November 25, 2010 in City

Area travelers opt out of protest

Some say pat-downs would be slower, more intrusive
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Holiday travelers make their way through TSA security at Spokane International Airport on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

Delays at the Spokane airport as well as nationally were minimal Wednesday despite a planned national protest of heightened airport security measures.

“It would have taken longer to protest than just do it,” said 23-year-old Steve Graves, who arrived in Spokane from Salt Lake City. He was randomly chosen for a full-body scan. “We probably would have missed our flight.”

A loosely organized effort dubbed National Opt-Out Day was being called a flop Wednesday. Airline travelers were encouraged to refuse the full-body scan and opt instead for an “enhanced pat-down,” which includes touching the groin and chest.

Transportation Security Administration officials said very few passengers opted out after days of tough talk on the Internet and warnings of possible delays. In fact, the TSA reported, wait times for security checks at major U.S. airports from San Francisco to New York were 20 minutes or less Wednesday morning.

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

Lines at Spokane International Airport reflected the nationwide picture. Thanksgiving travelers easily walked through the checkpoint, a randomly selected few stepping into the body scanner. During the morning holiday rush, only three people opted for a pat-down, said Chris Cox, a public affairs officer for TSA.

The scan takes about seven seconds, airport officials said. A TSA officer in another room views the X-ray, which shows a person’s contours.

An enhanced pat-down can take four minutes or longer.

Rick Erb, an active duty Army National Guardsman, flew into Spokane on Wednesday. He was randomly picked for the scan at the Boise airport.

“I didn’t object to it because I didn’t want to be groped,” Erb said, adding that the need for heightened security is troubling. “I don’t agree with it; the bad guys are winning.”

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

Barbara Carnes of Spokane was heading to Seattle for the holiday. She had no concerns about the heightened security measures or the body scanner. “Whatever it takes to be safe,” she said. “I don’t care.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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