Felix Salmon

The connection between airport security and credit cards

By Felix Salmon
March 21, 2010

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?

5 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

The flight to Analogy City is now boarding.

Please do not keep a solid grip on your liquids or personal items. Unattended balances will be confiscated. All non-first-class travelers have been rebooked stand-by on America West…

For the ultimate experience in air rage, simply add CNN Airport Systems.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

I can’t wait for the foot scanner to get into place. I hate taking off my shoes in line

Posted by Story_Burn | Report as abusive

Felix – the TSA vs. banks is a terrible analogy.

“Some people don’t keep a solid grip on their finances… but it doesn’t make it your fault…”

Unless you believe that people aren’t responsible for their actions, you are simply wrong.

Some people (a tiny minority), through no fault of their own (death, unemployment, illness), have their finances thrown into disarray. Others (the vast majority) are lazy, greedy idiots.

I am perfectly happy for the lazy, greedy idiots to continue to subsidize my free checking.
The banks have to use small print to achieve that, fine.

Posted by TinyTim1 | Report as abusive

Wait a minute, if banks take money away from people who can’t manage it, then they won’t have it to lose to the State in the lottery, so that it can be redistributed back to them with a haircut, so that they can lose it again.

On the other hand, they might, like, save it, which would shrink the money supply and prevent us from propping up GDP by moving demand forward. Better to give it to a bank so they can leverage it 12:1 on securitized debt.

I guess it doesn’t really matter, as long as we all understand the point, which is under no circumstances should we allow the economy to be based on people making their own decisions and facing the consequences. That crazy Adam Smith stuff is so centuries ago.

Posted by CalmRising | Report as abusive

I think a lot of bank fees are the legacy of checking accounts, where passing a bad check was a form of fraud. The current fee structure should be reformed.

Simply trying to take out money when there is none there should be charged, but it should be on the scale of the failed transaction, since there is no one else to pay that fee.

Regulation that forces banks to make their terms clear is vastly preferable to setting dollar limits. Then good banks can compete on fees.

A simple chart explaining what happens when your account is overdrawn is key to making that market work.

Posted by mattmc | Report as abusive

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