Websites urge travellers to refuse full body scans
On the eve of the big Thanksgiving travel holiday, a backlash is brewing against enhanced airport security screenings. Some Web sites are urging travelers to refuse to go through the full-body scanners Wednesday and instead undergo the pat-downs, which take longer and could bog down lines on one of the year’s busiest travel days.
Detroit Metro Airport was one of the first airports to get the full-body scanners two years ago. Security checkpoints at Metro are a mix of the scanners and the traditional metal detectors.
If you decline the full-body scan, you are then subject to a pat-down, which this month became more rigorous — and some would say more invasive and an affront to personal privacy.
Wendy James Gigliotti, who flew into Detroit Metro on Tuesday, was so incensed by a pat-down she underwent at the Sacramento, Calif., airport that she is considering filing a police report.
“It was absolutely unnerving and absolutely horrendous,” she said of the search.
Despite rabble-rousing against full-body scanners, a CBS News poll out this week showed that 81% of Americans supported their use.
Travelers submit to new airport security measures
Travelers may not like the idea of security scanners that see through clothes and too-touchy pat-downs, but they’re enduring them.
At Detroit Metro Airport on Thursday, stay-at-home mom Becky Shaw applauded the enhanced check-in procedures by the Transportation Security Administration as she saw off her 19-year-old niece, Erin Fletcher, a Michigan State University student who was flying to Nashville, Tenn.
“I’m 100% for it,” said frequent flier Shaw, 50, of Perry. “I don’t mind standing in line. I have no problems with it. I’ve had open-heart surgery and before that, dental surgery. I’ve been X-rayed 100 times. After 9/11, anything and everything to have safe flights.”
But others expressed a variety of concerns as they snaked through security lines.
“I was kind of concerned about health,” said Jacob Adams, 21, a professional video-game player who was flying to Atlanta on Thursday. “It kind of puts you in a tough spot. It violates your privacy to some degree.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there are no health risks from the scanners.
Though some religious groups have raised concerns about modesty, Sitelbanat Elshaikh, a devout Muslim who was flying to Sudan on Thursday afternoon, wasn’t concerned.
“It is OK,” said the 75-year-old grandmother from Dearborn, noting that everyone is subject to the procedures. “When there’s an exception for someone, it’s not OK.”
In February, the Fiqh Council of North America, an affiliate of the Islamic Society of North America, said the scanners contravene Islamic law because the scanners reveal images of nudity. Earlier this month, the TSA also instituted a more thorough pat-down search, which some say borders on fondling.
‘How far do you go?’
To get on a plane at Metro, passengers either go through a traditional metal detector or a full-body scanner, which displays to a government security officer an unclothed image of the body with facial features obscured. If officers see something of concern, they may do a pat-down search. Also, if passengers refuse to go through the machines, they are subject to a pat-down search.
“Do you want someone frisking you? How far do you go?” said David Yates, 63, a Phoenix sports management executive traveling through Detroit this week. “They’re walking a fine line.”
Wendy James Gigliotti, who arrived in Michigan on Tuesday to visit relatives in Ann Arbor, said she was chosen for a pat-down search at Sacramento International Airport in California on Tuesday and found it dehumanizing.
She said a TSA officer said they were concerned that her long skirt could conceal something.
“When I raised my skirt for her — to my knees or so — she shouted at me not to do that and then shouted, ‘Spread your legs,’ ” Gigliotti wrote in an e-mail to the Free Press on Thursday. “The rest of the so-called pat-down was a full-hand, full-contact feel-up, including up around and under my breasts and between my legs.”
Reached by phone Friday in Ann Arbor, Gigliotti said she had undergone other pat-downs in the past at airport checkpoints but nothing like what she endured Tuesday. She said she’s considering filing a police report about the procedure.
“It was absolutely unnerving and absolutely horrendous,” said Gigliotti, 43, a wife and mother. “Having somebody’s hand up between your legs is absolutely offensive.
‘They’re great tools’
At Detroit Metro, security checkpoints feature a mix of traditional metal detectors and the full-body scanners.
The scanners — more accurately known as advanced imaging technology — require passengers to stand sideways and hold up their hands for about 30 seconds. They can detect both metallic and nonmetallic items on the body. They see through clothes, although the image is blurred.
“They’re great tools. These scanners and the pat-down searches are very effective at finding the kind of contraband that they’re trying to keep off airplanes,” said Tom Curtis, an aviation safety professional who runs www.airsafe.com . “But it’s being applied in a very indiscriminate, broad way, and it’s going to generate a backlash.”
Curtis said travelers expect law enforcement agents to use such pat-downs on people suspected of carrying illegal drugs, not on random folks boarding a plane. He said it’s a good thing TSA announced earlier this week it would no longer subject people younger than 13 to pat-down searches, but “who in their right mind thought it was OK beforehand to pat the genital areas” of young people?
Travelers, passenger groups and unions representing airline industry workers are complaining about whether security precautions are going too far. Among the reasons fueling the controversy are concerns about the loss of personal privacy, the techniques used in the pat-down search and radiation risks from scanners.
On several Web sites, there are calls for travelers to stage a national “Opt Out” day on Wednesday.
The union representing 11,000 American Airlines pilots had told its members to refuse the full-body scans because of health and privacy reasons. On Friday, that group said TSA will allow airline pilots to skip the security scans if uniformed pilots present company and government photo identification.
Across the country, 411 machines employing the advanced imaging technology are used at 69 airports, said James Fotenos, a TSA spokesman. The units cost between $130,000 and $170,000 each, said Fotenos. By the end of 2011, TSA plans to install a total of 1,000 units across the nation’s 450 commercial passenger airports.
The scanners used at Detroit Metro do not emit radiation, said Fotenos, and use electromagnetic waves. “Each scan uses 10,000 times less energy than a cell phone,” Fotenos said of the machines used at Metro airport.
In Michigan, the full-body scanners are in use at Metro and Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.
The full-body scanners at Metro look like tubular, see-through MRI machines. In Grand Rapids, the full-body scanners resemble two upright blue boxes, which passengers walk through.
More than 99% of passengers choose to go through the full-body scanners, rather than opt for a pat-down, Fotenos said.
‘They’re still getting criticism’
Detroit Metro Airport spokesman Michael Conway said about 90,000 passengers are expected to pass through Metro each day starting Wednesday through Sunday for the Thanksgiving holiday.
He said he hasn’t received complaints about the new system, and he recalled the criticism about safety procedures that occurred after the failed Dec. 25 attempt by would-be airplane underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
“In their defense, for somebody who was here on Christmas Day, who spent here all day and night dealing with media inquiries, everybody was pointing their finger at the U.S. government and saying ‘Why didn’t you stop that guy” from boarding the plane? said Conway. “They’ve now deployed the procedures to stop ‘that guy,’ and they’re still getting criticism. I can see the TSA’s side on it.”