Frequent travelers oppose new TSA security screenings

USA Today

Many of the nation’s most frequent fliers — those who travel on business and who the airlines depend on for higher-priced fares — say they oppose new security screening methods at airports, and some are so disturbed that they are cutting back on air travel.

“I am eliminating as many flights as I can,” says John Steinberg, a doctor and healthcare consultant who’s taken about 50 round-trip flights this year.

Steinberg of Randsallstown, Md., says that for 10 other trips, he purposely didn’t take commercial flights so he could avoid having to go through full-body scanning machines or more intrusive pat-downs of his body.

Other members of USA TODAY’s panel of Road Warriors, battle-tested travel veterans who log millions of miles a year on business trips and voluntarily provide information to USA TODAY, view the new, controversial screening techniques similarly.

Fifty-eight percent of 181 Road Warriors who responded to a survey say they disapprove of the thorough pat-downs which often touch breast, buttocks and genital areas. About 40% disapprove of the full-body machines.

Their response is similar to the findings of a USA TODAY/Gallup poll released last week in which 57% of adults who flew two or more times in the past year were bothered or angry about the pat-downs. The same percentage said they weren’t bothered by the machines, though 42% said they were bothered or angry about them.

POLL: Most fliers bothered or angered by TSA pat-downs

‘Hassle’ concerns some in industry

Unlike many Americans who fly rarely and helped stir an uproar over the screening techniques before the Thanksgiving holiday, Road Warriors often fly twice a week or more and have been through the machines, of which there are now 385 at 68 airports, or undergone the aggressive pat-downs, which began Oct. 29.

Their repeat business and the high-priced tickets they frequently purchase in premium class or at the last moment are vital to an airline industry rebounding from a recession and expected to be profitable this year. And some in the industry are concerned that their dissatisfaction with the screening can affect airlines.

“During a time of fragile economic recovery, we are certainly concerned that the return of the airport security hassle factor may make some passengers think twice about buying a ticket,” says Steve Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines worldwide.

So far, there’s no telling what effect the screening methods are having on air travel or whether they’ll affect bookings down the line, says David Castelveter, vice president of the Air Transport Association, a trade group representing major U.S. airlines.

The Transportation Security Administration says less than 3% of fliers undergo the pat-down, which passengers can choose instead of the machines. About 1,000 scanning machines will be at airports by the end of next year. The TSA says the devices can effectively detect weapons and explosives, but they’ve been criticized for exposing passengers to a small dose of radiation and allowing screeners to see nude images of their bodies.

Many USA TODAY Road Warriors say they’ve experienced enough of the machines and the pat-downs to avoid them when they can.

Anne Seymour, a Washington-based crime-victim advocate who’s flown about 35 round-trips this year, is one. She says she’s taken other means of transportation on five other trips to avoid them.

A thorough pat-down at Washington Reagan airport a few weeks ago “was an incredible invasion of my privacy and private parts,” Seymour says. “All I kept thinking was how horrifying this security measure would be for the one in four women in the U.S. and many men who have been victims of a sexual assault.”

Steinberg, the doctor, says he dislikes the machines because he absorbs “repetitive doses of radiation,” is “offended by nude pictures being taken” and must leave his belongings on a conveyor belt.

When faced with a body scan or a pat-down, though, he opts for the body scan. He reluctantly makes that choice, he says, because it “was so upsetting” to be groped by TSA agents during previous pat-downs. [ed – that’s the idea!]

“I’ll take the radiation and risk of being robbed over being sexually assaulted by screeners,” he says.

Some support if skies are ‘safer’

Consumer advocate Kate Hanni of FlyersRights.org says intrusive searches such as the new pat-downs are ordinarily used only when a credible terrorist threat is received. Using them otherwise, she says, leads her to believe that the TSA has purposely made the pat-downs an unpleasant experience.

The TSA wants “to force everyone into their scanners which they’ve invested lots of money in,” she says.

TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball says “it’s not true” that the agency is using the pat-downs so passengers will opt for the scanning machines in the future. [ed – That’s funny, TSA agents say it’s true]

A terrorist threat using nonmetallic explosive materials exists, and the pat-downs and body scanning machines are used to prevent such an attack, Kimball says.

Not every Road Warrior is opposed to the new screening measures. Many say the inconvenience is worth it to fly safely.

Rich Szulewski of Germantown, Tenn., is one of those. He says pat-downs are “a necessary precaution to keep those of us who fly as safe as possible.”

Szulewski, who works in the medical device industry and has flown about 65 round-trip flights this year, says he approves use of the full-body scanning machines.

“In fact, I disapprove of those who disapprove of full body scans,” he says. “If it keeps our skies safer, I am all for it.” [ed – It does not keep us safer.  Are you still for them?]

Peter Juhren of Salem, Ore., also supports both screening methods. He says thorough pat-downs have been used for years in other countries and “should not be viewed as a personal assault.”

New technology such as the full body scanners must be used to ensure the safety of fliers, says Juhren, who works in the construction equipment industry and has flown on about 60 round-trip flights this year.

“Terrorists are finding new ways to bypass security, and we need to be diligent in staying ahead,” he says. “I believe that if you are not for the most up to date security measures and screening methods available, take the train or drive instead.”

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