November 23rd, 2010
12:06 PM ET

TSA complaints: Warranted outrage? Or all bark, no bite?

In recent weeks there has been growing vocal anger regarding the Transportation Security Administration's procedures relating to pat downs and the use of full-body scanners. But amid all of the noise, what are the real complaints, and how much of the outrage is simply that - a growing chorus of bandwagon anger.

There certainly has been no shortage of horror stories - a shirtless boy receiving a pat down,  a flier had to show her prosthetic breast, a bladder cancer survivor whose urine bag broke during a pat down - and countless other stories of uncomfortable encounters with the TSA.

The coverage of the isolated incidents being reported raises the question of whether they paint a picture that isn't the reality for the vast majority of travelers.

The concerns: Fact vs. fiction

Polls have found a majority of Americans support the scans, though they aren't as supportive of the TSA pat downs.

A CBS News survey showed 81 percent of people polled approve of the use of full-body X-ray machines. A Washington Post/ABC News survey found 64 percent of people supported the use of the machines, while 32 percent were opposed. When it comes to the use of pat downs, respondents were practically split down the middle.  However, 37 percent of all Americans said they "feel strongly" that the pat downs are overly intrusive. Still 70 percent of Americans questioned in the Washington Post/ABC News poll said the new TSA rules made no difference in their decision to fly.

Our partners at, who are taking a look at the TSA procedures, report that the head of the agency John Pistole has said the outcry has partially been fueled by media-fed misperceptions.  He said that only a “very small percentage” of the 34 million Americans who have flown since the new procedures took effect have been subjected to the pat downs.

Politico: Go ahead, touch my junk

The TSA even released a list of "myths and facts" about pat downs and other security measures.

No doubt passengers still have some concerns. What about their 4th amendment rights? Are the scanners safe? Do they even work? Can they actually stop terror attacks? How far is too far when it comes to a pat down? What are the medical implications of the procedures? And who exactly should be getting the pat downs?

For some, it’s a question of  pat down or blown up? Sorry, Folks, We'd Rather Be Body-Scanned Than Blown Up In Mid-Air

"It wouldn't be a total oversimplification to boil the issue down to a single question: would you rather get screened or blown up,"'s Sora Song wrote. "The new TSA whole-body scanning machines are designed to catch potentially deadly threats — like, say, explosive chemicals in underwear — that metal detectors miss. The end result should be a safer flight. It's a no-brainer."

For all those complaining about the security check hassles, CNN contributor Bob Greene asks, would you rather have no security at all?

"You can walk into any airport, with or without a ticket, and wander unimpeded right up to a boarding gate. You don't have to surreptitiously slip past a security checkpoint, because there are no security checkpoints, " he said. ""If you are carrying a loaded gun in your pocket or underneath your jacket, no one will know. In fact, if you do have a valid ticket, there will be nothing to prevent you from boarding a flight while armed to the teeth with concealed weaponry."

"Would you feel safe? Would you want to live in such a country?," he adds.

"You did, if you were a citizen of the United States before the 1970s."

Why all the hoopla?

The firestorm has only grown as close-up photos of the pat downs grace newspaper and website front pages, while the mockery has only grown on late night talk shows, "Saturday Night Live" and YouTube.

And let's not leave the press out of it. Howard Kurtz, writing for the Daily Beast, agrees in part with Pistole that the media are certainly part of the blame.

"From network newscasts to local TV, from newspaper front pages to a blur of web headlines, it seems untold numbers of women are having their breasts touched and untold numbers of men are feeling the intrusive hands of government guards near their packages," he writes. "Actually, that’s far from true."

And when it comes down to it, Kurtz said, part of the media attention is due to how easy the story is to tell - and that it has all the makings of the perfect press story.

"The narrative combines a number of elements: Hassled airline passengers (who can’t relate to that?); terrorism concerns; invasion of privacy, and a hint of sexual naughtiness," he said. "But the key here is that every local news outlet in America could send a reporter or a crew to a nearby airport and grab a piece of the action."

Then there's the whole "National Opt-Out Day" issue. It could either, as some organizations suggest, delay flights or completely fizzle out. As points out, it might just turn into a "More Like Opting Out Of Making Your Flight" scenario?

In reality, we ask: Will this idea turn out to be of "Get Betty White on 'SNL'" Facebook campaign success? Or will people who have likely paid a chunk of money to go visit their families take the time to engage in an act of civil disobedience and disrupt air travel?
Perhaps, it's just (pun-intended) all up in the air for now.
soundoff (1,704 Responses)
  1. Bah don't think there are non-Muslim terrorists? Do you remember Timothy McVeigh? What about the people plotting bodily harm against our President? They are White and are just as much terrorists as someone who plots to blow up a plane! You can't tell someone is a terrorist just by looking at him or her. They DO come in different colors, you know.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. norie67nj

    People get a grip! You know the rules to a ticket and suck it up. if the scanners catch one crazy person than so be it... do you really want to fly without some kind of security. I am not happy about it either but its a necessary evil!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Oldledgefarm

    If you don't like it stay home, drive, take a train, take a boat, whatever. I am sure the people doing the searches aren't happy about touching all the people they have to pat down either. If you people didn't whine about this it would be something else you would find to whine about.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rooz

    How much opposition?? There's plenty of opposition!!! What kind of article is this? It's sad that people will read this and actually change their minds and not mind the security as much, just because they read some drivel like this...

    I'm not a statistician of course, but at work, at home, among friends, EVERYONE, regardless of their red or blue political colors, is against this...I have a hard time believing that EVERYONE around me is somehow vastly different than the rest of the country...I know I'm in California but I have plenty of "hillbilly" friends as well as "hippies." I haven't come across anyone who thought the new security measures are a good idea...

    November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      Cheney did!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bubba (Nevada)

    Per TSA's own admission, they have never found/stopped explosives from being transported on flights departing the US since 9/11. The two shoe/underpants explosive incidents began overseas.

    So I wonder why there is a sudden rush for pat-downs and scanners when they have only identified an increased security concern with flights ORIGINATING OVERSEAS.


    November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      As far as I know they have never stopped anyone.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. David

    Another year gone by without a plane exploding or flying into a building, we must be doing something right. Now if we can only do something about all those manned missiles, er automobiles that kill (tens of) thousands each year. Why are we talking about the insignificant risk of flying when our risk of death is (nearly) infinitely greater on our way to/from the airport? The next major attack will not likely come from the sky, but rather in some area that we aren't even thinking about – look at the moron in Times Square a few months ago. Are we thinking about banning cars now because they could possibly be used in malevolent ways?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      By that logic, my dog is keeping America safe. We haven't had an attack recently, right? She must be doing something right!

      David, please don't use specious logic. Think, man. Think! For yourself.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Soren

    Complain, complain, complain......that's all America does. We want everything that's good, and nothing that is bad. On top of that, we don't want to work too hard to get it. Other countries are literally light years ahead of us. Why? Because they do the exact opposite!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      This isn't complaining, this is objecting. Huge difference.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • norie67nj

      Amen sister

      November 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      No kidding right?

      November 23, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Duane

    As James Carville said, "I don't care... just measure my pen!s and let me on the plane, whatever gets me on the plane faster!"

    November 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dave

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Ben Franklin, talking about the idiots who are for this policy. You're the very same sorry people who let Hitler do this in Germany. You'll let this country become a police state because you're afraid FROM the media and government's fear-mongering. Please all of you move out of the United States. Go to a 3rd world country where there is no freedom and everyone gets strip-searched just for traveling.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. nomad

    Do you still get a pat-down if you where your bathing suit through security?

    November 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chris

    Not counting terrorism, flying is the safest way to travel. If you count terrorism, flying is the safest way to travel.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Caitlin

    You're flattering yourself if you think a TSA agent is just dying to touch you. It's not like these people make tons of money and they didn't sign up for all this media attention. If you want to board a flight that is filled with people who have not been properly checked by security, be my guest. I would rather be stripped searched and live to tell about it than die in a plan crash. Besides I've been one of the people who got randomly taken out of the line for a pat down. It wasn't something I would love to happen everyday, but it wasn't something I had nightmares over by any means. I gurantee that the first time someone is able to hijack a flight that all the people who are whinging now will be the first ones asking where all the security is then.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I wouldn't complain, even if it was my flight. The risk of terrorists attacking planes is so low, the histeria amazes me.

      I also don't complain when doctors refuse to screen patients that have very low but non-zero chances of having certain diseases. It just isn't worth the cost, even if once in a while thye end up wrong.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      And Bob of course, knows about this risk because? Surely he has access to the intelligence that is fueling this ever changing change in policy?

      November 23, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. uzi

    This whole TSA thing is so commercialized NOW. Everything is a front. Big companies funding the lobbyist so they can make more money. There is always going to be one thing or another. Soon these machines will be seen in your local markets, hotels and other corporate buildings on the name of threat. I personally do not support invasion of privacy. If we let them, then the next step will be even bigger. This is my opinion and I respect every one else. I would not be going though those scanners, I don't mind a pat down.

    God Bless America and keep the corporate companies away from our tax money. =)

    November 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sue

    Wow-it is simple-if you don't like the pat downs or body scanners don't fly! I personally would rather be safe....maybe it sould not be such a big deal if the media has not jumped on the bandwagon. How about reporting on the fact that the rights of the amiercan citizen are getting smaller and smaller, yet the rights of the illegals are increasing??

    November 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bobby

    There should be no concern. Flying is not a mandate nor is it a requirement. Drive, take the train, walk, cycle, take a boat, etc. No one has to be exposed to any of this. Some folks gripe about everything. You would think that they are being forced to do something against their will. If you want to fly, the TSA says that you could be subject to a scan or pat down. You know now......but you don't have to do it because you don't have to fly. Get over yourselves.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • TRH

      Many people, in a particularly harsh economic climate, are in fact required to travel by plane for work. Count yourself lucky if you're not one of them.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
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