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. mejazzbo

    There is no doubt the outrage is real. Just like with the Mosque at the 911 site, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. This situation is way overboard. I will not fly again until some common sense is applied to these unreasonable searches.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kreczk

    Warranted. TSA is doing a ridiculous job. In their attempt to be politically correct 99% of their searches are on people who do not fit ANY useful profile.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Steven

    So totally overblown it is ridiculous. A moment of personal discomfort versus a life/lives? Are you kidding. And just because it is not 100% accurate does not mean we just get rid of it. Terrorists come in all sizes, gender, color and age.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tcaros

    The TSA are burger flippers.

    We need to end this GW Bush era paranoia. GW Bush and his corporate elite cronies masterminded 9/11. That's why we can't find Bin Laden. He is a "made up" fictional person; likely a covert operative with makeup and whig.

    The real terrorists are the corporate facists that are using the republican supporters as dupes to screw them out of their freedoms and protections.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. VetinSF

    Hey people, we've been at war for 10 years and there are certain security measures, prompted by very real events, that are necessary. So, get to the airport early, wait in line, and STFU!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    I have no problem with the increased security measure. Dangerous times need tough measures to deal with them. I wish the vocal minority who just like to kick up a ruckus about silly things would just retire to their sad little holes and let the rest of us get on with our lives. There are just too many people in this country who seem to need to complain about something!

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Secular1

      spoken like the complainer in chief.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Now that's a silly must be the Troll in Chief!

      November 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Randy

    Feel safe, BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING. This is the Nanny state working and as time goes by it will evolve to the police state.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. steve

    totally overblown! it's the complainers that want some attention and looking for somebody to sue! I would just throw them out of the airport and let the good people who want to get somewhere go thru the screening so they can board their plane. I detest whiners and this country is loaded with them! good riddens.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kate

    This can not be repeated enough:

    "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." ~Benjamin Franklin

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

      Rachel, very well stated! I agree completely.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike


      November 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe Makala

    tell me one thing...why are old ladies being patted down? does the TSA really thing they are terrorists?

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

      The day they stop checking old ladies is the day they start using them to carry bombs. You think terrorists would use someone that matches their profile?

      November 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rachel

    I think this whole thing is getting really ridiculous to be honest. The scanners radiation is pretty much nothing, so the point people are trying to make about this is completely pointless, except to start drama and cause completely unneeded fear. They’ve already done studies and realized that 1 scan is equal to only 2 minutes of flying you’d need to get multiple scans EVERY single day for an entire year to even have it be equal to a normal chest x-ray. They don’t see your face ever during the scans not even from the scanned image they take. The photos are hardly what I’d call “detailed” but if you feel uncomfortable with that, they were nice enough to give you the alternative of a pat down. Of course the pat down isn't going to feel "comfortable" or be the most fun you've ever had, but people are comparing it to pretty much being molested? Come on... The TSA are just doing their job, and it sucks because they don’t seem to be able to win. To much security everyone’s complaining that their rights are being taken away, and if it’s too lax and an attack happens everyone’s at their throats. Personally I’d much rather be to safe then not safe enough…I fly over seas between the US and the UK multiple times every year, and I couldn’t care less about the scanners or the pat down. I’m a 19 year old, Caucasian, American girl the complete opposite of the “stereotypical” terrorist, and I’ve been patted down and had my bags properly searched a couple times. Do I feel upset or "invaded"? No, it is their job. To be honest if anything I’m really glad that they're not checking only people who match a certain stupid stereotype. So the argument of “I’m being treated like I’m a criminal” thing is stupid. The last thing I want is for Airline companies to just TRUST that someone is safe. Everyone needs to be subjected to the same exact amount of security procedures for you and for everyone else’s safety. The thing you all need to understand is that flying is a PRIVILAGE not a right. If you want to see yourself as a victim because of the scanners/patdowns then fine, whatever, but stop acting like you’re losing your rights and being forced into all of this. Simply don’t fly, and the situations completely over for you. As for me, I only see it as a benefit to my safety.

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

      Please bathe me in radiation... it's such a wonderful thing! I love it!!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      You do realize that this radiation which is "pretty much nothing" in your opinion adds up when you expose 800 million yearly travelers to it. Statistically speaking, people will die from the radiation that they are exposed to from the scanners. Maybe 15-20 a year, but this will happen. Considering that The National Academies of Science released a study in 2005 stating which in summary states there is no safe level or threshold of ionizing radiation exposure. This is a legitimate concern, and I'm not willing to expose myself to unnecessary ionizing radiation just because you think it's "pretty much nothing".

      November 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stasia

      Choosing not to fly is not an option for everyone. Some people need to travel for work. And some people want to go to places which are impractical to reach by car (like a trip from the US to the UK).

      No practical security measure is going to be 100% effective. There are always going to be ways around whatever screening methods are put in place. So IMO it comes down to a question of basic rights (e.g., the right not to be subjected to searches without a warrant) and dignity.

      The concerns people have are not just a bunch of people complaining because they have nothing better to do. Rather than just telling people to shut up, why not consider that they may have a valid point of view? Just because I complain doesn't make me wrong.

      And I also feel the coverage given to this topic by CNN showed a great bias toward the TSA and not toward a fair and impartial presentation of the facts of the issue. We are a great country BECAUSE of our freedoms, not in spite of them. Every time we give one of them up because of fear, we become more like that which we fight against.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Exactly101

      I couldn't agree more Rachel!!! That is the problem with society today, everyone wants to whine and sue as soon as they get uncomfortable. If it hurts when you do that don't do it! Another words if you are freaked out about the security measures and if your afraid "Big Brother" don't fly save me the time of having to wait for idiots as I get on my safe airplane.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      Justin if you want to be overly dramatic by all means, get a pat down. I'm telling you right now unless you’re planning on traveling 5 times a day every single day for a couple years, YOU have nothing to worry about. If you’re so concerned about radiation, don't fly period. Maybe while your at it you should stop using your cell phone, don't wear watches, stop eating food, stop using your microwave, don't even think of owning a fire alarm, and definitely never ever get an x-ray. Actually in fact you should probably just cease to exist because well you've got radiation too. The point is there isn't enough to cause you any damage, just like the majority of things won't cause you any problems, but if it worries you just get a pat down. If you don't like that option either. Drive.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • JillofReal

      By your fantastic logic Rachel, we shouldn't even have these scanners then because the chances of dying in a terrorist attack are less than the chances of being struck by lightning. And you should consider a terrorist attack on a plane, which would lower the chances even more. Think abou it, if someone wanted to create terror, they could do it in a mall, or in line prior to going through the scanner. And then you should consider how the xmas day bomber was ALLOWED on the plane (therefore the scanner wouldn't have stopped him) by our state dept, as evidenced by the congressional testimony of Patrick Kennedy. Look it up sweetie. You are soooo willing to give up your rights... it's sick. You're sick in the head. The Germans did the same thing. It's time for us to stand up. You don't even care that the TSA has been lying to us? That these machines can and do store images? That you have convicted pedofiles and criminals working fo the agency, possibly the same people looking at your naked body? Guess what, a story JUST came out TODAY about a TSA worker in Georgia who kidnapped a girl from an airport and molested her... LOOK IT UP! This is tyranny.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Fred

    Please OPT OUT!! As someone who flies weekly, I fully support opt out. If enough folks do it, then maybe I won't have a 350lb "muffin" in the seat next to me or have the flight delayed while people try to jam refrigerators and steamer trunks into the overhead. It would be nice to get what I payed for and be somewhat comfortable doing it. Scan or pat down, whichever, I KNOW I'm going to get one or both before I buy the ticket. As for giving up my rights, again, I KNOW before I choose to buy a ticket. Grow up people, flying is not a right, it's a convenience.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      How is flying not a right? You're the same idiot who doesn't believe I have a right to put into my body whatever I wish. We are FREE to do as we will. We, as US Citizens, have "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures". If you see that as a convenience rather than a right, then maybe you don't deserve it. But I demand it.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mockingbird52

    The poll CBS did that has been so widely cited included answers from people who have never flown or fly once a year. Duh. inexperienced and don't care what others have to go thru.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steven

      Wonder why those who fly a lot are more pro-scanners and pat-downs? They want to live. Those who only fly once a year could care less .... the odds are good they will make it.

      November 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LNT

    If you don't want to be pat down or full body scan, then DON'T FLY!! why must we make a case out of everything, all it takes is one "one butt wipe" to get the others started.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Big D

    We sure do have a short memory. A few years ago there was no security policy good enough to keep us safe. I guess Security is only important if it doesn't inconvenience us:) Quit your whining. This is the world we live in now. And you would rather have guns onboard than go through screening, obviously you are an idiot. Do you read the paper ? Have you been to an airport ? Just think that every single person on the plane could potentially have a gun... The belligerent guy that had too much to drink, the person smoking inthe bathroom. The jack@ss that is have a paranoid episode and demands that the plane be landed. Personally, I prefer the screenings. Seems like a small inconvenience to ensure security.

    November 23, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
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