Joy, hope, relief and other good things entered the house of air travel last week, ushered in -- improbably -- by the Transportation Security Administration.
You're entitled to ask, "How did that happen?"
The short answer is that the TSA let it be known that it would soon begin recruiting members of the American and Delta frequent flyer programs to participate in a pilot test of a "trusted traveler" program offering "expedited" screening at certain airports.
If you could put a dollar figure on the cumulative effect of the airport "hassle factor" over the last decade, you'd have a big enough number to put a dent in the federal deficit, so anything that takes the stress out of the security process, even for a few passengers, is cause for joy.
Nobody knows this more than the airlines, who have been watching their best and most valued customers getting delayed, mauled, probed, disrobed and scanned for the better part of a decade.
Consequently, the TSA won high praise from the airlines. Air Transport Association President Nicholas Calio said, "Allowing TSA to focus its finite resources on that which creates the greatest threat is both good policy and good security."
The rest of the industry chimed in, with endorsements from the Global Business Travel Association and the U.S. Travel Association, among others.
ASTA President Chris Russo summed it up this way: "The current one-size-fits-all approach to airport security works, but it is not very efficient. This common-sense approach to airport security screening will allow TSA to refocus resources toward high-risk targets."
Everybody's happy, but into this pool of joy we would like to add a drop of caution, lest we get carried away into thinking that "trusted traveler" is merely another way of saying "good customer."
Before, during and after the TSA's announcement, a key priority of the airlines has been to catch a break for their premium flyers. If the airlines had their way, their best passengers would be treated with gloves of kid rather than latex, at every step of the process. That's understandable.
High-mileage frequent travelers sometimes feel this way, too. They spend a lot on travel, and they spend a lot of time in airports. Surely, they wonder, their precious-metal status should count for something as they wend their way into the meat grinder. This attitude, too, is understandable.
It is also understandable that the TSA is beginning this project with members of frequent flyer programs, because this is a relatively easy and logical way to begin a pilot project. We'd hate to see it end there.
The TSA knows that being "trusted" involves a lot more than being a frequent traveler or a valued customer of this or that airline, and it has warned that participants in this program are "eligible" to receive expedited screening, but not entitled. It's not guaranteed.
We have nothing to fear from 99.9% of the population. The goal of our security system should be to identify the 0.1% while imposing the smallest possible burden on the remaining 99.9%, not the 10% of road warriors who have the most mileage. We have a long way to go.
We hope, as this project gets under way, that the category of "trusted traveler" can be expanded to include airline crews, law enforcement professionals, senior military and government officials, first-time travelers, occasional leisure travelers, grandmothers, wide-eyed tourists, toddlers and their teddy bears.