Airport Security Under Scrutiny

December 13th, 2010 by Andrea Bennett

National Opt-Out Day came and went, but did it accomplish anything?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

A month has elapsed since the uncovering of a terrorist plan to blow up cargo planes en route to the United States. But news of the plot was eclipsed by the controversy surrounding the new pat-down technique by the TSA, initiated quickly after the threat was uncovered. Now, if a full-body scanning machine shows something unusual, or a passenger refuses to go through the machine at one of the 385 full-body scanners in 68 airports, passengers will have to submit to a more, well, intimate search.

As the Washington Post described it, “The examinations routinely involve the touching of breasts and genitals, invasive searches designed to find weapons and suspicious items. The searches, performed by TSA security officers of the same sex as the passenger, entail a sliding hand motion on parts of the body where a lighter touch was used before.”

And according to news reports, “National Opt-Out Day” �� a plan to disrupt travel in protest of the pat down on one of the busiest travel days of the year (November 24) – was a bust.  Brian Sodergren, an Ashburn, Virginia health-care worker, had put up a website on which he encouraged passengers to say no to full body scanners to, as he put it, “protest the federal government’s desire to virtually strip us naked.”

Leading up to the big day, another website, WeWontFly.com, encouraged fliers to jam TSA checkpoints; elsewhere, passenger John Tyner’s refusal to undergo the scanning at airport security went viral on YouTube. Even the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 53,000 employees with 38 US and Canadian airlines, worked with federal agencies to try and create an exception for pilots.

But the protest never had the kind of widespread traction supporters were hoping it would, mostly because the majority of travelers don’t seem to mind the new methods. A poll by travel search site Skyscanner showed that fewer than one third of the site’s users disapproved of the scanners. The site is now polling users on whether the pat down is more or less invasive than the scan. And a recent CBS poll found that 81 percent of those surveyed did not object to the screenings.

According to this ABC News report, both the TSA and Travelocity – which monitors airport delays – reported that of the two million people flying on Opt-Out Day, very few actually chose the time-consuming pat downs over scans. In fact, most delays were caused by weather.

Most news-grabbers seemed to be isolated incidents, such as the Salt Lake City man who dropped his pants to reveal a Speedo bathing suit at the airport, and the introduction of less time-consuming ways to protest, such as wearing the new undershirt that displays the 4th Amendment when X-rayed by the TSA.

Despite the low numbers, the Opt-Out Day website called the day a “rousing success,” because it raised awareness. What’s your vote? Brilliant – or a bust?