Security protest could disrupt Thanksgiving travel
6:09 AM, Nov 22, 2010
5:36 AM, Nov 23, 2010
CHICAGO (AP) - As if air travel over the Thanksgiving holiday isn't tough
enough, it could be even worse this year: Airports could see even
more disruptions because of a loosely organized Internet boycott of
Even if only a small percentage of passengers participate,
experts say it could mean longer lines, bigger delays and hotter
The protest, National Opt-Out Day, is scheduled for Wednesday to
coincide with the busiest travel day of the year.
"Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it
takes to cause huge delays," said Paul Ruden, a spokesman for the
American Society of Travel Agents, which has warned its more than
8,000 members about delays resulting from the body-scanner
"It doesn't take much to mess things up anyway -- especially if
someone purposely tries to mess it up."
Body scans take as little as 10 seconds, but people who decline
the process must submit to a full pat-down, which takes much
longer. That could cause a cascade of delays at dozens of major
airports, including those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and
"I don't think it would take that much on the busiest day of the
year to slow things down," said Gerry Berry, a Florida-based
airport security expert. "If I was an airport guy, a screener, a
traveler -- I'd be concerned."
Not all airports have the machines, which resemble large
refrigerators. And not all travelers are selected for scans. But
Berry estimated that up to 20 percent of holiday fliers will be
asked to use the full-body machines -- meaning tens of thousands
could be in a position to protest.
The full-body scanners show a traveler's physical contours on a
computer in a private room removed from security checkpoints. But
critics say they amount to virtual strip searches.
The protest was conceived in early November by Brian Sodergren
of Ashburn, Va., who built a one-page website urging people to
decline the scans.
Public interest in the protest boomed this week after an
Oceanside, Calif., man named John Tyner famously resisted a scan
and groin check at the San Diego airport with the words, "If you
touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." A cell-phone video of the
incident went viral.
Other groups have since taken up Sodergren's cause.
"I had no idea what was being started and just how upset people
were," said Sodergren, a health industry employee. "I'm just a guy
who put a website up."
The Transportation Security Administration has a new pat-down
procedure that includes a security worker running a hand up the
inside of passengers' legs and along the cheek of the buttocks, as
well as making direct contact with the groin area.
Pat-downs often take up to four minutes, according to the TSA's
website, though that could be longer if someone requests it be done
in a room out of public view or if an ill-at-ease traveler asks for
a full explanation of the procedure beforehand.
Factoring in those time estimates, it would take a total of
around 15 minutes to put 100 people through a body scan -- but at
least 6 hours to pat down the same number of travelers.
The TSA's Chicago spokesman, Jim Fotenos, would not disclose how
many travelers are normally selected for scans. He said only "a
relatively small percentage" normally need pat-downs.
Fotenos declined to say if the agency was taking precautionary
steps ahead of the protest, saying only that passengers can make
their experience better "by coming prepared and arriving
On Friday, TSA head John Pistole told CBS's "The Early Show"
that the close-quarter body inspections are unavoidable in a time
of terrorist threats.
Pistole acknowledged the public distaste for more intense
security, particularly hand pat-downs, and called it a "challenge"
for federal authorities and airport screeners.
Also Friday, the TSA agreed to allow airline pilots to skip
security scanning and pat-downs. According to pilot groups, pilots
in uniform on airline business would be allowed to pass security by
presenting two photo IDs, one from their company and one from the
government, to be checked against a secure flight crew
David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport
Association, which represents the airline industry, declined to
speculate whether the protest would trigger delays.
"It is impossible to assess how many people will take part, but
we would be disappointed if many travelers did participate on one
of the busiest days of the year," Castelveter said.
He said airlines always urge customers to show up early during
peak holiday travel times and were not suggesting any changes
specifically because of the protest.
Delta Air Lines planned to have extra staff in place as it
normally does during a holiday travel period. Spokeswoman Susan
Elliott said the company was not taking any extra precautions in
case of widespread protests.
Southwest Airlines Paul Flaningan said only that his company was
"aware of what is being talked about, and we are in constant
communication with the TSA."
He said Southwest was not bringing in extra workers specifically
because of the threatened protest.
Karen Pride, a spokeswoman for Chicago's Department of Aviation,
which oversees O'Hare and Midway airports, would say only that the
airports planned to bring in extra workers for the holiday, but she
declined to address the potential effect of the protest.
Sodergren sounds much less strident than many critics of
screening procedures. And he says he's not trying to cause disarray
"I have no idea what's going to happen," he said "I don't think
it will be chaos. And I have no desire to slow the system
But some protesters are aiming to do just that.
Another participating organization called "We Won't Fly"
features a blurb at the top of its website that says, "Jam TSA
checkpoints by opting out until they remove the
Organizer James Babb of Eagleville, Pa., agreed many travelers
would see the pat-down as equally intrusive or more so. But he's
still recommending the pat-down because, he says, it would create
more disruption and send a stronger message.
"They won't have the manpower to reach into everyone's crotch,"
Passengers cannot opt out of both the scan and the pat-down once
they have been selected for the enhanced searches, according to TSA
rules. If they then try to evade the measures, they could face an
Even if someone in a security line becomes frustrated and
decides not to fly, TSA rules require they submit to a scan or
pat-down. If people were allowed to walk out, the agency says,
would-be terrorists would have an easy escape.
At least some entrepreneurs are offering passengers other forms
One Las Vegas company is selling designer rubber patches to
cover body parts that travelers do not want screeners to see. One
patch for the crotch area includes text written in fonts associated
with Las Vegas billboards that reads, "What Happens Under Here --
And for anyone who wants to express displeasure with pat-downs,
Tyner's confrontation has spawned online sales of T-shirts, bumper
stickers and even underwear emblazoned with the words, "Don't Touch
Ironically, one person who will not take part directly in
Wednesday's protest is its instigator, Brian Sodergren. He said his
wife is too uncomfortable with the prospect of either a body scan
or a pat-down, so they are driving the several hundred miles to a