Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Planning to Fly? Don't pack your dignity

If you read this blog much, you know our family just returned from a trip that involved air travel. It was our girls' first time flying and my first time in the air since 1999. My, how times have changed. While they enjoyed their flights, the girls weren't impressed by the rest of the rigmarole - early arrival to be stripped of shoes and belongings, sitting for hours in the airport, weather delays, missed flights, failed promise by an airline employee to put us on stand-by for the next flight which resulted in still more hours sitting around waiting in the airport. Service? Out the window. Cleanliness? Forget it. Safety? I'm not so sure stripping everyone's shoes, belongings and dignity is all that's needed for safety. In short, I'd say I'm grateful our family made it there and back again alive, and that our children weren't strip searched in the name of safety. And that was before this week's changes to the traffic safety screening procedure.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "The new search technique used by the Transportation Security Administration allows airport security screeners to use their fingers and palms to feel and probe for hidden weapons and devices around sensitive body parts, such as the breast and groin areas." Writer Dave Barry got the whole treatment.

Already people have experience pat downs they've compared with molestation, and at least one customer was turned away at the airport after refusing to go through the pat-down of his "junk." And the whereabouts of the screeners who view the telling images provided by the scanners is unimportant to those in our relatively conservative society who don't care to have their every crease and fold analyzed by a stranger. Further, while we're being told the images won't be stored or shared in any way, this may not be true. Just ask the U.S. Marshals who saved 35,000 such images, and somehow leaked 100 of them which showed up online. Next up on the web - our complete body scan images.

In Santa Barbara, I was patted down. Thankfully, this was before the rule change. (And why WAS I patted down? Was it the braids? A random selection? The titanium mesh in my skull?) I watched as an elderly woman who clearly had spent a lot of time that morning dressing for the day was stripped of all accessories, and her pride, in the name of safety. (When we last saw her, she was down to skirt, shirt and they were asking her to remove the pins she'd used in her hair. All that was left was to ask the lady to strip entirely.) On our return trip, we passed through the x-ray or backscatter machine without any education. What was this machine? Did we have options? If there was anything posted, it was lost to the sea of warning and directional signs nor was any alternative given verbally. Just "step this way and put your hands over your head like so." Even with the look-see through our clothes, we were delayed several minutes and I was cordoned off from my family (and everyone else) for a "security breech," then just as inexplicably allowed to pass. Meanwhile, another elderly woman in an wheelchair was going through a rather invasive pat down search behind another cord.

We've been told that too much radiation can cause all manner of health issues - chiefly, cancer. Yet we're being required to submit ourselves to additional backscatter x-rays every time we fly?  This can't be good for frequent fliers. The most-frequent of those, the pilots, have been advised by their union to avoid the scanners. "The unions, representing a total of 16,500 pilots, say they worry about the health effects of being exposed, sometimes multiple times a day, to the scanner's radiation," reports the Los Angeles Times.And Bloomberg reports, "Thirty groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Travel Alliance, signed a letter earlier this year calling for the TSA to stop using the body scanners, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center has sued in federal court to block their use. Unions representing 14,800 pilots at AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and US Airways Group Inc. have urged members to avoid the scanners, while the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants, which together represent 103,000 workers, have pressed U.S. officials for a separate screening process for crews that avoids full-body scans."
And pilots like to maintain their privacy, too. Just ask Capt. Sully. (Though my favorite quote from the story is Rutherford Institute's President John Whitehead: "TSA is forcing travelers to consent to a virtual strip search or allow an unknown officer to literally place his or her hands in your pants.") One pilot has already turned home rather than go through the scanner or the frisking:

So why, you may ask, are Sully, John, 147,800 airline employees and I all bucking "the norm?" According to the Travel Security Administration site,  "Since imaging technology has been deployed at airports, over 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures." Could it be because only 1 percent of passengers have ANY idea that they have an alternative? Could it be because the thought of having a stranger repeatedly touch "our junk" now is a more clear and present danger than the possibility of facing chemo, massive hair loss, and an untimely death in the future?

Terrorism is defined as the use of violence or threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. The use of violence against our country has, indeed, caused intimidation and change. Now, there is, apparently, no common sense, and no law-abiding citizen is above suspicion.

Thank heavens I wasn't carrying applesauce:


  1. I used to enjoy flying, but haven't flown in several years, with no plans to do so in the future. I think the new rulings will successfully bankrupt the airline so many other industries across our country. I do not know if it is by "design" or not, but it sure looks like it very well could be.

    My heart goes out to those who work for the airlines and those who have to fly.


  2. You have made a very good point. I honestly never took the time to think about the dangers involved with airport scanners. If I ever have to fly, I’ll ask for the alternative.

    Thank you for the valuable information. As always I enjoy reading your articles


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