Airport security protest fizzles

Lineups at airports throughout the U.S. are moving smoothly in spite of calls for passengers to protest intrusive security measures by insisting on time-consuming pat-downs instead of full-body scans.

Lines moving smoothly in spite of calls for delay tactics

Lineups at airports throughout the U.S. are moving smoothly in spite of calls for passengers to protest intrusive security measures by insisting on time-consuming pat-downs instead of full-body scans.

The day before U.S. Thanksgiving is the busiest of the year for air travel in the country, and major delays were expected. But the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration said very few passengers were opting out of the scans, and there were only a few scattered protesters at some airports.

TSA officers screen passengers at Newark airport in New Jersey. Security personnel performing increasingly invasive searches say they want Thanksgiving travellers to know they're just doing their jobs. ((Mel Evans/Associated Press))

The protest was conceived earlier this month by Brian Sodergren, a health-care worker from Ashburn, Va. He built a one-page website urging people to denounce recently deployed scanning devices that show under a traveller's clothes by opting for the more invasive yet time-consuming pat-downs.

Opt-out day, as it's become known, gained traction last week with the now infamous declaration of California resident John Tyner, who told an airport security screener starting to perform a pat-down, "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested." The phrase "don't touch my junk" was turned into a rap tune and has become a rallying cry for Americans unhappy about the new security measures.

Security screeners ask for patience

Although passengers aren't thrilled by the new measures, the Transportation Safety Administration employees who have to carry out the pat-downs are facing their own issues over the strict regulations.

They've been called molesters, threatened with violence and assaulted.

One woman head-butted a TSA officer who was searching her laptop. Other screeners report being punched, kicked and shoved during pat-downs. Security officers know the new searches are more invasive but want Thanksgiving travellers to keep in mind they are just doing their jobs to keep people safe.

"We just want the public to understand that we're not perverts," said screener Ricky D. McCoy, who heads a local TSA union for Illinois and Wisconsin.

Balance sought between safety, security

TSA chief John Pistole has heard the complaints and seems more open to trying to balance safety with invading people's privacy with the full-body scanners and pat-downs.

"We are exploring again ways that they might be less invasive and yet with the same outcomes in terms of detection, but that is really the challenge that we have and that dynamic tension between security and privacy, and reasonable people can disagree as to exactly where that blend is as it relates to you as a passenger," Pistole told reporters Tuesday.

A traveller goes through a full-body scanner at Washington's National airport on Wednesday, as the U.S. holiday travel season began. ((Alex Brandon/Associated Press))

Most passengers docilely go through an airport's security checkpoint, though McCoy said the atmosphere has changed in the past two weeks.

Last week, for instance, McCoy explained the search to a passenger.

"The guy looked me straight in the face and said, 'I don't know what I might do to you if you touch me,' " McCoy said.

McCoy stared the man down and told the passenger that touching an officer would be the worst mistake he's ever made because authorities would be called. The search went smoothly.

The new pat-downs began about a month ago, and early on, an officer was assaulted. Since that story made headlines, McCoy said, officers have been punched, pushed or shoved at least six times after explaining what would be happening.

He blamed TSA for the uproar, saying the agency didn't reach out to passengers enough.


Are you flying in the U.S. on Wednesday? Let us know if you see disruptions.

News stories and videos of disabled passengers and children being screened aggressively haven't helped, either.

TSA officers have received eight to 12 hours of training on the pat-down procedure, said Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman in Tampa. Training on the scanning machines, which create an image of a person's naked body, is a three-day process.

With files from The Associated Press