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. bucky651

    i feel sorry for the people who have to look at xrayish pictures of the american public. egads – look around.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    I've traveled 20, 000 to 30,000 miles over the last 3 months and I'd rather have my "junk" stay with me then be scattered over a few acres should someone get on a plane ala 9/11. I get the feeling that the majority of the people who oppose the scans and pat downs are those that fly once a year to Grandma's house. I'm sure the majority of us who have to fly on a regular basis all agree that we would rather land at an airport in one piece than some corn field in the middle of the country in a thousand. Bottom line...if you don't want to go through the scanners or get a pat down, you have alternatives. Take the train, take the bus, or drive the family car. Let the professionals do the flying.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Professional cowards?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Definitions of coward on the Web:

      •a person who shows fear or timidity
      Lacking in courage, unacceptably fearful, usually meant with some implication of a lack of consideration for others; In the manner of a coward

      Yup. Professional cowards.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • DSH

      Steve – ignore Micheal. He's a teabagger with nothing to raise hell about now that the election is over. I agree with you. I fly several times a month and don't like the security hassle any more than the next guy but I'll be damned if I want to open the door to terrorists again. I'm not afraid. I feel liberated that I don't have to worry.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      @DSH I voted Obama in 08 and went down the middle in this election (of which I voted for 0 tea party candidates). I think the teabaggers are incredibly loony.

      How many freedoms are you actually willing to give up for safety? And you clearly are afraid if you think that "the door is open to terrorists" unless we strip search the entire flying public. It seems like you're liberated from independant thought as well. It's easier to blindly follow than to think "hey, something's not right about this."

      November 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. J.C.

    Big deal, I am sitting by the gate at Newark International Airport right now, the line was short. Who cares about these procedures? Its for our national security interests. Those who protest should know they are just making themselves look ignorant.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rivers10

    Makes you wonder who does the pat-down when a coffin is transported...Igor from the Frankenstein movie?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Craig

    Not enough has been said about the CANCER factor. Privacy is an argument in and of itself. As a frequent flier (2-4 times per week) I can't feel comfortable getting zapped that many times.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Susan

    First of all, it's not really us here in the USA we have to worry about. It's the people who are coming into the US that needs to be checked before they get on the plane from overseas. And in this case I see nothing wrong at all with racial profiling.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jboed

    We all want to be secure when we fly, but also complain and whine about the luggage screening, the pat downs, everything. Really, lets be helpful and constructive and stop being whinny little people. If our ancestors that spent 3 months walking on rough roads to travel West could see us, they would spin on their graves!!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. habsfan1

    +5000 for airing the same story the ENTIRE DAY?

    Looking for potential newstories CNN? Bet you could provide for more entertainment over a twitter feed for christsakes...

    November 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Red

    How do you pat down a baby scroller or a wheelchair?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pierre Ouliment

    THIS JUST IN…CNN's potential news leads are down to zero after running a single story with different headlines for the ENTIRE DAY.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. DSH

    It's against the law to smoke in an airport/restaurant/office building. It's obviously a law for a reason. If you are a smoker you have the right to smoke but not to endanger others. If you travel you do not have the right to endanger others by claiming this violates your rights. I have the right to feel safe in the sky and you have the right to travel by any other means of your choice and good riddance.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ronda

    I do not fly for work, but fly often visiting friends and family that for some reason all seem to move away from Arkansas...hmm. Anyway, been flying out of Memphis airport for years. I recently took a flight from Memphis to Dallas and was instructed to go through the newly installed body scanner. Having had multiple surgeries I asked to opt out...I was told no, i needed to go through it, I said NO, i preferred not to. The TSA agent then LOUDLY announced we have an OPT OUT, we have an OPT OUT, need a supervisor. After the supervisor stepped over, the female TSA agent started her pat down. At one point, she pulled my arm so hard that i was pulled off balance. She felt of my breasts, private area, and everywhere else. I felt violated, humilated and not at all American.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jboed

      You are something. Don't want to be scanned "because you had surgeries" what does that have to do with it? But also don't want to be patted down. They HAVE to feel you otherwise you could have a bomb in your undies or your bra. Are you so thick? Next time go though the darned scanner or drive!

      November 23, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tomlv

    I fly frequently and have run into just about every scanning device and security check point procedure there is. As a traveler I like to know that security is a priority. While I don't always like all of the procedures put into place I would rather have the TSA err on the side of overly cautious.

    I do find it interesting that so many people are screaming about security being too intrusive now when little over a year ago the big complaint was that they weren't thorough enough by failing to stop the underwear bomber from getting on a plane.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ja75477

    why does everyone keep calling it "groping"? its not groping when the back side of an agents hand goes up your inner thigh. grow up people. they are doing it for the safety of the country. yea it sucks that they have to resort to this but until the world is completely peaceful and violence free these things have to take place.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ET

    Everybody knows that Al Queada is just looking for a loophole so they could use one of the deadliest weapons against us and that is an airplane.

    So the question is simple do you want to give up a little of freedom in exchange for your life or do you want to keep yoru freedom and go down with the airplane?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      I'd rather keep my freedom and go down with the plane. Being safe without freedom just isn't worth it. Thats what this country was founded on! FREEDOM!

      November 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • DSH

      John – then feel FREE to stay home.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
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