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The Airlines Sometimes Profit when the TSA Does its Job Inefficiently

On Saturday morning at JFK, the line for passengers to have their I.D.s inspected by the Transportation Security Administration was extraordinarily long, and the lines to go through the actual checkpoints were just as awful. The person checking passengers' tickets at the entrance to the whole mess did not work for the TSA, and he heard person after person exclaim that they were unlikely to make their flights with a line like that. 

He did what was helpful: He told them to go back to the ticketing counter and purchase an instant upgrade at one of the computer kiosks. That $10 fee would let them skip the long line for I.D. checks and let them zoom straight to the line for the checkpoint, halving their wait time.

It's already bad enough that we have reached the point where people without means are the ones who have to wait in the longest lines. Poltiically and ethically, that's troubling in a country that professes egalitarianism. 

Now, it's clear that the when the TSA lags behind on its job, the airlines stand to make even more cash with upgrades (and, in worst case scenarios, with change fees from customers who miss a flight).

The airline in question on Saturday tweeted me to tell me that it understood how frustrating it was and that it shared my concern with JFK's authorities. It also encouraged me to make my own complaint too, by providing me with a link to the TSA's website, proving the airlines have as little control over the TSA as we do. But you better believe that every airline executive out there has noticed that when the TSA is slow, income opportunity increases.

There is one essential way to avoid falling into the emergency upsell: Arrive earlier.