Enhanced security procedures involving intimate pat-downs and naked body scanners have spurred concerns and resistance among airport executives and U.S. travelers to the point where even airports themselves are choosing to “opt out.”
Larry Dale, President and CEO of the Orlando Sanford International Airport, first considered opting out through the TSA’s Screening Partnership Program in February.
The SPP allows airports to privatize their security by hiring their own screeners instead of federal TSA agents, he said.
The Sanford Airport Authority board voted unanimously to make the switch after visiting and interviewing other airports that privatized. They plan to begin moving toward the change after the holiday travel season, Dale said.
Dale said he believes privatizing security will result in more efficient, safe and accountable screening because companies will have to retain travelers’ business and will work hard to do so.
“We have been told that the AITs will not present any health risks and I have a concern that it is too early to make that determination,” Dale wrote in an email statement. “Furthermore, as a certified law enforcement office, I cannot employ the bodily contact used in the new pat-down procedures unless I have probable cause and have restrained and hand-cuffed a suspect. To do otherwise would be a violation of our citizens’ 4th Amendment rights.”
Delta Air Lines received a mass influx of phone calls in the past month as airport security grew more invasive, said a corporate customer service representative who could only give his last name, Mr. McDonald.
While he could not reveal an exact breakdown of opinions among people who called in, he said people had strong, polarized opinions about the body scanners and pat-downs. Some people thought they were a good move for security, while others thought they posed serious health and privacy concerns, he said.
Sari Koshetz, regional spokesperson for the TSA, could not be reached for comment.
Travelers whose planes arrived at Gainesville Regional Airport on Thursday evening voiced their own opinions and concerns about the new airport policies they encountered when they flew out from large, international airports.
Mike Crowell, a retired aircraft maintenance manager who worked for Delta Air Lines in Atlanta, Georgia for 31 years, has flown recently from Portland, Maine; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Tampa. The new airport policies there bothered him, he said.
As a result, he now flies out from small, regional airports, such as Gainesville Regional Airport. These airports lack the advanced security of large airports and spare travelers the hassle of going through a full-body scanner or enhanced pat-down, Crowell said.
“I think they’re useless,” he said about the enhanced screening policy. “They’re going about it the wrong way.”
Crowell said he’s concerned to see people he describes as “suspicious-acting” walk straight through the checkpoints while “average Joe” citizens are harassed.
He said each time a terrorist scare happens, the government reacts with new policies that attempt to scrutinize whether every other American flyer will attempt the same tactics as the terrorist.
As examples, he cited security checkpoint shoe-removal after the shoe bomber and regulations on contact lens fluid and drinking water after an attempt to build a liquid bomb.
“They’re not proactive,” he added. “They’re reactive, and they need to be proactive.”
Based on what he’s seen and heard from friends, relatives and the media, Crowell said he expects a continuance of backlash that will hurt the airline industry if travelers’ concerns are not addressed.
He knows a growing number of people who plan to drive or take trains to reach their travel destinations, and he supports airports such as Orlando Sanford International Airport that plan to privatize their security screening employees, he said.
Crowell discussed his concern about the radiation of the body scanning machines, in addition to his qualms based on privacy issues. He said he realizes the weakness of the radiation dose for each traveler, but has more concern for the people whose job entails being scanned daily.
Crowell’s friend, a pilot, has to get scanned every day before entering the cockpit, and Crowell said he worries for his friend’s health.
Kenny Patterson, who flew from San Diego to Gainesville on Thursday evening, said the enhanced security procedures have simply gone too far.
He hadn’t thought about the full-body scanners or enhanced pat-downs until he saw a scanner machine while in line at the San Diego airport. He didn’t go through the scanner, but it prompted him to follow the issue later when he saw it on the news, he said.
Patterson said he thinks the full-body scanners, which have been proven to show detailed images of the traveler’s naked body, cross the line. However, he said his deeper resentment lies toward the more invasive pat-down policy.
Patterson has a wife and three daughters aged 15, 13 and 10. He said he would not allow his family to be subjected to what he described as an un-thought-out screening process akin to sexual assault, even if protecting them entails finding an alternate way to travel.
The lack of guidelines to govern the conduction of the pat-downs bothers Patterson, he said. In the screening checkpoint, frisk searches are up to the discretion of the screener, and screeners have acted abusively in a handful of publicized news incidents.
On an objective level, Patterson opposes the policies because he believes they are poorly-planned and reactive, he said.
He said he questions the technological efficiency know-how of those in power, pointing to the failure of chemical-detecting powder puffs as an example.
He said he resents the fact that each terrorist attack subjects American travelers to increasingly intrusive pre-boarding routines and the government focuses its efforts on such reactions, rather than proactively focusing on suspicious behavior and mannerisms.
“One of these days, a terrorist is going to sneak in a rectal bomb that doesn’t get picked up by the body scanner,” Patterson said. “And what’s going to happen then? Are they going to make everyone do a rectal search? If they did, I guarantee you airports would be empty.”
Greg Weston, who works at Gainesville Regional Airport’s rent-a-car service, hasn’t flown in a long time and would prefer to drive for eight hours to reach a destination than submit to the new TSA policies employed by large, international airports.
“I think it’s a little invasive,” he said. “It’s kind of unnecessary. I guess I can understand the desire to make people safe, but it can go too far.”