A few weeks back, I was heading to Huntsville, Ala., to attend a track meet for my nephew (which ended up getting rained out). I had a 6:45 a.m. flight out of Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport—or, as locals call it, National. I got there in plenty of time, but it matters not, because I’m armed with TSA Precheck. After an interview and $85, I hit my “skrrr skrrrt” and passed most folks into one of the special lines that exist as the first class of airport security checkpoints.
Or so I thought.
I got there at about 6 a.m. for my flight and walked into the TSA Precheck line that was so long, I just knew that some folks were mistakenly attempting to take advantage of the privilege for which I paid the equivalent of some ATCQ Vans. But nope.
The main security line was long as fuck, and everybody in the TSA Precheck line was in the right place. Turns out, once everybody finds the greatest place in the world, it ceases being the greatest place. All of us in line were annoyed with our wait. I mean, we paid NOT to wait like this, right? Leaving on my shoes, belt and jacket and not removing laptops was supposed to make this shit move like greased lightning.
Well, as I was standing there, a few REALLY smart (and financially liquid) folks walked right up to the Clear line and, “skrrr skrrrt,” passed right by the rest of us, showing us what first-class security lines really look like. It was at that moment that I decided I was going to get Clear.
What is Clear? Clear is the service you pay $179 a year for that allows you to move right to the front of the line with a personal escort. You sign up, give up your vitals (fingerprints, retinal scan) and some identification, and you walk into the Clear line, where they take you either to your TSA Precheck line or the regular security lines. You can add up to three “family” members to your account for $50 each. I put “family” in quotes because they don’t actually attempt to verify if anybody is family. So I signed up for Clear (with an $80 discount because of my Delta SkyMiles membership—ATL, bitches!) and was ready to rock ’n’ roll.
Which was awesome because I was late AS FUCK to my flight this past weekend. I got to the airport at 8:45 a.m. for a 9:30 a.m. flight. And I mean physically pulling into the parking lot. By the time I parked and got to the security gates, I had 30 minutes to spare, but with my Clear and TSA Precheck, I got through the whole shebang in under five minutes. It would have been two, but the conveyor belt at the security checkpoint stopped working.
And do you know what my first thought was? This is some white-privilege shit. I literally Deboed the entire security process because I had enough money to make it so. I’m doing all right in life, so although it’s expensive-ish, it’s doable for me and my family. And TSA Precheck is $85 for five years ($17 per year), though you do have to do a background check.
Clear was $99, but I mean, that shit was totally worth it. I literally walked RIGHT through security without even taking off my shoes while I watched folks standing and waiting in line, annoyed, probably wondering either HOW I got the hookup or wishing they had done what I did to do so. But because I had the money, basically, for the price of a pair of LeBron 15s, I beat the system as much as it could be beaten.
For some folks, those plane tickets were enough of an expense. Others don’t fly enough to warrant going through the process of getting that extra shit to get through the lines quicker; the temporary inconvenience is something you forget about as soon as you get through, anyway. And to be real, it really is a temporary one. But I decided that I could afford to save myself some time when I go to the airport, which I do much more frequently now. So it’s worth it for me to pay.
I imagine this is what white people feel like in life, except they don’t even realize it. Whereas I’m hyperaware that I’m bucking the system with my dollars and using it to my advantage, white folks just assume things should be so.
What makes it funny to me (and why I’m making the white-privilege comparison) is this: I love people-watching, and it AMAZES me how many white people walk right up to the EMPTY-ass Clear lane thinking that’s just where they’re supposed to go whether they have Clear or not. The Clear lanes are usually near TSA Precheck, so many white Precheckers attempt to get in that way, and I have no idea why—maybe they see it wide open and think, “Well, I shouldn’t have to wait in line when there is an open lane, so I’ll just go there.” Which, as we all know, is some white shit.
(Sidenote: The really whitest shit I’ve seen at an airport was watching a white woman argue with the TSA agents at the ID checkpoint because her ticket and her license had two different names. She was not a happy camper. She said that her daughter bought her tickets for her but doesn’t know her real name, so she bought them with the name she knows. Obviously I didn’t stick around, but I’d bet good money that she somehow managed to get through. Meanwhile, let Jamal Ihsan Muhammad try that shit.)
Airports, on purpose and accidentally, created a social stratification where money gets you to the top of the pyramid. Considering how much plane tickets already cost, paying additional costs for things you don’t do frequently enough to think about probably keeps you in the regular security lines. But if you got some extra disposable income, you can get that Clear action to beat the line. And if you have some more bucks and time, you can get that TSA Precheck and get yourself on the government’s radar and do even less to get through the security lines. Time and money, actual social commodities, create a security-checkpoint caste system.
And when it comes to getting through that security line, I’m like Wall Street rebounding after the financial crisis it started: I’m basically a rich white man for five minutes when I get to the airport.