and informed citizens who disdain the TSA) are much more likely to just shut up, get in the scanner, and comply with whatever searches the agents decide need to be done, in order to board the plane on time. And the real rebels & patriots always have the option to “protest” by requesting a pat-down.

This is all win-win-win for Uncle Sam, here’s why:

  • Step 1: set up a large new security-theater jobs program to suck up some of the labor force slack, in the form of able-bodied workers who are either too underskilled, elderly, or technologically illiterate to compete in the 21st-century job market.
  • Step 2: Mitigate the one of your more vocal segments of critics by setting up a “fast lane,” enabling them to opt-out of the security theater system, effectively mitigating their public dissent (you can even charge them for the privilege!)
  • Step 3: Let the same old system continue running, unfettered.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge anybody who signs up for TSA Pre(Check). Sometimes the machinery of power works in your favor, and well… You do you. Nor do I have any philosophic or moral qualms with differentiated services, price discrimination, or ”fast lane” systems—except when the government is using them to exempt certain classes of citizens from unreasonable, unnecessary bureaucracies. Or in some cases, infringements on their constitutional rights.

TSA Pre isn’t another toll road EZ pass that let’s you save a few seconds on your commute. Either all citizens should be treated as suspects in their own country, or none of them (save for the actual suspected baddies) should. TSA Pre is fair and reasonable airline security treatment for those who can afford it.

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