Traveling from Cleveland to Washington. D.C., today, I noted that the ridiculous airport baggage checking policies have borne predictable fruit. Easily 50% of the fliers on my plane cheated, sneaking their bags through security to avoid the luggage charge.
And it is cheating.
The airline charges $25 for each bag checked. The airport screeners don’t know or care who is on what flight, so it is easy to get bags through security that are too large to fit in the overhead compartments of some or all flights. Once you get them through security (slowing down the line for everyone else: the line in Cleveland went so slowly that I though I was in a Candid Camera stunt. Six travelers celebrated birthdays, two retired, and one girl went through puberty while we waited. And I had to shave repeatedly), the attendant at the gate will tell you that your bag won’t fit, and gives you a tag. You tag the bag, and leave it on the jetway. Then it is picked up and put on the flight. After you land, the bag is delivered to the jetway, meaning that the cheaters also get their bags without waiting for the carousel, or having to worry about them getting lost.
I continue to check my bag, since this maneuver, effective though it is, is still an unethical exploitation of the vagaries of flying, and clearly unfair to those who play, and pay, by the rules. Of course, a loophole in the rules allows the cheaters to avoid the luggage charges and inconvenience fellow passengers without technically violating the rules. As their behavior becomes more common and obvious, those who play it straight begin to feel like patsies and fools. If the airlines don’t care enough to stop cheaters, why not cheat? The cheaters save money, get better service, and risk nothing. Eventually, a majority of fliers will cheat. Maybe everyone except me.
This, I suspect, is why cheating flourishes in schools, why baseball became infected with steroids, and why so many politicians sell their votes. Eventually a system that doesn’t enforce its rules, reward honesty or exhibit integrity corrupts everyone who deals with it. When unethical conduct really does work better than ethical conduct, it becomes difficult to argue that it’s unethical.