Mary Dejevsky: Why should money buy anyone an airport fast-track?


Related Topics

Forgive me for feeling a bit miffed, but could it be time to patent ideas? Six years ago – yes, six – I contributed a polemic to the website, inveighing against the principle of fast-tracking passengers at airports and other border controls. It wasn't easy to persuade the editors to publish it; they weren't as convinced as I was that this iniquitous development was a matter of ethics and democracy, but eventually they agreed.

My argument was that controlling the borders is a central responsibility of the state, and that in a democracy everyone should be treated the same. I also objected that one (paying or privileged) person's fast-track was another (poorer, no less hard-pressed) person's longer wait. I felt that queue-jumping into your own or someone else's country should not be something that money can buy – and I still don't.

Now, the ethics guru, Harvard professor and 2009 BBC Reith lecturer Michael Sandel has highlighted the pros and (mostly) cons of fast-tracking at airport and border controls in his new book, What Money Can't Buy. And suddenly it's being treated as a serious issue – helped along, of course, by the recent surge of complaints about three-hour queues at Heathrow.

Arguably, the least objectionable form of fast-tracking is at Luton airport, where last summer a mere £5 allowed you to bypass a veritable flood of humanity (and hold them up still further). At Heathrow, as it emerged during the latest fracas, you can pay an £1,800 fee for what amounts to a VIP concierge service (for six passengers), while similar privileges – sorry, without the champagne – come with your ticket at many airports, if you are travelling business or first class. (I wrote my 2006 broadside, by the way, after a rare business-class trip, that had sped me blissfully past inordinate queues.)

My – critical – interest in fast-tracking prompted a few more thoughts about the recent protests. While disgruntled border staff, worried about job cuts and changing shift patterns, were clearly making a meal of passengers' discontent for their own purposes, might the increase in complaints also reflect the fact that businesses are making more employees, used to the high life, travel economy? And how many people were staffing fast-track, while everyone else was waiting? It's not hard to conclude that, if the rich or privileged can buy their way out of inconvenience, not only are high-profile complaints minimised, but conditions for the majority never improve.

My bottom line is that it's fine for passengers to decide how much they are prepared to pay for their travel tickets and make their compromises accordingly. It's not fine for the airlines' class system to be replicated by the institutions of state. As I wrote in 2006: "Welcome to Britain, where it would appear, there are now two classes of citizens. Those who are fast-tracked and those who must wait." All those years on, nothing has changed. If anything, the two tiers are even further apart.

Another helpful hint for the NHS

Sometimes simple solutions really do turn out to be the best. It is reported that a campaign to encourage hand-washing in hospitals has saved large sums of money and many lives. So for the brief spell that simplicity is in vogue, let me suggest something else. What if the NHS were more assiduous about encouraging the return of equipment and unused drugs, and learnt how to do so with a better grace?

When I took my crutches back to the fracture clinic, after my broken foot had almost healed, no one knew where I should go. I was pretty much growled at as a major inconvenience. I still have the orthopaedic boot that helped my foot to mend – I tried to take it back, but was told that not even the rigid plastic frames were reused (there goes around £80, according to various websites, where people apparently sell them on).

Then, when I took my husband's surplus medicine to the hospital pharmacy, as you are told to for safety's sake, the distinctly chilly welcome communicated that it was far more of a hindrance than a help. I still wonder whether all those (expensive) drugs went into any sort of recycling, or were simply dumped in the nearest bin when I'd gone.

Were you still up for Boris?

What on earth was going on during the count for London mayor? The turnout across the capital fell short of 40 per cent, and counting, as is the deplorable new practice, was held over until the following day. It then took until 10 minutes to midnight for there to be a result.

In the meantime, there had been a power-cut at Alexandra Palace, tellers had complained that electronic counting machines took longer than actual people (they can join the e-passport readers on the scrapheap), and two ballot boxes had apparently turned up at a late stage in a cupboard. This is appalling. More than 80 per cent of the French electorate voted on Sunday, and within minutes of the polls closing, they had reliable exit polls that gave the result.

Elections are something we are supposed to be able to do. Either return to the old, reliable manual count, or let's go the whole hog and introduce electronic voting.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 2 Teacher - Maternity cover

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Year 2 maternity cover, startin...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

Upper KS2 Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Upper Key Stage 2 teacher ...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + ?110 - 130: Randstad Education Reading: English Teacher ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Young Syrian refugees gather around a small fire at the Minieh camp in Lebanon  

Cameron and Obama may want to ‘destroy’ Isis, but what will they do about the growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria?

Kate Allen
“You're running away!” Nick said to me the other night as I tried to leave the hospital  

In Sickness and in Health: ‘There’s nothing I want more than to have you at home, but you’re not well’

Rebecca Armstrong
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments