| Sunday November 23rd 2014

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To go through the doors of an airport is to enter a strange world where the laws of economics do not apply…


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The airline ticket is a curious beast. It’s yours and yours alone, and unlike a ticket for a music or sports event, it can’t be sold or even given away. You hand it to someone else and it turns to dust. You can rebook or get credit for a future flight through the airline, but unless you’ve paid the top fare the exchange costs are hefty — typically about $100 per person.

“But to walk through the doors of a modern airport is to enter into a world of wonders, where normal rules and laws don’t hold sway. And it’s not just the laws of gravity that have been repealed here. Many economic laws don’t apply, either: A four-day car rental is more than a seven-day rental. A one-way trip is more than a round trip. A 45-minute flight to a small airport in the next state costs more than flying clear across the country. Amazing and weird! Just those old roadside attractions touting freakish quirks of magnetism.

Then there’s the boarding pass I hold in my hand at the T.S.A. portcullis. This is where our power of make-believe needs to be strongest. We present our IDs and boarding passes to the pre-screener, who studies them for minor discrepancies with a gravity suggesting that our documents are the sole barrier keeping Islamo-Fascists out of the cockpit.

We all go along with it. Never mind that my “boarding pass” is something that I printed out from my computer the night before — in fact, the sort of thing easily ginned up by a moderately adept 12-year-old with Photoshop. (Last year a graduate student created an online boarding pass generator so that anyone could print out a fake boarding pass with a few clicks of a mouse. The site vanished after the creator was visited by unamused F.B.I. agents.)”

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