Thousands Standing Around

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

What seems to be plaguing the holiday time of year 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. Now travelers can drive to their port of call in the time they would have spent in line waiting to take their shoes and belt off.

As impressive as that range is, where could we go by train, if the United States had a train system like Eurail?

In addition to the car list, we add Lexington, 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 is attainable 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 there are some logical minds somewhere asking questions.

One of the reasons for the big slowdown at the airport has been brought about by the carriers charging more luggage fees for checked baggage. Passengers retaliated by carrying on all of their stuff. TSA agents retaliated by processing your sixteen carry on pieces of luggage as slowly as they could. The lines of angry passengers going out the door of the terminal notified the news agencies that there might be a story here. The story lasts for one cycle because the media is not going to aggravate any of their advertisers. Ad infinitum.

The news agencies have presented 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”. By the way, TSA stands for Transportation Security Administration not Thousands Standing Around.

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 Biden has talked about in his “Build Back Better” plan. If only a fourth of the folks flying today took the train, the lines at the airport 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 system.

Hometown Delta Airlines has devised a “Delta Check Point Charley” for all of the preapproved Delta passengers. Flyers have the option to join TSA’s Precheck program and use Delta’s face recognition software to speed customers through the line. Blink, blink, 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 system. Those face readers don’t come cheap you know.

Security would be maintained without all of us getting to show our privates to amused TSA officials. The downside might be a preapproved gun nut. This year TSA has caught 4,500 firearms in carry on luggage, a twenty year high. I’m not seeing anything in the program that addresses weapons in carry on luggage.

The reduction in the time needed to fly might be enough to hold off developing a first rate Amtrak. We’ll see. There are a lot of us that prefer the comfort and reliability of a good train system. Sadly, we might have to wait until the Hyperloop becomes a reality.

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