American Airlines Says Some Customers Are More Equal Than Others

It’s true, you’re all going to the same place, but American Airlines has decided to debut new dedicated lanes available only to the “elite” members of the AAdvantage program, full-fare coach customers, AAirpass holders and passengers in business and first class. The lanes will direct these desirable individuals swiftly through the airport from check-in to boarding — including security.

American’s spokes person described the program thusly:

“PriorityAAccess benefits provide a differentiated experience for our top customers at the ticket counter, at security checkpoints and at the gate,” he said.

“Customers with PriorityAAccess privileges will be invited to board first or board at any time through their exclusive PriorityAAccess lane, which allows them to bypass lines after general boarding has begun,” the airline said.

The Dallas Morning News says that the following airports will be getting special security lanes for AA’s preferred customers:

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport will get the dedicated security lanes, along with Chicago, New York Kennedy and LaGuardia, Miami, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco, Boston and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

American Airlines plans to give best customers priority [Dallas Morning News]
(Photo: jayRaz )

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  1. mikey07840 says:

    Sounds like a winner to me. American is providing a better experience for customers who spend more money. First Class and Full fare coach is considerably more expensive than coach.

  2. Parting says:

    When you payg 4 times the economy regular price, you’re entitled to some privileges.

  3. duffm4n says:

    Some airports already have this implemented, for instance, in San Diego, First Class and Elite Level mileage members get to go through the fast lane also.

  4. tedyc03 says:

    While American can do what they like with their boarding procedures and check-in lines, how does setting up “special” lines for certain passengers at security not violate the 14th Amendment equal protection clause?

    TSA is a Federal agency, and security is handled by the government. Security sucks, but it’s consistent for everyone, which is the only way it should be. The only exception is the “fast pass” lanes for frequent travellers who have paid a fee and been pre-screened – but in that case, everyone is eligible and no one receives special treatment since everyone can ask for a card.

    This sounds problematic.

    • humphrmi says:

      @tedyc03: Actually, AA has done this at O’Hare for some time, and it’s not inconsistent security. Picture this: you walk up to the line of ropes at the security checkpoint entrance, with a half dozen passengers standing outside the ropes because the line is so long. Next to that rope jungle is a special entrance, and if you have a First / Biz / AAirpass ticket, you walk through those ropes to the front of the line. You still go through the same security checkpoint and are subject to the same search, but you do so ahead of everyone else who got their before you.

    • samurailynn says:

      @tedyc03: American Airlines customers are paying extra for the privilege of going through security ahead of everyone else, just like the fast pass customers are.

    • yikz says:

      @tedyc03:
      I fly because it’s part of my job. I get a call, I have to be on a plane today or tomorrow. I know the rules. I have a laptop bag that is quick and easy to travel with. I have a 22″ roller bag for overnite trips. It takes me 30 seconds or less to get my bag(s) on the conveyor belt, get my shoes and belt off, and get through the scanner. My keys and cell phone are already in my laptop bag, my ticket is in my hand, and my laptop was unzipped and ready to drop into a separate bin. If I have an overnite bag, I have my 1 qt ziploc ready to go, and my roller bag ready to drop onto the conveyor. I am platinum, and my employer pays full fare for my seat.

      You mean to tell me that Joe Traveller, who travels twice a year, and pays 1/4 of the fare that I do, and has ZERO status on the airline, is due “equal protection” the same as me? Joe Traveller does not deserve equal protection. He is not equal. The airline is charging him less. Therefore, he doesn’t get as much service from the airline.

      Who do you think pays for security? It’s not taxpayers. Airline travellers who pay airport surcharges. Airlines pay gate fees. Those taxes are paid by travellers. People who travel the most deserve the most benefits. Frankly, if you really want to get picky, if the airlines want to charge low fare travellers for water, and give higher-fare travellers free drinks, that’s up to the airline.

      I’m sick and tired of waiting behind a slew of idiots who travel once a year, who don’t know the rules, yet think they deserve “equal protection” simply because they happen to be travelling and they live in the US. Equal protection would be fine if you have equal status and you paid equal fare. But you didn’t. If you pinch pennies, you suffer the indignity of going through the slow line. If you paid more, or you had more status, then the airline is going to give you the courtesy of going through the security lines that THEY pay for.

      Do you want something for free? Go to the front of the line and give them some of your free speech, and see how you are treated. Better yet, write a nice EECB to the head of the airline. See how they treat you. The first thing they’re going to do is ask for frequent flier number. Good luck!

      If you don’t like it, pay full fare! Or travel enough to gain status.

      • freelunch says:

        @yikz: wow – you have some entitlement issues…
        Seeing how all travelers pay the same airport security surcharge amount on their ticket, I believe they should all be subject to the same security checkpoint privileges… No frequent traveller deserves better treatment in the lines than a first time traveller – I don’t care what you paid.

        I don’t care that I am platinum with AA and occasionally fly in First – I stand in the normal line at DFW since I have always hated the people that jump in the short line and bypass 10 minutes of waiting that everyone else is subjected to.

    • dantsea says:

      @tedyc03: The government isn’t in control of the line, the airline is.

      The TSA is only responsible for actually screening the passengers; how those passengers get to the security checkpoint is at the discretion of the airports, and by extension their tenants, the airlines.

      Clear (the fast-pass thingy) is just another version of this — the company that does it is renting line space from the airports. All it does is get you to the front of the line faster, you still have to go through the same shoes-off, laptop in the tray and so on that everyone else does. You’re just paying a third party instead of the airline for line-jumping privs.

  5. TechnoDestructo says:

    With airport security now run by the federal government, exactly how is American Airlines able to do this? Are they getting the same (still largely useless) screening as anyone else?

    If not, well, I, as a terrorist, am going to have to start flying first-class.

    • yikz says:

      @TechnoDestructo: It’s administered by the feds. Who do you think pays for it? The airlines. If American wants to pay Dallas Airport to put in a high speed line, are you trying to tell me that the Federal Government is going to say no?
      Ultimately, the frequent and full fare travellers will pay for this. They already pay the highest airfare, and the higher taxes and airport surcharges.

  6. jdmba says:

    They have had this in Hawaii (Honolulu) for YEARS. First class passengers have a separate TSA line there.

    • XTC46 says:

      @jdmba:

      Yes we do and I LOVE it. Although getting through security in HNL has never taken me more than 10 minutes even in the regular lanes.

      • oneandone says:

        @xtc46: I’ve seen this a lot in different JFK terminals – Delta, I think. Totally separate TSA line, and it burned me up. Special services from the airline for special passengers is understandable, but I don’t want to see govt agencies explicitly giving some people faster service. Keep it in the backrooms!

  7. CompyPaq says:

    Continental has done this for years

  8. missdona says:

    I flew AA (business class) out of JFK and LAX in the past month or so. JFK had a faster security lane for business/first class. LAX supposedly had one, but I was queued on the wrong side to see it. After 5 countries in two weeks, it would have been nice to breeze through security.

    The good thing about that trip, it raised my status to AA Gold. So I can do the breeze-through when I’m traveling on my dime too.

  9. JTK says:

    This is going to be interesting when the TSA official version of priority lines, the ski slope symbol system, starts rolling out to all these airports since then they’ll have blue, green, black, AA advantage, and which other carriers implement this. In theory these are all great especially the ski slope coded system for people who know the rules to a different familiarity but with so many lines it’s going to be hard for it not to be majorly confusing.

  10. stevejust says:

    This report is misleading. There’s been a seperate line for First Class to go through TSA security for a very long time. As long as I can remember. At LAX, there’s an entirely different ticket counter/security line for American… there’s a first class side and the others. I’m executive platinum on American Airlines, so I always fly first class, even when I buy a coach ticket, because all but on the rarest of occasions I get bumped up to first class.

    What American actually announces was, and this is from the e-mail I received:

    PriorityAAccess boarding lanes

    Now you can enjoy the convenience of boarding anytime via new dedicated boarding lanes. As always AAdvantage Executive Platinum members are among the first to board, but now if you arrive at the gate during general boarding, you can bypass the line by using the new PriorityAAccess lane. Just show your boarding pass and you will be on your way!

    This happens after you’ve gone through security.

    As for there being a 14th amendment violation– the airline is the responsible party for the priority boarding prior to the TSA, the TSA itself doesn’t provide the lanes or pay for the terminal, or anything else.

  11. shockwaver says:

    Or you could just get a platinum amex card. Those things let you walk around anywhere you want.

  12. mkt3000 says:

    This is news? This has been around for years in several airports.

  13. sleze69 says:

    Old news (don’t ban me). US Airways has been doing this at its main airports for years. First Class/Silver Preferred and above skip the line.

    This perk alone was the reason that some of my peers would take extra segments to maintain their silver status for the following year (also the free seat upgrades).

  14. balthisar says:

    Sounds like a good perk. Even though I use American every chance I get, I still won’t qualify, but I don’t begruge them this opportunity to actually offer some type of service that doesn’t cost them money. “Cheap” flyers — like me — won’t abandon an airline simply because they offer an extra perk to full paying customers.

    On the other hand, I’m considering Aeromexico for my next vacation because they offer a lot of perks for a similar price as American. Man, I wish I’d signed up for their kilometers club before my last two flights with them, and that they had a USA mileage credit card!

  15. stevejust says:

    I’ve already tried to clear up the inaccuracies in this post once. It’s not about getting through security. It’s about going around other passengers trying to board once you are PAST security.

    The only benefit I see is that it enables you to stay in the admiral’s club longer, and then not have to wait in line when you leave the club and have to go mingle with the commoners trying to board after they’ve already boarded First Class.

    I don’t know how the Dallas Morning News got it wrong, but First Class passengers, or Advatage costumers not even flying first class out of DFW have had a priority security lane for at least 4 years. They’re right next to each other at all of the American terminals.

    Chrissakes. This whole story is FUD. Meg, please fix this. It’s starting to look like the finanical crisis.

  16. seamer says:

    Wow, getting priority seating on an MD-80 that carries maybe 12 people and a can of coke? That’s an awesome deal, AA!

  17. stevejust says:

    @stevejust: Actually, I re-read the story on the Dallas Morning news, and there’s exactly one change that has been made.

    In the past, if you were flying either 1) First Class or 2) had Gold, Platinum or Executive platinum status, you were entitled to the express lanes through to the TSA screeners. Under this new plan, additionaly, non-Advanatge flyers who paid full fare for coach tickets would be able to use those lanes that already exist.

    That’s the only change with respect to TSA screening, though, because at all large airports there’s always two lanes for TSA screening. One for first class/elite flyers, and one for everyone else.

    The Dallas Morning news article is a mess. What really changed is the fact that if you’re one of these people and you get to the gate after they’ve already boarded First Class and Advantage members (which they always allow to board before everyone else anyway) there’s just going to be a new line to butt ahead of everyone else and get on the plane slightly quicker. It’s really not all that big a deal.

  18. ElizabethD says:

    I realize this is my neurosis talking, but photos (like the one you used to illustrate this item) of passenger jets flying among tall buildings are still too eerily reminiscent of the Event That Shall Not Be Named for my taste. >>shudder<<

    • Parting says:

      @ElizabethD: I hope you don’t live close to an airport. I worked at an airport for some time. Twice, planes nearly crashed. One of those planes, was very close to hitting downtown. This was all hushed up, so new stations didn’t hear about it.

      So the danger of failing falling airplane is pretty real, and pretty scary.

  19. psychos says:

    How is this an issue? Why is this being reported here when, as some commenters have pointed out, it has been standard practice on AA and other airlines for years?

    I’m a lowest-tier frequent flier on Delta right now, so I may or may not get the special security lane depending on the airport, but I think that frequent fliers SHOULD have an easier time through security. When I WAS flying 100 – 150k miles/year, it was nice to be able to bypass the security lanes at times. In some EU countries, SkyTeam partners were nice enough to sticker and/or escort me to the short-cut lanes. Is this special treatment? Yes, but I think I paid for it by flying a lot and giving the airlines a lot of money at the time (or having my company do so.)

  20. psychos says:

    Oh, and I have to add this. PRIORITY tags on your bags: bad idea! Every time I have had my bag PRIORITY tagged, it’s generally come out as one of the last. I specifically have asked for my bags not to be priority tagged at check-in quite a few times in the past.

  21. One thing to point out:

    The “elite” line at security is not always the fastest.

    It might be, if it were just business travelers who know what they’re doing. The majority all seem to know to quickly dump their laptop in a bin, put their wallets/keys/phone (or whatever else could set off the metal detector) in their coat or bag, and get in and get out fairly quickly.

    You may also find yourself behind a vacationer who’s flying in first and isn’t so adept at navigating airport security. Then you stand there while they pull everything out of their bag and load up six of those grey bins with all sorts of crap.

    I fly out on Monday mornings every week. I’ve noticed that more than half the time the elite line is longer than any of the other lines.

  22. nacoran says:

    I have to agree with Elizabeth about your plane photo. It looks like it’s going to hit the building. The only reassuring part is the clear photoshop marks around the plane. I hope you didn’t pay for that graphic.

    I’m not sure why this story is a story. They are providing different levels of service to people who pay different amounts. Now, if the employees providing these extra services are Federal employees instead of airline employees, you might have a story.

  23. Trojan69 says:

    Here we go again….the entirety of an airport, most especially all public facilities such as a terminal, are government property. Any and all configurations are done with the consent of at least one governmental agency. Do you think for a nano-second that if the TSA or a fire marshal deemed the separate access lanes/points for screening were unsafe that the airlines could override that determination?

    Well, someone please explain to me why any given non-airport employee should be given an easier path to the gates. That structure (the terminal) was paid for, and is maintained by, the collective tax payers of that community. Who paid for the roads to and from the airport? It wasn’t you, Mr. First Class.

    I have absolutely no problem with how a given airline wishes to treat their pax when the pax are within an area exclusive to the airline – the interior of the plane, the ticket/baggage counter.

    But controlling access to a common area, like gates of a terminal, would be like controlling a cross walk on a street. I can see it now….Hermes customers only must be allowed to proceed first, then, Neiman-Marcus, then Macy’s, then the rest. It is an absurdity and an abuse.

  24. wadewood says:

    I questioned the use of these “elite” security lines before. There is a hidden catch to these lines. All passengers can use them! What the TSA allows the airlines to do is permit their “elite” members to carry luggage through these lines. If you have no luggage (no purse or anything that would have to go through X ray) you too can use these lines. This is how the TSA gets around equal rights. All airplane tickets incur the same amount of airport/TSA fees per ticket; it does not matter if it is a $1500 fare or a $75 fare.

    To me this is an issue the ACLU should be all over, but instead they like to focus on transgendered rights issues. I no longer donate to them.

  25. jrobie says:

    As so many have pointed out, it is unconscionable that a government organ like the TSA should give preferential treatment to one group of private citizens merely because they’e paying more money to a particular private company.

    This is especially ludicrous given that the September 11 high-jackers had first-class tickets. One would think that given the 9/11 example, and because first-class passengers sit at the front of the plane right by the cockpit, if anything they should be subject to greater security screening than the rest of us plebes.

  26. nfs says:

    Delta already has this.

  27. crichton007 says:

    I don’t have a problem with this. I am a frequent flier with Delta and I really appreciate the special lane in Salt Lake. I used to think it was frustrating before I was eligible but now that I am on the side I appreciate it.

    I go to the airport so much that it’s nice to have a little more time at home with the family knowing I can get through security a little faster.

  28. RandomMutterings says:

    The trick with “elite” lines seems to be this:

    1. Elite lines are faster for actual boarding and security where airports have them.

    2. Elite check-in lines (before security) are almost always SLOWER per passenger — most business/elite passengers are trying to get upgrades, switch flights, book extra luggage, etc. So the trick is to see how many people are in the economy line — it can actually be faster than the business/gold line. The first class check in (for United — 1K, Global Services, First) is almost always fastest since so few people have these tickets or status.

    I used to fly about 300,000 miles a year. I hated waiting behind a tourist putting up six bags overhead while I was on a business flight — I wanted to get in my seat and work/sleep, etc. But in cases where I hadn’t earned the higher status I waited like everybody else . . .

  29. Impius says:

    All animals are created equal, some are just more equal than others…