'Tis the season to wait impatiently in lines. And among the lines that people complain about the most are the ones at airport security. It wasn't always like that. If you summon the ghost of Christmas Past and go all the way back to a year or two ago, most people were saying things like, "If it's a little inconvenient, if I have to show up at the airport a little early, if I have to take off my shoes, it's a small price to pay for being safe." I guess most people have forgotten those words. Now, you're more likely to hear things like, "I can't believe how slow the security people are," or "They actually made me take off my shoes," or "Why can't they just search the people who look like terrorists?"
Well soon, those impatient travelers may not have to wait in long lines with everybody else. Both the Transportation Security Administration and private companies are developing a kind of quick E-ZPass. The way it would work is that the customer would voluntarily undergo a background check, an iris and fingerprint scan, and probably have some secret code word like their pet's maiden name. Then they'll still have to go through the metal detector at the airport, but their search won't be as thorough and they probably won't have to be "wanded."
It's being hailed as the answer to frequent fliers' prayers. I'm not so sure. Personally, I'd like to have more comfortable seats or some air conditioning even when the plane's on the ground.
First of all, don't the government and private companies have enough personal information on each of us without our voluntarily giving out more? Theoretically, the line with pre-screened "E-ZPass people" will be shorter than the regular line. But if this thing really works the way its proponents say it will, won't just about everybody join in? Then we'll have two lines: a long line of "special" people who don't want to wait in the regular long line right next to them.
If we're still worried about bad guys sneaking on planes, isn't this just another opportunity to make it easier for them? If there's a way of faking a background check or an iris scan, isn't there a chance that the "wrong people" will figure it out? Do you really feel secure that no terrorist will ever be able to get one of these Quick N' E-ZPasses?
This reminds me of the recent decision to allow people to fly with small scissors or tools. I guess the reasoning was that the odds were great that a terrorist could do any real damage with a scissors less than 4 inches long or a screwdriver less than 7 inches. (They don't sound all that small to me. How big is a "box-cutter" anyway?) Also, even if it's a minor risk, why take it? How important are those scissors and screwdrivers to passengers in-flight? Can't they repair their glasses or make paper dolls after they land?
And how much money is being spent on developing these Quick Passes? Is this the best way to spend Transportation Security Administration dollars? Wouldn't it be better spent on things like examining cargo or hiring more inspectors?
Excited proponents of the I.D. Pass say that its use wouldn't just be limited to airplanes. It could be used anywhere that there are security lines and searches: ballgames, concerts, parties at rich paranoids' houses, etc. I don't know about you, but I haven't found security to be an enormous inconvenience when going to a concert or a sports event. Instead of trying to perfect this I.D. card, I'd rather they concentrated on a good sound system and clean bathrooms.
So, it's not that this thing is necessarily a bad idea, but like so many ideas, it seems like something we don't need. Get to the airport a little early, and wear shoes that go off and on easily. Don't look at the long line as a nuisance. Look at it as a demonstration of how much people care about your being safe. Maybe you should see it as a social experience, too. Make new friends with the others in line. And pretty soon, possibly you'll be saying again, "It's a little inconvenient, but at least I feel safer." And maybe you'll meet somebody who thinks you have really sexy feet.
Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
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