Thousands Standing Around

If I was trying to get to Dallas or Chicago by airplane, I’d probably be busting a gasket now. We’re watching all of those folks milling around in the Atlanta Airport on TV.

What seems to be plaguing the summer time travelers is the inability of the security at the airports to process the travelers quickly. I use “quickly” in the most generous sense. People are being told to arrive at the airport three hours ahead of their scheduled flight. Three hours ahead of their departure time. Let us cogitate on that for a moment. Three hours of picking up and kicking our bags forward while we try to not upset the people in front of, or behind us in line.

If those three hours were actually spent traveling, where could we go? Well, by car heading north, we’d make it to Asheville, Knoxville, Nashville and almost to Charlotte. Going in other directions we’d get to Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Columbus and nearly to Tallahassee and Savannah. I am told that people fly to those destinations from the Atlanta airport. So, now travelers can drive to them in the time they would have spent in line waiting to take their shoes and belt off. As impressive as that is, where could we go by train, if the United States had a train system like Eurail?

Well, in addition to the car list, we add Lexington, Kentucky, Greensboro, Charleston, Jacksonville, Panama City, Pensacola and Mobile. It looks like going to the beach would be a piece of cake by train. I’m talking about a slow train, one that averages one hundred miles an hour. If you move up in speed to Eurail standards, then most of the eastern U.S. is within reach. Chicago in the time you spent kicking your bag along in line. The two and half hour flight time is just time you get added back to your life to live as you see fit. Logical minds are asking, what can be done? At least I hope they are.

It seems that this latest slowdown at the airport has been brought about by the carriers charging more luggage fees for checked baggage. Passengers retaliate by carrying on all of their stuff. TSA agents retaliate by processing your sixteen carry on pieces of luggage as slowly as they can. The lines of angry passengers going out the door of the terminal notify the news agencies that there might be a story here. Channel 11 swoops in to “hold the powerful accountable”. Except they don’t. Channel 11 is not going to aggravate any of their advertisers.

The news agencies will present the story as one more government agency unable to function properly, not one more money grubbing industry trying to squeeze every nickel out of their customers. The spin that the fault lies with TSA, will of course beg for the opportunity to turn the security of the airports over to private security companies. Think Blackwater, except they’ll probably re-brand as something cute like “Blue Skies”. They still get to wear their jackboots, though. By the way, TSA stands for Transportation Security Administration not Thousands Standing Around.

So, it’s been reported that thousands of flyers have missed their flights because of the slow lines at security. What can be done to fix this problem without compromising security? Well, my first choice is to build a first rate train system in the U.S.A., like President Obama proposed when he first came into office. If only a fourth of the folks flying today took the train, the lines would disappear. I suspect if the airlines felt any competition from any other source, they’d figure out how to get the lines manageable without compromising security. Without competition, they’re not motivated. For my money, the carriers have created the problem, and will try to shape the solution to something they would prefer. Something like their own security.

I can foresee a “Delta Check Point Charley” as the line all Delta passengers get in. Flyers would have the option to purchase a “pre-screened” card on the internet for immediate access to the gates. Zip, zip you’d be through security headed to the gate like in the old days, before 9/11. Of course annual dues would apply, and maybe frequent flyers might have to get dinged a little more for their frequent use of the security swipe. Those card readers don’t come cheap you know. Security, and therefore liability, would then be placed right where it belongs, on the airlines. If something happens, there’s no opportunity for finger pointing, no sharing of liability. It’s all on the carriers.

That’s a reality that might spur a lot more interest in developing Amtrak. Of course, there’s always Hyperloop.

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