By
updated 11/15/2010 7:23:49 PM ET 2010-11-16T00:23:49

Nearly a week before the Thanksgiving holiday air travel crush, federal air security officials struggled Monday to reassure rising numbers of fliers and airline workers outraged by new anti-terrorism screening procedures they consider invasive and harmful.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Across the country, passengers simmered over being forced to choose scans by full-body image detectors or probing pat-downs. Top federal security officials said that the procedures were safe and necessary sacrifices to ward off terror attacks.

"It's all about security," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. "It's all about everybody recognizing their role."

Despite officials' insistence that they had taken care to prepare the American flying public, the flurry of criticism from private citizens to airline pilots' groups suggested that Napolitano and other federal officials had been caught off guard.

At the San Diego airport, a software engineer posted an Internet blog item saying he had been ejected after being threatened with a fine and lawsuit for refusing a groin check after turning down a full-body scan. The passenger, John Tyner, said he told a federal Transportation Security Administration worker, "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."

Vote: Do you prefer full-body scans or enhanced pat downs?

Tyner's individual protest quickly became a web sensation, but questions also came from travel business groups, civil liberties activists and pilots, raising concerns both about the procedures themselves and about the possibility of delays caused by passengers reluctant to accept the new procedures.

"Almost to a person, travel managers are concerned that TSA is going too far and without proper procedures and sufficient oversight," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group representing corporate travel departments. "Travel managers are hearing from their travelers about this virtually on a daily basis."

Holidays + body scanners = unrest
Jeffrey Price, an aviation professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, said two trends are converging: the regular holiday security increases and the addition of body scanners and new heightened measures stemming from the recent attempted cargo bombings. Also, several airports are short-staffed, which will add to delays, Price said.

Homeland Security and the TSA have moved forcefully to shift airport screening from familiar scanners to full-body detection machines. The new machines show the body's contours on a computer stationed in a private room removed from the security checkpoints. A person's face is never shown and the person's identity is supposedly not known to the screener reviewing the computer images.

Concerns about privacy and low-level radiation emitted by the machines have led some passengers to refuse screening. Under TSA rules, those who decline must submit to rigorous pat-down inspections that include checks of the inside of travelers' thighs and buttocks. The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the machines as a "virtual strip search."

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Concerns about both procedures are not limited to the U.S. In Germany over the weekend, organized protesters stripped off their clothes in airports to voice their opposition to full-body scans.

FirstPerson: Are airport screenings rubbing you the wrong way?

Douglas R. Laird, a former security director for Northwest Airlines, said it's the resistance to these measures that will cause the most delays. The new enhanced pat-downs, an alternative to body scanners, take more time — about 2 minutes compared with a 30-second scan. Delays could multiply if many travelers opt for a pat-down or contest certain new procedures.

Beyond the scanning process, passengers will also be subject to greater scrutiny of their luggage and personal identification and stricter enforcement of long-standing rules like the ban on carry-on liquids over 3 ounces.

On Monday, top security officials were out in force to defend the new policies. Napolitano wrote an op-ed piece in USA Today insisting that the body scanners used at many airports were safe and any images were viewed by federal airport workers in private settings.

Napolitano later said in a news conference at Ronald Reagan National Airport that she regretted the growing opposition to moves by the federal government to make flying safer. But she said the changes were necessary to deal with emerging terrorist threats such as a Nigerian man's alleged attempt to blow up a jetliner bound from Amsterdam to Detroit last Christmas Day using hard-to-detect explosives. Authorities allege that the explosives were hidden in the suspect's underwear.

There are some 300 full-body scanners now operational in 60 U.S. airports. TSA is on track to deploy approximately 500 units by the end of 2010.

Readers share their thoughts on airport screenings

Education encouraged
Officials for the Airports Council International-North America, which represents U.S. and Canadian airports, said their members haven't complained about the scanner and pat-down policy or reported any special problems. But airports have been urging the government to engage in an aggressive public education campaign regarding the new screening, said Debby McElroy, the council's executive vice president.

"TSA is trying to address a real, credible threat, both through the advanced imaging technology and through the pat-downs," McElroy said. "We think it's important that they continue to address it with passengers and the media because there continues to be a significant misunderstanding about both the safety and the privacy concerns."

A spokeswoman for American Airlines issued a carefully worded statement that stopped short of welcoming the government's security moves. "We are working with the unions and the TSA and continue to evaluate and discuss screening options," American spokeswoman Missy Latham said.

Some airline pilots have pushed back against the new rules screening them. Many pilots are already part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program, which trains pilots in the use of firearms and defensive tactics. They are permitted to carry weapons on board.

Pilots enrolled in the program don't have to go through scanners and pat-downs. But only a small share of the total number of U.S. pilots are enrolled in the program.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, pilot unions were shown an off-the-shelf biometric identification system that was ready to go by government officials, said Sam Mayer, a Boeing 767 captain and a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents pilots at American Airlines. The system would have made screening pilots unnecessary, he said.

Nine years later, pilots still don't have biometric identification cards because the government and airlines have been quarreling over who should pay for the machines that can read biometric information like fingerprints and iris scans, Mayer said.

  1. Most popular

"At the end of the day we're not the threat, and we want the TSA to concentrate on getting bads guys," he said.

Pilots are also concerned about the cumulative effects of radiation, Mayer said. Depending upon their schedules, pilots can go through a scanner several times a day and several days a week, he said.

"We're already at the top of the radiation (exposure) charts to begin with because we're flying at high altitudes for long distances," Mayer said. "The cumulative effects of this are more than most pilots are willing to subject themselves to. We're right up there with nuclear power plant workers in terms of exposure."

Associated Press writers Samantha L. Bonkamp in New York and Robert Jablon and Daisy Ngyuen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: TSA security rubs passenger the wrong way

  1. Transcript of: TSA security rubs passenger the wrong way

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Washington, DC): There is something about the current state of airline security that has set people off. At a lot of major airports right now, travelers have a choice of a full-body scan that shows everything to a screener, or a full-on pat-down designed to feel everything. As we approach the Christmas anniversary of the attempt to blow up an airliner using a bomb embedded in underwear, the feds say they have to check everybody carefully, and that includes a lot of once personal space. Some travelers have decided it's too much. Too much government, too much intrusion, and their hero right now is a passenger who picked a fight with the TSA and posted the video on the Web . We want to begin tonight at NBC 's -- with NBC 's Tom Costello out at Reagan National Airport here in Washington . Hey, Tom , good evening.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Hi, Brian. The TSA screens two million passengers every day. Now a small number of passengers is talking about boycotting the TSA 's latest screening methods just as the Thanksgiving rush draws near. When John Tyner hit record at 6 AM Saturday with his cell phone camera face up in the X-ray machine at San Diego 's airport, he was anticipating a showdown with the TSA . Having refused a full-body imaging scan, he would have to go through the new TSA pat-down.

    Unidentified TSA Officer: Also, we're going to be doing a groin check. That means I'm going to place my hand on your hip, other hand on your inner thigh, slowly go up and slide down.

    Mr. JOHN TYNER: OK.

    TSA Officer: I'm going to do that two times in the front and two times in the back.

    COSTELLO: Tyner said no.

    Mr. TYNER: We can do that out here, but if you touch my junk, I'm going to have you arrested.

    COSTELLO: After he posted a video on his blog, one supporter wrote, " Civil rights icon Rosa Parks would be proud."

    Mr. TYNER: You know, I don't want some random stranger looking at my naked body. You know, my traveling about the country by plane doesn't seem to warrant that to me.

    COSTELLO: Tyner 's rant has struck a populist cord, though. He also thinks government should be out of the business of aviation security . Since 9/11, the TSA strategies have evolved to respond to the failed shoe and underwear bombing attempts. And the traveling public is divided in the security vs. privacy debate. From Dallas...

    Unidentified Woman #1: If it protects everybody, I don't care.

    COSTELLO: ...to Newark...

    Unidentified Woman #2: It makes you just want to come to the airport with no clothes on at all.

    COSTELLO: ...to LA.

    Unidentified Man: I think the entire process is invasive.

    Ms. KATE HANNI (Flyersrights.org): The TSA has simply gone too far. They're making 100 percent of the American flying public feel like terrorists and feel like their rights are -- their Fourth Amendment rights are being violated.

    COSTELLO: One common concern, those full-body scanners. While the FDA insists they pose a minimal radiation risk, unions representing US Airways and American are urging their pilots to avoid them. Today, the Homeland Security chief suggested the TSA is open to change.

    Ms. JANET NAPOLITANO (Homeland Security Secretary): And if there are adjustments we need to make to these procedures as we move forward, we have an open ear. We will listen.

    COSTELLO: Critics complain the TSA often seems to lack common sense, selecting the elderly, even teenagers for pat-downs. But the TSA chief says the approach must be across the board.

    Mr. JOHN PISTOLE (Transportation Security Administration Administrator): So it's hard to say that this person is a terrorist and this person is not a terrorist. So again, everybody on that flight wants to make sure that everybody else has been properly screened.

    COSTELLO: You saw Kate Hanni there interviewed. She's with a passenger rights group. She is calling for a boycott of these TSA methods over the Thanksgiving rush that could really mess things up. In addition, the TSA says it's launched an investigation into the Tyner episode. He could face an $11,000 charge for probing a TSA checkpoint then backing out. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: All right, Tom Costello starting us off out at National

Photos: Airport Body Searches

loading photos...
  1. (Terry "Aislin" Mosher / The Montreal Gazette, Canada, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. (Daryl Cagle / MSNBC.com, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. (Cam Cardow / Ottawa Citizen, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. (Patrick Chappatte / The International Herald Tribune, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. (Olle Johansson / Sweden, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. (Jimmy Margulies / The New Jersey Record, Politicalcartoons.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Interactive: Full-body scanners

Vote: What security measure would you prefer?