Save time at checkin with elite status

At 6PM on a Friday afternoon, New York‘s JFK airport is hopping. Part of it is, rather, just the check-in counter. The everyday, economy check-in counter, to be specific. Scores of passengers-to-be swarm the kiosks, some swiping credit cards, some punching buttions, some pulling their hair in distress. Those that successfully navigate the digital mayhem are funnelled into the luggage line, a mess of carts, passengers and boarding passes waiting to be processed by the half dozen, red jacketed agents at the far end of the hall.

Contrast. Thirty meters away from the economy check-in, the business/first/elite station is a sea of tranquility. Three rows of details, the first, a line of leather chairs where waiting travelers pick at their newspapers and wait for God knows what to happen. The second, a sea of poles and cords, a maze of manmade rows designed to channel customers into specific lines. Three passengers wait for their turn. The third: a long row of ticket agents and customer service representatives, silently working, waving new customers out of line. It’s nearly relaxing.

And it’s a good illustration of the massive gap between the everyday customer and the revered “elite” or business passenger that the airlines so desire. My trip through the elite line? Six minutes, four of which I spent repacking my bag.

Do yourself a favor this year and hit that elite status tier with your favorite airline — usually you need to fly 25k miles to reach that point, but there are tons of specials out there right now that will save you time and money. Hit that threshold and you’re on easy street through 2011, as you enjoy faster checkin, upgrades to first class and a hefty baggage allowance. You’ll love it — we promise.