The connection between airport security and credit cards

By Felix Salmon
March 21, 2010
America's friendliest airport today, a woman's voice came over the intercom and scolded us that it was basically our fault that the screening was taking so long, and proceeded in a mildly unintelligible voice (the intercom's fault, not her own) to go into great detail about exactly what had to be done with both small and large containers of liquids, gels, aerosols, and whatnot. People who didn't fully understand the liquids-and-gels policy, she said, were causing unnecessary delays for everybody else.

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While I was waiting in an interminable security line at America’s friendliest airport today, a woman’s voice came over the intercom and scolded us that it was basically our fault that the screening was taking so long, and proceeded in a mildly unintelligible voice (the intercom’s fault, not her own) to go into great detail about exactly what had to be done with both small and large containers of liquids, gels, aerosols, and whatnot. People who didn’t fully understand the liquids-and-gels policy, she said, were causing unnecessary delays for everybody else.

It’s worth remembering, here, that the TSA’s security policies “are designed to be unpredictable” and to change from week to week and from airport to airport. Frequent fliers might eventually learn to navigate this kind of security theater with Zen-like grace, but for most travelers it will always be a confusing and exasperating hassle. If the TSA feels the need to implement confusing policies, then it’s a bit much for its officials to then turn around and blame the public for getting confused.

All of which reminded me of nothing so much as the acres of agate type which accompany checking accounts, credit cards, and pretty much all other consumer products. We consumers never read the small print, but we end up being blamed when we’re dinged by billions of dollars in unexpected fees every month. “It’s not the banks’ fault,” say their apologists: “it’s the consumers’ fault for not keeping a solid grip on their personal finances”.

Well, some people don’t keep a solid grip on their personal finances. That’s simply a fact of life. And if you happen to fall into that particular subset of the US population, there’s no reason that you deserve to pay enormous amounts of money to your bank. It might be the reason that you get dinged so much, but it doesn’t really make it your fault – especially in a world where banks deliberately profit from creating as much complexity and confusion as they possibly can. Why else would they be so opposed to offering plain-vanilla products?

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