Nebraska Senator Proposes Air Passenger Fairness Act of 2012

Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) today introduced the “Air Passenger Fairness Act of 2012,” an act he proposes will “promote fairness for all air travel passengers by barring airlines and airport operators from using express security lines that allow for certain groups of air passengers to cut to the front of the TSA security screening line at the airport.”

In short, The Nelson bill would prohibit elite flier lines that expedite some passengers’ TSA screenings. Nelson feels that this practice is unethical because all passengers pay the same TSA screening cost, regardless of the overall cost of their ticket.

“This bill is about fairness. Regardless of whether you have a first-class ticket or have reached a certain frequent flier status, the purpose of the airport security screening line is to ensure traveler safety. Allowing a select few to cut in front of those who are waiting patiently, just in order to provide a perk, has nothing to do with safety,” said Senator Nelson.

Who Is Not Covered
The act would not affect the current Transportation Security Administration-administered program that travelers can use to apply for pre-screening clearance that may expedite their security screenings at designated locations in select airports. It also would not stop an airline or airport operator from setting up express lines for disabled passengers.

An Act Not Based In Opinion
While we fully support the idea that everyone needs a full security screen and deserves to be treated, as the bill’s title states, with “fairness,” we can’t help but think this is a waste of congressional effort.While the security fee may be the same – covering the cost of effective screening for all – many frequent travelers did pay higher ticket rates, for example for business, first or select seating. Of those passengers, many would argue that priority line access (of all types) is a de facto benefit.

Travelers expedited through a security line are generally frequent travelers experienced in security proceedings and move through the line at an exponentially faster pace than those who travel on a less frequent basis. Since travelers are taken on a “one here, one there” basis, if the two lines are equally as long, travelers will wait for the same amount of time. This is often the case on heavy business travel mornings where many travelers are “elite”.

Discrimination or a Pet Peeve?
While one would not wish to stereotype, those who fly less frequently take longer to remove their shoes, empty their pockets and unpack their laptop than frequent or elite-level travelers (who earned the “elite” status through frequent flying or by paying for the perk). By offering two lines, frequent (and faster) travelers can speed the process for all.

What caused Nelson to draft this bill? Has Nelson, in fact, stood in a security line and noted these expedited travelers getting preferential screening? Less chance of a random bag check? Certainly no studies have been conducted to suggest this is the case.

Offering a “priority” line for frequent travelers is not case of segregation or discrimination, as Nelson is trying to allege, but merely a case of expediting an already cumbersome process.

With this new proposed act, Senator Nelson has effectively attempted to create controversy in a process that effectively had no controversy at all.

Please, Senator, focus your efforts somewhere where they’re needed – there are certainly areas in the airline industry where your concern would be enormously helpful.

[Flickr via steuben]