The Musings of

Something full of magic, religion, bullsh*t.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Earth-bound misfit

I probably average 4 or 5 round-trip flights a year, so I would hardly call myself an "expert" on air travel, but I am an expert on things that irritate the hell out of me and air travel has definitely fallen into that category. When I lived on the East Coast, I was much more inclined to drive than fly because my destination was rarely more than 6 or 7 hours away, and there was never a justification in my mind to submit myself to the rigid schedule and expense of flying when I could make a nice drive whenever I wanted and avoid having to rent a car when I got there.

Unfortunately, living in Texas makes it damn near impossible to drive anywhere. The state is huge and remote in the sense that there isn't really anything within driving distance worth visiting that isn't in Texas (sorry Shreveport). Therefore, to go anywhere requires resorting to the horrors of sky travel. You know the ones I'm talking about: parking hassles, check-in hassles, security hassles, wait hassles, delay hassles, boarding hassles, screaming-babies-in-the-seat behind you hassles, disembarking hassles, layover hassles, baggage-claim hassles, etc., ad friggin infinitum. Is there any other common practice or ritual that is so balled up as the simple act of flying from one city to another? Even with my limited experience I can regale you with stories so tiring that you will need a bourbon and a nap to continue with your day. I can't even imagine the painful lives led by the frequent flyers among us.

I, of course, am wading into this lake of despair because Mrs. C and I were forced by time constraints to fly this weekend. I won't bore with the trivial details beyond saying that 1) I am now willing to pay a million pesos to avoid having a layover and 2) that Mrs. C attempted to bring a knife aboard the plane but countless lives where saved when she was busted at the security checkpoint and forced to throw away the knife and give the TSA her name, which means all of my concerns about future flying is probably moot as she is now likely on a no-fly terrorist watchlist. [Several months after 9/11, one of my law school classmates took a flight for a job interview and was nailed at Checkpoint Charlie for carrying a lighter, which he was forced to hand over. Imagine his surprise, as he walked into the next newsstand -- inside the security zone -- to find lighters on sale for a mere $3.50. He figured the whole thing was a scam to sell lighters and that the TSA was getting a kickback.]

What caught my attention this weekend concerns the age-old yearnings that stretch Americans between their support of good ol' fashioned Capitalism (with the accompanying inequality of wealth) and their belief in equality before the law. Lemme 'splain. Anyone who has flown has no doubt noticed the deference given to first class passengers. They usually have their own line at the ticket counter, they are always allowed to board first, and they have their own damn bathroom that the flight attendant will point out before reminding you, coach-class schlub that you are, that it is reserved for the "forward" passengers.

I am here to say that I have no problem with this. These people have paid a lot of money for these perks. Had I wanted to, I could have sold my truck and joined them in their leather-bound chair of privilege, but I decided to forgo that pleasure for the choice of limited beverage service, annoying seatmates (not Mrs. C), and the ability to afford food when the trip was over. This is what America is all about: If you work hard and are successful at the game, you can afford to be not covered in shit, as it were. Your first-classiness inspires the rest of us to put in the extra hours necessary to grow our economy so that we, too, may have a cocktail in hand while the masses file by on their way to the back of the bus.

HOWEVER, while I recognize the right of wealthy Americans to pay more for disparate treatment from private actors, such deference is rightly expected to be lacking when dealing with the government. At some level, we stand as equals before the law. While a rich person may be able to buy a better lawyer, he cannot buy a better courtroom, a friendlier judge, etc.

All of this brings me to the whole point of this useless ramble: Why the hell is there a "first class" lane at the TSA security checkpoint in some airports? The government in it's wisdom has decided that we all, young and old, rich and poor, must go through a security checkpoint to get from the ticket counter to our gate. Such checkpoints are manned by Transportation Security Agency employees who work for the federal government and who will let first class passengers jump to the head of the line to get through. From the level allowed by my limited intellect, it appears that this is state action and, as such, is a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. And from the level allowed by my prodigious gut, I am tempted to raise Holy Cain every time some first-classhole is allowed to slide past the rest of us with his US stamp of approval. Am I alone on this?
Centinel 11:33 AM #


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