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 Time.com, 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?

BusinessInsider.com: 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," Time.com'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 Time.com 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. Joe

    This is just a business, it has nothing to do more than money and jobs, we paid too much on tax.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dave A

    I think that if we would hear even ONE news story saying that a would-be bomber was apprehended when an airport scanner or pat-down found that he was carrying explosives, maybe we would have a little more faith in what the TSA is doing. But unless I missed something somewhere along the way, I have personally not heard of ONE SINGLE INCIDENT where all this body x-ray/pat-down B.S. has caught even one would-be bomber. Yet it has inconvenienced untold hundreds of thousands of innocent travelers on domestic airflights.

    If you were told that 1 in 1,000,000 travelers was a bomber, would you still put up with all this convenience, or would you prefer to just take your chances on beating the odds. For goodness sake, you have a MUCH better chance of being killed while driving without a seatbelt than you do of being blown-up as a passenger in an airliner. Personally, I think all this "security" harassment is just a power play so the Federal government can have even more power over the citzenry.

    I think I might prefer to have American citizens who are licensed to carry concealed weapons permitted to carry a weapon on an aircraft before I would choose to put up with the hassle we are dealing with now. Just like any other criminal, it is better to keep the hijackers or bombers worrying about whether 20 passengers on his plane are "packing heat" than it is to give him the security of knowing that no passengers even have a set of nail clippers in their pockets with which to defend themselves. I would personally rather take my chances surviving a rapid decompression due to a gun-packing passenger blowing a hole in some jihadi's head than I would in surviving an bomb explosion followed by a 30,000 ft freefall from a disintegrated 737.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheWall

      Oh, no, there was a case. TSA reported some of what they've found on-line two days ago (don't have the link handy, sorry). They found someone trying to smuggle tweezers on board an airplane. TWEEZERS! Can you imagine what could have happened if the perpetrator had been able to bring TWEEZERS on board the airplane!?!?!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      There should be two categories of flights. when you purchase air fare you can select flights
      that have passengers go through security and flights whose passengers have not..
      When some assweepay terrorists grab the flight attendants and one shoves a nail file into the
      juggular of one and another says anyone moves and another will be killed.
      Well you can be happy you didn't get your "junk" touched nor did you have your civil rights supposedly
      violated. As your plane is hijacked or used as another missile and flown into a target.
      is then ext

      November 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. V Saxena

    I agree. I just don't think it's a big deal. I DO HOWEVER understand the concern over pat downs, especially when they're forced on children. Easy solution... use the scanner! However, I'm not a parent, so I can't really empathize with how they feel about this, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they have a valid point. Idk... I'm still soaking in information, and waiting to see. And lol @ the conspiracy theories.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary kimzey

      Ok. So I use the scanner and it sees the pack of juicy fruit gum I forgot to take out of my pocket. Guess what comes next? Yup. A pat down.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      GAry - I'm sure you were told to take everything out of your pockets. If you didn't, guess what? It's on you bud. Enjoy the pat down.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Marcia M

    The only question I have is how many free airline tickets did Charolette receive to write this article???? Seems things are all one sided. The Xray is bad for your health and the patdowns if they keep going the way they are will get someone (whether it be a flyer or a TSA) hurt. Watch it will happen. but guess I dont have to worry about it since I refuse to fly till the scanners are gone.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brian

    This "article" could have been written by someone in TSA.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      It probably was. Eisenhower warned of the 'IMilitary Industrial Complex'. No one talks of the far more dangerous 'Political Media Dictatorship'.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. spc345

    This is not the america i fought for where everyone is crying about a little pat down or a simple scan. When did americans stop being strong.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue Perconcerned

      It's not strength, but weakness when folks waive their Fourth amendment rights, privacy, and dignity because they're afraid of the terrorist boogeyman.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheWall

      We stopped being strong when we started waiving our freedoms for the illusion of security.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbo66

      I also served, 30 years ago. I never thought we would be so willing to trade personal liberty/rights for minimal (if that) increases in our (sense of) personal security. I fly twice a week – through an airport terminal with the new scanner. Whether minimal or not, being xrayed twice aweek can't be good. And the enhanced pat downs are intrusive; try it and see! As one commentator stated, our over-developed sense of political correctness is leading us down this road. Those who are obviously no risk must suffer because profiling (the set of characteristics for those who have carried out the types of acts we are searching for is narrow) is deemed unacceptable. Yet greater and greater invasions of all of our privacy is not! Seeems like I am living in Bizarro World.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • mslman71

      Strong? Which is stronger, accepting the minuscule risk of a terrorist attack in the name of the societal values (and perhaps individual liberties) or cowering to the threat of the boogieman behind every door and letting the government do whatever it wants just so you can feel better?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phinius

      Where have you been for the last ten years? Were you asleep during the terrorist hysteria
      campaign of Cheney and Rove?

      November 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      We stopped being strong when we figured out how to whine endlessly and that people really cared. Good grief people.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. johncc

    I took two flights this past weekend. In neither screening was I patted down OR scanned. I put my shoes back on, took the items out of the bucket and left for the gate. No one at either airport was being scanned or patted down. I would have preferred more security than I saw.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nguyen

    Enough with TSA stories. All the complains are unwarranted. The bottom line is that I would not fly if TSA are not around. It is just simply stupid to think that TSA procedures are invasive.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bigcheeese

    HERES THE DEAL TSA!!!! There terrorist are always flying to the United States from another country, rather than Flying from Nebraska to Florida.... I 100% guarantee no TSA will ever find explosives or any items of terror from these pat downs/body scanners... These precautions need to be executed over seas at airports that send planes to the United States. They also need to implement the Level of Terror in certain areas of the country and then execute pat downs/body scanners at airports sending flights to those areas..... Bottom line a 3 year old could run TSA a heck of a lot better than these morons, it's sad that I even need to point that out.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • SafeNotAfraid

      Um... didn't all four flights on 9/11 depart from the US?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      You "guarantee". Hey, moron, half those terrorists on 9/11 flew from Maine to Boston, not to or from overseas. I guess you don't read either.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sue Perconcerned

    I don't consider looking at naked pictures of people or touching private parts to be "overblown" by the media. If you want an example of overblown hype, look at the statement "pat down or blown up?" We have not had these scanners or invasive pat downs since the beginning of the TSA and how many planes have been blown up? 0. How many have been foiled by responsible citizens? All of them. Your chance of being blown up is substantially less than being struck by lightning, but nobody tells the people that fact. The Govt and media instead promote hype and fear to get the citizens to relenquish their civil rights, just like the terrorists want and planned. The truth is that the terrorists have already won.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jboed

      You are wrong, all the attempts we know of have been frustrated by sheer luck. The bombs did not work and fizzled out. That means that bombs were actually in the planes so we need to work towards preventing them from getting there. Our luck will not hold as the bombs are improved.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sickofthiswhining

      The thing is you don't know what you're talking about. You aren't privvy to any of the intelligence that goes on any more that I or anyone else on this blog is. To make such blanket assumptions based on what little you know is pretty darned ignorant.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ra

    my bad it was Ben Franklin not Jefferson

    November 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. big john

    The only people that should be patted down, xrayed , searched are muslims or muslim lookiing people, the people that want to do ur harm are muslims, and we as a society should no t have to pay for these other peoples deeds and ill will to us. Lets do all these secure measures only on these muslims or arab nut jobs.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheWall

      There are all kinds of terrorists. Ireland suffered through the IRA through the 70s and 80s. Germany had the Red Faction, IIRC. Timothy McVeigh was not a Muslim, either.

      However, I do agree with your main point: it is inefficient, unnecessary, (IMHO) immoral, and (arguably) illegal to subject every member of the flying public to these scans. If there is intel suggesting that a certain passenger might be concealing weapons on an airplane, then yes, search them. But all TSA is doing now is ticking off the American people.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kim

    If you don't want the security "pat down" then DON'T FLY!!!!! I am a frequent flyer and WELCOME the security pat down for my own safety!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • big john

      kim, so you enjoy being groped, is that what you are telling us..

      November 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. James

    Shut up American and do as you are told!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Elizabeth

    Completely overblown! You people that think the TSA people are actually 'fondling' you have an ego and maturity problem. Maybe TSA didn't catch the uderwear or sneaker bombers but does that mean they didn't catch anyone that perhaps didn't make the news? I will be perfectly happy to TSA turn you idiots complaining around and not let you on my safe airplane.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheWall

      And *I'd* be happy to take my chances with my fellow passengers and I taking out any would-be terrorists, and keep the TSA out of my knickers, thank you very much.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • mslman71

      "Safe" airplane. So let me understand, before "enhanced patdowns" and imaging machines you weren't safe, and now you are safe? Really? Do you honestly believe this? Which do you think, under basic minimal screening procedures, is more likely, a crash due to mechanical failure or weather and a terrorist attack? If safety is the ultimate question, and being perfectly safe is your perceived desire, then why do you even leave your house? It certainly makes no sense to agree to fly when there is inclement weather.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54