Pilot unions at American Airlines and US Airways have urged more than 14,000 pilots not to submit to full-body scanners at airport security checkpoints, and instead opt for a manual pat-down by a Transportation Security Administration officer. It's the latest bit of pushback in what's become a vocal campaign against body scanners, for reasons having to do with privacy--the machines render a graphic image of the subject with no clothes on--and safety, since the scanners may expose pilots and other frequent fliers to minimal levels of radiation. Meanwhile, the pat-downs themselves have their own problems, as they often involve airport employees putting their hands in a passenger's most intimate areas (as The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg chronicled recently in a widely-read blog post). The airline industry expects a travel spike in two weeks for Thanksgiving, meaning the scanner-vs.-pat-down issue will only become more prominent as November wears on.
Pilots: Pat Us Down, and Do It In Private "Airline pilots in the United States already receive higher doses of radiation in their on-the-job environment than nearly every other category of worker in the United States," writes Dave Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association, in a letter to the members of his union. Pilots should take the pat-down instead of the scanner, says Bates, but adds that "there is absolutely no denying that the enhanced pat-down is a demeaning experience. In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot. I recommend that all pilots insist that such screening is performed in an out-of-view area to protect their privacy and dignity."
We Didn't Use to Be This Hysterical About Airline Security In a piece for Salon, pilot Patrick Smith points out that "deadly terrorism existed before 9/11," but adds that "in the 1980s we did not overreact. We did not stage ill-fated invasions of distant countries. People did not cease traveling and the airline industry did not fall into chaos. We were lazy in enacting better security, perhaps, but as a country our psychological reaction, much to our credit, was calm, measured and not yet self-defeating... We, as a nation, have grown weak and prone to panic."
The Impact of Opt-Out Day An anti-scanner group is calling for travelers to "opt out" of body scans en masse on Wednesday, November 24, the day before Thanksgiving--generally thought to be one of the busiest travel days of the year. Instead of getting scanned, the group's Web site says, you should choose the pat-down: "We want families to sit around the dinner table, eating turkey, talking about how a government employee molested them at the airport." At CNN, Lexie Clinton points out the likely effect such a movement might have: "Flying the day before Thanksgiving? Better be prepared to wait. Airport security lines may be getting even longer."
Pat-Down or Scanner, Neither One Makes You Safer The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in late October that "the pat-down, while more effective than previous pat-downs, will not stop dedicated and clever terrorists from smuggling on board small weapons or explosives ... If they are smart enough to make it to the airport without arrest, it is almost axiomatically true that they will be smart enough to figure out a way to bring weapons aboard a plane." Goldberg also points out that "the coiled, closely packed lines at TSA screening sites are the most dangerous places in airports, completely unprotected from a terrorist attack--a terrorist attack that would serve the same purpose (shutting down air travel) as an attack on board an aircraft."
Really No Good Options Here, Are There? In tribute to what he calls the "star in a porno shoot or let me squeeze your genitals" policy, Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing points to a pair of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't T-shirts. One reads, "Transportation Security Administration: We're making air travel a touching experience." The other reads, "Transportation Security Administration: your naked photos are safe with us."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.