Should the TSA adopt a “one line” policy?


Gordon Moore is confused — and angry.

Just before he boarded a recent flight in Portland, Ore., he was met with a crowd of passengers queued up at the TSA screening area.

“I saw a separate security line for first and business class travelers, staffed by at least two TSA employees,” he says. “They seemed to be doing nothing.”

He adds, “The airlines can do whatever they want, but all of us pay for the TSA through our taxes. By what right do they provide priority service for affluent travelers?”

The TSA is strangely quiet on the issue of preferred screening, but several commentators have also raised this issue in the past.

Even if airlines subsidize these VIP lines, why should a federal agency participate in such a program? Isn’t the two-class system the airlines have instituted enough caste nonsense for a day?

I agree with Moore. Whether he saw a first class line or one of those newfangled Pre-Check lines, where “prescreened” passengers get to experience a more civil version of the TSA — minus the “take-off-your-shoes,” “remove-your-laptop,” and “walk-through-the-poorly-tested-scanner” part — it’s still painfully obvious that the TSA’s lines are a total mess.

Maybe it’s time to go back to something simpler. Like one line.

Oh, I know the elites and the airline employees will howl if the TSA does it, but my “one passenger, one line” idea makes some sense. If the goal is to get the lines moving faster for everyone (that is presumably what the TSA wants) then it’s certainly worth considering.

One line would eliminate the Pre-Check boondoggle. The TSA should be running its background checks on all passengers before the flight and singling out the dangerous ones for an extra once-over — not the other way around. And with the influx of cash the TSA is now collecting, we shouldn’t have to pay an extra $85 for the agency to do its job.

Also, a one-line policy would eradicate a “special” class of passengers that don’t really deserve special treatment. Elites, employees and flight crew members should stand in the same line and be subject to the same screening requirements as everyone else. Nothing would lead to common-sense reform faster than an unhappy pilot’s union complaining that its members have to pass through the silly and unproven full-body scanner.

It might also curb the entitled attitude of flight crews, who seem to think they deserve to get through those security lines faster. On my last flight, as I was loading my bags on to the conveyor belt for scanning, a flight attendant stepped in front of my seven-year-old daughter and dropped a rollerboard on the belt in front of me without saying a word. Then she marched through the magnetometer.

An “excuse me” certainly would have gone a long way, if for no other reason than to show my daughter that manners matter.

And sure, if I’d raised any objections, the attendant would have told me she deserved to cut the line because she was on her way to work. But I happened to be on my way to work, too, and I had to stand in a 20-minute line. Who really cares what the purpose of your trip is?

Having passengers like Moore and irate flight attendants and elite members all piling on the TSA to get things moving faster is the right kind of pressure on the agency. Its solution, until now, has been to split us into factions and to try to make the loudest and most influential groups happy while hanging the rest of us out to dry. Elites get Pre-Check; people in wheelchairs get to cut the line; pilots on duty are exempt from a lot of the screening hassle.

Classic divide and conquer.

I’m willing to bet the first class passengers flying the same day as Moore did not complain that they had a line and two private TSA agents to themselves — and that’s exactly my point.

The TSA’s security circus won’t end until we are all standing in the same long line. Perhaps it’s time to eliminate the special privileges that are only making the TSA a slower, more inefficient agency.

Should the TSA adopt a "one line" policy?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Deborah Newell Tornello

    It’s not about embarrassing you. Or embarrassing oneself. It is about our own government HUMILIATING US, the innocent traveling public who pay their salaries. It’s a disgrace. No-one should have to remove articles of clothing or go through labyrinthine preparations in order to move freely about his own country–that’s what metal detectors are for, and they work. The humiliation factor is all about wielding power and conditioning Americans to accept ever-greater amounts of intrusion and surveillance in their daily lives.

  • Deborah Newell Tornello

    One line. Because eventually we will all flatline. Any attempts to designate one group as more equal than others is undemocratic. People will have plenty of time to show off their higher status when they turn left and head toward the first-class seat they’ve paid five times the price for. Hey–perhaps there will be cashews instead of desiccated pretzel crumbs!

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    which is why airports & airlines that don’t have this joke called security will prosper. In OZ, if aircraft MTOW less than 20,000kg no security requirement.
    Most 40 seaters fit under 20,000kgs. Eg. Dornier 328 jet or Saab 340.
    + smaller airports can have much quicker security by using hand held wands. Anyone who thinks going thru all the big airport security is somehow safer is deluded.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    even if min wage was $10, no one in OZ would get out of bed for that except foreign workers.
    You can’t seriously tell us that you work in the travel industry & you believe all the crap spin that the dodgy US govt comes out with, in regard to TSA ?
    Every intelligent person knows that the TSA does nothing at all except inconvenience everyone & some big corporation in the good ol USA is making billions out of it, while all the smucks think they are some how safer.
    1. you don’t need to be on an aircraft to bring it down
    2. Concorde crashed in Jul2000 at CDG when fuel tanks punctured.
    3. so some idiot with a rifle could bring down any aircraft, if he/she was a decent shot.

  • AH

    they’re doing that in dallas, too.
    makes me very glad i don’t need to travel highways during peak periods.

  • bodega3

    LOL! You would have to have known my Dad to understand. Nothing like that would have phased him. He wore the rope so TSA wouldn’t think he was trying something, not that he cared about his pants dropping to his ankles.

  • bodega3

    Ah, I see this topic brings you out again.

  • bodega3

    I see you popped in on this, too.

  • bodega3


  • Susan Richart

    But you were concerned about being embarrassed by your father’s choices; that’s so adolescent.

  • Don Spilky

    I have TSA Pre-Check, and I’m thrilled that it is offered for the nominal cost of $85 for 5 years (not yearly). TSA Pre-Check works because my fingerprints were run through whatever FBI/Police/Interpol systems that exist and 3 days later I came back as not being a terrorist risk.

    I’d be more than happy to have EVERY man, woman and child go through this background check and join me on the Pre-Check line. Then all that would be left on the other line are those who SHOULD be screened more carefully.

    “Wait” you say… “Why should my child or grandmother need a background check? Certainly they are not a terrorist” You would be correct – but guess what? This is called “Profiling” and even though it has been proven to be MUCH more effective at ferreting out the true bad guys this is ILLEGAL in the US of A.

    “The TSA should be running its background checks on all passengers before the flight” – Chris, are you seriously suggesting that all passengers submit their fingerprints before flying? First time flying and need to get to Granny’s funeral tomorrow? Nope. Sorry – we need 3 days notice to run your prints.

  • bodega3

    Oh lordy. Really? Thanks.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Except when you are late for your flight… it’s mostly your loss (and the loss of whoever is waiting for you at the other end of the flight). Some even benefit: a standby passenger gets a seat, the airline get’s to resell your seat and maybe charge you some fees, or someone has a nice empty seat next to them to spread out.

    When crew is late… they have just delayed from dozens to hundreds of people by the same amount (depending on the size of plane they crew). All the effort of all those people on the plane to be on time gets wasted. Scheduled gets disrupted… costs to the airline go up; ticket prices go up.

    From the perspective of minimizing the negative and improving overall efficiency, I would prioritize crew over passengers in almost every instance. The airlines and airports have come to the same conclusion.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    The only thing I disagree with, Chris, is “The TSA should be running its background checks on all passengers”

    NO ONE should be background checked by the government to get on a plane, especially since the background check parameters are kept secret. NO ONE should be fingerprinted by the government to get on a plane. NO ONE should have to an exhortion fee to get on a plane for a chance to be less assaulted or abused.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Except when you’ve paid to be in the express lane, you won’t get pull over and told, “No, you don’t get to use the express lane today. We randomly decided you don’t get it, despite having paid for it. And there are no refunds.”

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Sounds like what they’re doing between Dallas and Austin, with the added insult of the state seizing private property to build this privately run tollway.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Paying a private company for an amenity versus paying the government for a chance to have an amenity is the difference.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I don’t think veterans should get to cut in line, but I do think we all need to be a little more understanding for people who are in wheelchairs that they may take a little longer getting through screening.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I had a bad experience with a power trippin’ screener at MHT also. Topped off by seeing them paw an elderly woman.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Very few airports use contracted companies. SFO is one example. Most are federal government employees.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    This isn’t a partisan issue. Both parties are responsible for this disgusting agency.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I can get behind the family lines and individual traveler lines. I think that would reduce the stress for a lot of people.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I think if they weren’t constantly yelling, people would pay attention more. Humans tend to tune out the constant blathering, just like we do with the EndTimers yelling on the street corners.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    The TSA is only supposed to be looking for weapons, explosives, and incendiaries. Despite it being against the law, carrying illegal drugs won’t take down a plane. Any government worker who observes an illegal act or item while at work, such as finding pot in a bag, should call law enforcement.

    Abusing people to get on a plane is purely security theater. So, the “drug mule” story doesn’t work in the case of the TSA.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Being abused and robbed by the TSA does NOT stop nor reduce terrorism. The TSA itself admitted in court documents that no terrorist group is targeting American flights.

    The chance of being killed on a plane by a terrorist in this country is already practically zero. The TSA does nothing but waste billions of tax dollars, billions of flyers’ hours, and confiscate billions worth of our private property.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Not just “an” anecdote. Thousands, nay, millions of anecdotes are out there that show the TSA to be a flawed agency that does not keep anyone safer.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Tell that to the small shop owner in a tourist area.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Why do you choose not to understand the simple fact that the TSA has never stopped anything?

  • Mundane Lustrator

    I always wanted to visit London, but since I’ve heard they are getting as bad as the TSA, it reduced my desire to go by quite a bit.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Uh, the express checkout line at the grocery store isn’t “special.” It’s dealing with a fact that one person as one item, and a second person had thirty items. They still get checked out of the store the exact same way. The second person with thirty items isn’t groped nor is he searched more than the first person.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Don, just because you had a background check and got fingerprinted doesn’t mean you aren’t a threat in the future. Precheck is a boondoggle.

  • bodega3

    Well thanks, I already know…I am one!

  • bodega3

    We don’t know that and is a point you seem to be not understanding.

  • bodega3

    That is too bad. London is a great city.

  • SoBeSparky

    Cite a fact, not an opinion. Primary source?

  • Jack Stinglash

    I, for one, am confused. Whom are you addressing?

  • BMG4ME

    I see nothing wrong in being able to spend my money on a faster line if I want to. If I am traveling once a year it’s probably not worth it but for 40-50 times a year it is.

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  • Bonnie Fraser

    My irritation with the current system is that they dedicate two TSA agents to the first class/priority line and they are standing around waiting for someone to use their line. Meanwhile they have a hundred people waiting in “regular” line waiting to be screened. I like the idea of using all the people and when someone is in the priority line to take them next.