Dealing with Airport Security can be a royal pain in the ass. The rules are confusing, sometimes seem trite and arbitrary, and the personnel could use some sensitivity training.
New pat-down procedures at airports have prompted a growing backlash among pilots, flight attendants, civil-liberties groups and security-weary passengers who say the touching goes too far.
In the latest escalation of the debate over the balance between security and passenger rights, privacy advocates have enlisted consumer-rights activist and four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who calls the screening techniques “extremely voyeuristic and intrusive.”
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) calls it the new reality of airport security.
The new TSA pat-down procedure is part of a general tightening of air security that includes new full-body scanners which use X-rays to see through clothing to detect suspicious objects. If a full-body machine — like those now in use at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — shows something strange or a passenger declines to go through the machine, a TSA officer will perform a more personal search.
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, aviation-security analysts say. The areas of the body that are being touched haven’t changed.
“It’s more than just patting you down. It’s very intrusive and very insane. I wouldn’t let anyone touch my daughter like that,” said Marc Moniz, of Poway, Calif., who is planning to accompany his daughter’s eighth-grade class from San Diego to Washington, D.C., in April. “We’re not common criminals.”
Brian Sodergren, of Ashburn, Va., who works in the health-care industry, is organizing an “opt-out” day to encourage passengers to say no to advanced imaging technology, known to industry insiders as a “virtual strip-search.” He’s planning the protest for one of the busiest travel days of the year: Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving.
“Many people only fly around the holidays and may not be aware of the security changes,” Sodergren said. “I think once people are made aware of what is happening, they may have reservations about the new procedures.”
An activist group has launched WeWontFly.com, a website, and says it has gotten more than 70,000 hits a day since going online just a week ago. The site asks passengers to say no to scans and pat-downs and for TSA to remove its “porno-scanners” and “gropers.”
“We’re opposed to letting TSA treat us like criminals,” said James Babb, 42, of Eagleville, Pa., who is organizing the We Won’t Fly campaign.