Protests Don't Take Off at Nation's Airports

Travelers make their way through a security checkpoint at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) AP Photo

The lines of Thanksgiving travelers moved quickly and smoothly at airports around the country Wednesday morning despite an Internet campaign to get passengers to gum up the works on one of the busiest days of the year by refusing full-body scans.

The Transportation Security Administration said very few passengers opted out. And there were only scattered protesters — including, presumably, a man seen walking around the Salt Lake City airport in a skimpy, Speedo-style bathing suit, and a woman reported to be wearing a bikini in Los Angeles.

After days of tough talk on the Internet and warnings of possible delays, some passengers decided to go to the airport especially early - and were pleasantly surprised by what they found.

Retirees Bill and Margaret Selfridge arrived three hours early at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for their flight to Washington. But it took only 10 minutes to get through the checkpoint at 8 a.m.

"Now we get to drink a lot of coffee," Bill Selfridge said.

Ruth Billingsly, 52, also arrived three hours early at the Philadelphia airport for her trip to Los Angeles. "It was a breeze," she said. "I'm really, really early. Maybe I should take a nap."

A loosely organized effort dubbed National Opt-Out Day planned to use fliers, T-shirts and, in one case, a Scottish kilt to highlight what some call unnecessarily intrusive security screenings. The screenings have been lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" and mocked on T-shirts, bumper stickers and underwear emblazoned "Don't Touch My Junk," from a line uttered by a traveler in San Diego who objected to a pat-down.

The movement, started by businessman Brian Sodergren, urged passengers to opt out of body scans and instead receive more time-consuming pat-downs, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

"We have to take a step back and see how much privacy we're willing to give up in the name of security, and are there other reasonable, less intrusive methods that we can use," Sodergren told CBS News.

But the anger hasn't taken hold in any practical way. On its blog tracking airport delays, the TSA has included photos and anecdotes detailing the non-event.

After receiving a pat-down, one traveler in Burlington, Vt., said: "That's it? That's all there is to it? Why is the media making such a big deal? I've received more invasive pat downs just going to a rock concert."

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But the weather was shaping up as a much bigger threat to travelers: A powerful, early-season snowstorm was expected to delay air travelers and drivers in the West, and heavy rain was also forecast in the Midwest. Windy weather in New England could also create snags.

More than 40 million people plan to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA, with more than 1.6 million flying - a 3.5 percent increase from last year.

Two protesters at the Phoenix airport held signs decrying "porno-scans" and drew sidelong glances from some passengers but words of support from others, who told them, "Thank you for being here."

The protesters, husband and wife Patricia Stone and John Richards of Chandler, Ariz., said the TSA has taken security too far.

"Just because you buy a plane ticket doesn't mean you have to subject yourself to awful security measures. It's not a waiver of your rights," said Stone, 44. "The TSA is security theater. They're not protecting us."

But at security lines at the airport, one of the nation's 10 busiest, lines were moving quickly and steadily. In fact, wait times for security checks at major U.S. airports from San Francisco to New York were 20 minutes or less Wednesday morning, according to the TSA, and no serious disruptions were reported

(TSA)
Asked early Wednesday if the protests were having any noticeable effect at security checkpoints, TSA chief John Pistole told The Associated Press, "Not that we've seen overall. I mean we've, you know, had a couple of one-offs here and there."

He said one person was fined in Baltimore and a woman showed up in a bikini in Los Angeles, but he didn't immediately have details.

"So far, so good," he said. "No long wait times or anything."

Earlier Wednesday, Pistole told ABC's "Good Morning America" that his agency is "fully staffed" to deal with problems, and that travelers should be prepared for delays because of the threatened protests. For days, he has pleaded with Thanksgiving travelers not to boycott the body scans and delay other people.

"I just feel bad for the traveling public that's just trying to get home for the holidays," Pistole said, noting that TSA screeners "just want to get you through."

Robert Shofkom wasn't too worried about delayed flights, maybe just strong breezes. The 43-year-old from Georgetown, Texas, said he planned for weeks to wear a traditional kilt - sans skivvies - to display his outrage over body scanners and aggressive pat-downs while catching his Wednesday flight out of Austin.

"If you give them an inch, they won't just take in inch. Pretty soon you're getting scanned to get into a football game," the IT specialist said.

Shofkom was disheartened when his wife informed him Tuesday that the Austin airport doesn't yet have body scans. But he decided to wear the kilt anyway, a show of solidarity with fellow protesters.

One Internet-based protest group called We Won't Fly said hundreds of activists would go to 27 U.S. airports Wednesday to pass out fliers with messages such as "You have the right to say, `No radiation strip search! No groping of genitals!' Say, 'I opt out.'"

"If 99 percent of people normally agree to go through scanners, we hope that falls to 95 percent," said one organizer, George Donnelly. "That would make it a success."

Donnelly said on CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged" Wednesday that opting out of the full-body scan represented "a creative form of protest to slow down the TSA security theater."

"We're opposed [to the new procedures] for a number of reasons, but most importantly, they don't make us any safer," he said.

Donnelly said he doesn't believe the new full-body scanners would detect the kind of explosives used last year by failed "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, nor does he believe the pat-downs would be completely effective at finding explosives. Furthermore, Donnelly is skeptical the TSA has adequately tested the safety of the new full-body scanners.

"This security threater degrades us and doesn't make us safe," he said.

Donnelly charges the TSA is "simply incompetent by design" and that the United States would be better off with privatized airline security.

If enough people opt for a pat-down rather than a body scan, security-line delays could quickly cascade. Body scans for passengers chosen at random take as little as 10 seconds. New pat-down procedures, which involve a security agent touching travelers' crotch and chest, can take four minutes or longer.

The full-body scanners show a person's contours on a computer in a private room removed from security checkpoints. But critics say they amount to virtual strip searches. Some have complained that the TSA's new enhanced pat-downs are humiliating and intrusive, too.

TSA officials say the procedures are necessary to ward off terror attacks like the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound plane last Christmas, allegedly by a Nigerian man who stashed explosives in his underwear.
  • CBSNews

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