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Standing in line

Has it become a matter of stewardship?

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Standing in line is such a colossal waste of time. I’ve been thinking about that especially while listening to reports about thousands of travelers who missed their flights leading up to the Memorial Day weekend. These people had to stand in line for hours while going through security checkpoints at the nation’s airports.

My wife and I were scheduled to fly out of town on Memorial Day morning, so instead of trying to get to the ticket counter an hour ahead of departure, which has been the experts’ advice for several years, we talked about getting there two hours ahead—just to be sure. We didn’t quite hit that target, but in the end it didn’t matter. The airport was all but empty, and we slid through the security process in less than five minutes.

All of which was at least as maddening as if the process had taken an extra hour. It was still wasted time. My productivity for the day had taken a hit. So had that of millions of other folks who had chosen a mode of travel that has become less and less efficient over the last half-century.

Offender-in-chief for most of us is the federal government and its subsidiaries. If I could reclaim all the hours I’ve stood in line at airports, the post office, and the department of motor vehicles, and then get compensated for those hours even at minimum wage, I could probably retire next week. The lack of competition in such enterprises is near the core of the issue—and I can’t help wondering whether things might improve at the airports if we fired the federal government from its role as security enforcer and handed that job to the airlines themselves. With billions of dollars invested in expensive planes and the trust of the flying public, the airlines certainly have the motivation to protect against terrorist threats.

Whether we’re talking about O’Hare Airport in Chicago or Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., the outrage is the same.

Oh, yes: There’s also that increasingly lengthy string of folks running backward as fast as they can to drop out of Obamacare. And there are the daunting lines that sometimes discourage us when we head out to vote. Government again and again.

But if it’s an understandable tendency to suppose that long lines are unique to government entities like the airport security service, the post office, the license bureau—and how could we possibly forget the sometimes fatal lines highlighted over the last couple of years at the nation’s Veterans Affairs hospitals?—we shouldn’t forget the realities of private doctors’ offices and the medical profession overall. We may have to call it “sitting in line” instead of “standing in line.” But doesn’t it seem odd that men and women smart enough to do heart transplants and brain surgery can’t figure out a more reliable way to schedule their patients?

Yet whether we’re talking about O’Hare Airport in Chicago or Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., the outrage is the same. Human resources are being squandered on a momentous scale. And no, don’t bring up the long lines of folks waiting for a whirl on Disney World’s newest attraction. They’ve more or less chosen that delay for themselves. I’m talking instead about people being forced to waste whole mornings or whole afternoons just to carry out the necessities of life.

Nor am I talking about diversions. I appreciate people who can read a book or a newspaper (or even WORLD magazine!) while jostling their luggage with their feet through the maze of airport barriers. I appreciate people who tell me they use that time to work quietly through their personal prayer lists. My mind is boggled when I look at the myriad of things—maybe even productive things—folks can do with smartphones.

But all those are stopgap measures. They’re like putting Band-Aids on a slash wound.

I’m looking instead for something that goes to the heart of the problem. Not something just to take your mind off the 45-minute delay ahead of you at the airport or in the doctor’s office. But a root strategy that keeps that line from forming in the first place.

I predict that something like the Nobel Peace Prize is waiting for the person who can rise to that challenge.

Email jbelz@wng.org

Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.


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