NYT Journalist: People Are Waiting In Long TSA PreCheck Lines As A Status Symbol

Nikole Hannah-Jones, who was responsible for the controversial New York Times’ “1619 Project” which argues that the real founding of the United States happened when the first slave arrived in Virginia in 1619 and not in 1776, tweeted Monday about inequality at the airport.

The Pulitzer Prize winner, who argued when Russia invaded Ukraine that Europe isn’t a continent and much of the reaction was racist dog whistle, found herself at the Martha’s Vineyard airport reporting that people there were so status-obsessed that they wouldn’t use the regular security line and were willing to wait in a longer PreCheck line.

Her message is that people who summer on Martha’s Vineyard are willing to wait to have their status recognized by TSA security screeners.

I can think of little more bourgie than going through security of Martha Vineyard airport and the TSA pre-check line is packed but the regular line is empty and all those folks refuse to go to the empty line because they have TSA pre-check. What. 😂😂😂

— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) August 15, 2022

The oddness of complaining about inequality from inside the Martha’s Vineyard airport aside, what struck me about this is that I did not think Martha’s Vineyard airport even had PreCheck?

When I visited Martha’s Vineyard last month I took the ferry in both directions and I didn’t visit the airport. Perhaps I need to update my priors? But if there’s PreCheck at this airport with just a couple of gates I can’t find reference to it.

  • TSA on its website doesn’t include Martha’s Vineyard among airports offering PreCheck.

  • The American Airlines website shows no PreCheck there.

  • TSA does say they offer a ‘blended lane’ where passengers with Precheck go through the regular screening line but do not have to take off their shoes, take out their liquids or electronics.

So I’m confused. Perhaps someone that’s been to Martha’s Vineyard Airport more recently than I have can enlighten me? At most they have a line for PreCheck that leads to the same regular security lane, meant to give line priority to those with PreCheck? (That would undermine her argument since using that line would still get someone screened first.)

Update: this appears to be the setup – a separate priority line for PreCheck passengers, leading up to the single security lane (a single TSA employee checks IDs for both lines, and both lines filter to the same single screening line). It used to be that the airport had just a single line for everyone, but now has a separate line for those with PreCheck to give them faster access. It is possible that the ID checker might not give those in the PreCheck lane priority, but that’s the reason for the offering the separate line.

I’m also not sure what a ‘packed’ screening line would like like at an airport with a couple dozen flights a day, including Cape Air Cessnas and Tradewinds flights to Teterboro, and where the largest aircraft is still a regional jet.

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In any case I have seen times where PreCheck lines were longer than regular ones (not often, but I have seen it). And I’ve seen where first class check-in had a longer line than regular economy check-in. I’d absolutely wait in a slightly longer PreCheck line because

  • each person in the regular line takes longer to process through the checkpoint.

  • I’d avoid having to take out my liquids and laptop and take off my shoes.
  • That just makes sense, though the second reason doesn’t apply where there’s a blended line. The point is that TSA PreCheck is faster and easier than regular security even when the regular line is a bit longer, and if there’s social commentary to offer it’s about the shoe carnival that most passengers are forced to go through – while what’s “bougie” is complaining about inequality while flying in and out of Martha’s Vineyard airport to begin with.

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