From the Porch Swing

What’s your job?

I was running late for another flight. The traffic between my out-of-town business meeting and the airport was brutal, and the lines at the ticket kiosks were no better. I finally checked my bag, secured an aisle seat, and was now jogging to join the next queue—this one to pass through the security screeners.

My heart sank as I rounded the corner and saw a snaking file of motionless humanity filling up an area originally envisioned by some idealistic architect as a wide-open walkway of shops and services. It was now just another crowded, dirty hallway ringed with cattle chutes full of harried and despondent travelers.

As I walked toward the end of the line, I noticed a much shorter line designated by a small sign hand-printed with the words “First Class Passengers.” I rechecked my watch. The long line would ensure I missed my flight, so I boldly struck out toward the end of the shorter one. Although I was not flying first class, I am a status flyer with the airline I was using that day, and the airline issues boarding passes to frequent-flyer customers on a special gold ticket that is markedly different from the standard light blue. I had used this admittedly minor distinction to my advantage a few times in the past, and determined it was worth another try.

As the line moved forward, I quickly approached the elderly contract screener, sporting my most serious business traveler expression. She glanced at my suit, freshly shined shoes and briefcase, then asked for my ticket. As I handed it to her, her colleague working the other line asked her a question about someone’s passport. My screener quickly became distracted, and while she fumbled with the documents that were passed to her, another late-to-the-airport frequent flyer behind me vociferously expressed his annoyance that she was serving non-first-class passengers.

I turned to see a man even larger than me wearing an obviously expensive sport coat over a tight silk tee shirt and a bejeweled medallion on a gold chain large enough to secure a boat anchor. He was imposing, with a somber, dark complexion, tinted glasses and a pinky ring bigger than any college ring I own. I felt my face flush and prepared to get a verbal beating from this palooka when I noticed he was not looking at me, but at the feckless contract employee who was scrutinizing the passport from the peasants’ line. She looked up, and without a word, handed back the passport with a nod to her colleague, returned my ticket to me, and asked to see the ticket and identification of Mr. Cool.

This short delay had cleared out the people in front of me waiting to walk through the metal detector. I passed my briefcase, cell phone and pocket change through the scanner and was soon on the other side putting my shoes back on. I looked at my watch again. All the time in the world, baby. Even enough time to ask some security questions.

I asked a uniformed TSA agent nearby to identify the lead security supervisor on the shift. He pointed out a similarly attired gentleman a few feet away, and I asked to speak with him.

The TSA supervisor was polite and attentive as I explained the situation. I told him I had not been required to present my ID at any time in the ticketing or screening process. He said they should have asked for it at the ticket counter. I explained that I had used the self-service kiosk. He countered that the contract security personnel ahead of the screening area should have examined my ticket and ID. I simply mentioned she failed to do so.

I further explained I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but that I was a security person, and was just curious how they would handle this bit of information. The supervisor then proceeded to pleasantly but assertively deny that this breach of protocol was in any way his fault. I assured him I was not trying to place blame, but was simply interested in how he would manage the information I was presenting. He again explained that this was not the fault of the federal employees, and if I so chose, I could complain to the airline or the contract screener. I thanked him for his time and walked toward my gate.

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