No sign at airports of protests of TSA screening procedures

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 24, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Unwilling to gamble with their on-time arrivals, the nation's airline passengers appeared Wednesday to be largely ignoring calls to protest heightened airport security measures on the busiest travel day of the year.

Airports from Los Angeles to New York were reporting no major passenger-related slowdowns early Wednesday afternoon as the Thanksgiving travel crush moved into high gear with an estimated 1.6 million people taking to the skies.

At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Paul Cho arrived two hours before his scheduled flight home to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and sailed through security Wednesday morning. He saw no evidence that the Transportation Security Administration's new screening procedures to thwart terrorism were causing delays.

"I was expecting a lot worse," said Cho, a consultant visiting North Texas on business. Cho cleared security in about ten minutes. "Now I have an hour and half with nothing to do. You learn to accept it," he said.

Concerns about slowdowns, flight cancellations and backed-up passenger screening checkpoints were sparked by new security measures that call for passengers at dozens of major airports to pass through full-body imaging machines.

The machines use x-rays or radio-waves to detect contraband on a passenger's body. Opposition flared earlier this month when passengers complained that the machines provide security officers with revealing images of their naked bodies.

Passengers who refuse to pass through the machines or who set off an alarm during the screening process are subjected to enhanced pat-down searches by Transportation Safety Administration officers. In the new searches, officers run their hands down passengers' legs and along their buttocks and also touch their groin area.

Only 3% of all passengers get a pat-down search. The TSA has received roughly 2000 complaints about the searches since they began earlier this month without advance notice.

Brian Sodergren of Ashburn, Va. set up a National Opt-Out Day website and urged passengers to protest the new procedures today by refusing the screening machines and requesting pat-downs, which can take up to four minutes to administer.

John Pistole, TSA administrator, and other travel industry officials cautioned that passengers who protest today risk missing their own flight and forcing others to miss theirs.

While still early, the flying public appears to have taken Pistole's message to heart.

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, airport spokesman Greg Meyers, reported no trouble or delays at security checkpoints Wednesday morning.

"We've had TSA senior managers at all the checkpoints, and they haven't seen anything either," Meyers said.

At the Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle and Tacoma, the longest lines Wednesday morning formed at Starbucks. Travelers were able to proceed from the check-in counter through security checkpoints and on to their respective gates without delay. Airport observers noted that crowds were thin compared even to a non-holiday weekday.

Even after Spirit Airlines' computer reservation system failed Wednesday morning, passengers merely grumbled as ticketing and boarding-pass lines continued to move, albeit a bit slower than usual.

Misty Pinson, a Spirit Airlines spokesperson, said Wednesday that all Spirit flights were on time in spite of the computer failure.

"And we have not had any cancellations," Pinson said. "We are very proud of our employees for stepping up and ensuring that our customers are checked in without an automated system."

(James H. Burnett III of The Miami Herald, John Gillie, of The (Tacoma) News Tribune, and Gordon Dixon of the Fort Worth Start-Telegram contributed to this report.)

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