‘Cleared’ to Wait–So, What’s the Point?

Clearly, Some Are Different
A New ID Lets You Skip The Line at the Airport. But Just How Fast Are You?

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2008; M01
Two of Washington’s airports — Dulles and Reagan National — will soon be part of the federal government’s Registered Traveler program, which offers passengers the happy prospect of getting through security lines faster, swifter, better. (Ninety thousand of them and counting have enrolled.) All you need do is pay an annual fee — $100 to start, plus a $28 shakedown so the government can make sure you’re, you know, okay. Next you submit all sorts of personal information, fingerprints and, because the future is now, an eyeball scan.
Then you are all clear.
. . . Here’s the rub: The world is ending. Things are getting tight, desperate, short. Clearness is coming to airport security lines just in time for chaos to wipe out everything. Clears are good at things like mass evacuation, but not so great in soup lines. (Just listen to how loudly and repeatedly a Clear sighs when the express lane at Giant is too long.)
The problem with this is its Achilles heel.
You still need to be at the airport an hour early (international) or short-haul (irrational). You still have to wait in that snaky line if you have check-in luggage–but let’s suppose you don’t, because you’re a carry-on type of person and you have an e-ticket.
You sail through screening, because you’re a CLEAR.
Then you wait with the proletariat while families with babies are boarded first, followed by this or that group of seat-numbers. Finally settled in, whether 1st class, business or coach, you wait with everyone else.
You have been CLEARED, allowed to hurry-up so you could wait. You coughed up $128 to get the same old Army boot camp treatment. Essentially, you are as stuck as the next guy–captive to the inefficiency of the overhead bin, the overweight seat companion and the overwrought baby (who is only wailing as we all would wail were we less constrained).
The plane nudges away from E-11, 22 minutes late, even though it’s been sealed as a tomb for all 22 minutes. It grudges (my term for runway line-up progress) toward takeoff and (for reasons unknown to health officials) breathes the jet fumes from the 17 planes assigned to runway N-4.
Don’t chastise me for saying an airplane ‘breathes.’ It does. We (the imprisoned) inhale and exhale within a tube that is as much a lung as a passenger compartment. That lung, within which we are trapped, takes its air (which becomes our air) from the most heavily polluted environment on the face of the planet–the taxiway-to-hell conga-line to which airport engineers have relegated their victims.
No wonder the baby cries. My own eyes are heavily teared-up.
That back-pinned-to-the-seat surge we have all come to know (as identifiable a release as sexual climax) finally throbs its way to airborneness, 27 minutes late. Just late enough to miss the connection to Phoenix that will require a re-booking through Seattle that walks us in our front door a startling (but not unexpected) seven hours late.
De-tox as you wish, over a warm milk or a double scotch and grumble your way off to what’s left of a night’s sleep . . . reassured in your heart of hearts . . .
. . . that you saved 15 minutes somewhere in that odyssey by being CLEARED.

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