How Americans implement a class system

After years of flying for work, I have to things that I’ve never had before: pre-check clearance and status on an airline. That means I’m suddenly on the other side of a divide that casual travelers see, but often don’t understand. 

What do these things get you? Not much individually in the grand scheme of things, perhaps, but put them together and you get:

  • To go through security without having to undress, or unpack, or wait in line behind someone who has no idea how it all works and takes three times as long, and therefore:
  • To clear security feeling civilized and without sweating through one’s shirt
  • To have a lottery ticket that gives you a shot at a seat in first class
  • To board early and therefore never have to worry if there’ll be room for your bag

That’s a whole different travel experience. And yet I’m conscious that it’s more like flying twenty years ago than anything else (though of course we ran out of overhead storage then too).

But it casts the annoyances of travel in a new light. The security theater is clearly not optional, unless you trade your money and privacy to avoid it. (The questionnaire for Global Entry isn’t arduous, but it gives the government a lot more information about your travel than it would otherwise have.) And the undignified conditions of flying in coach are unavoidable, unless you grit your teeth and stick with a terrible carrier long enough to earn your way past some of them. 

You don’t have to be born to class in America. You just have to trade a tiny amount of your birthright of freedom and choice to acquire it. 

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