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. nijode

    One successful attack, one plane gets blown out of the sky, and all the complainers will want the TSA drawn and quartered. Those complaining the loudest now will be demanding cavity checks. The current checks hardly seem excessive considering what is at stake. Had the security in place now been in place on 9/11 the small knives and box cutters used would most likely not have gotten on to the planes. On the 12th of September 2001 nobody was complaining about too much security. The chorus then was about the lax security that the minimum wage rent-a-cops were providing at the airports. How quickly we forget.

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

      What exactly is as stake, nijode? The freedom of millions of Americans? No, that can't be it, otherwise they wouldnt be taking away freedoms to preserve them. Pretty counterintuitive.

      So then what would it be?

      November 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tammy Downs

    I love for TSA men to search all over me. My husband doesn't know. Makes me come on myself and makes me come even better when me and my ex co worker sneak doing it in the Mile High Club!

    November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jibberjab

    Profile, Profile Profile

    November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tom S


    November 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snowman-z

      Really? OPT OUt?
      I guess it's time to call "uncle" on this and remove all airport screening. Let the passengers screen each other. I'm sure there won't be any racial, age, or gender profiling then.
      We should also open the carry-on baggage flood gates as well and allow any carry-on bag you want. As soon as the last passanger passes through the door, close the door and take off. Have an issue with someone elses bag hitting you in the head during turbulence, then take care of it yourself because there won't be any flight attendants on this flight. When the plane lands, the door opens and you get out – no need to thank the pilot for the nice flight because there are none since the plane was flown remotely.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JPabst

    Here's an idea: airlines charge for everything under the sun anway, so why not charge an "opt out fee"? If you want to bypass security altogether, simply pay a fee. Then you can head straight to an unsecured terminal in the airport and board your flight. You can even take your loved ones with you and kiss them good-bye at the gate. (Why charge for opting out instead of charging those who want the additional security? Because the airlines will need additional funds to pay legal teams to defend them against lawsuits when an incident inevitably occurs.) Would you pay extra to avoid a screening, and would you feel safe knowing you were sitting in a plane filled with others who were not screened?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kold

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

      out of control! i understand checking for weapons and drugs but anything further than that is no ones business! this country has taken this too should be ashamed of yourself invading peoples privacy the way you have.questioning prosthetic's and urine bags and using scanners...forget that ! too FAR. HIPPA needs to step in and draw a line.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      And you don't think an Al Qaeda terrorist could afford to pay to opt out of a security scan? Your idea sure doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I hope you were being facetious....and not just stupid.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Janel

      Just like Americans: demand something, make everything impossible to accomplish said "thing", then turn around a complain said "thing" is ignored or fails. Either you want to feel safe (as possible) on planes or you want to die in a terrorist act. Don't want pat downs? Fine...just shut the $#@% up when there is a terrorist act. When your family member or friend or just an innocent stranger suffers from your stupidy, narrow-mindededness and ignorance, then you have no right to complain, cry or grieve. I don't get it people...what do you suggest we do to protect ourselves and others? Are you that narcissistic or selfish to not want to protect others from harm? So you don't care that others may die or be injured from an unscreened terrorist just as long as you aren't patted down? People like this make me ashamed to be American....hell, they make me ashamed to be human. Human stupidity at its best (or worst.) Just do me a favor and pull your head of your ass (you know, the one that's been stuck in there since before 2001) and say hello to the world...

      November 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • BeenThereDoneThat

      TSA intensive scrutiny seems out of character for the 21st century USA. However, for those of us who tavelled overseas during the 80's, this is not a new tactic.
      In addition to going through the scanners, some of us were randomly chosen to undergo an intensive patdown in the terminal. There was no such thing as "I oject." We underwent the invasion and headed to our planes. We had to be back to work on the next day.
      One did not get upity with the laws of the land as is done now. The more we mouth-off the easier it is for the enemy to devise and/or find ways to infiltrate us. We need to have a meltdown on what is said about strategies used for our traveling safety.
      The radio talk shows need to find another interest. To continue bashing the ideologies and accomplishments of a sitting president is tantamont to treason in another country. We need to back up and regroup!
      I do feel that the America as we know it is from whatever culture is and has changed for good and worse. It would behoove us Americans to evaluate our feelings and beliefs. We will not live forever. Knowing that there is a life after death, we should confess our sins, forgive the unforgivable, and ask God to help us live peaceful in this life.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • N_Marko

      The poll was asking Americans who travel by plane or all Americans? Other thoughtful questions you can ask too:

      Did the government ask for x-ray machines or did an x-ray company come and offer their services?

      Is there any oversight about the safety or proper use of all these systems in place or do we let insurance in case of incident fill in the blanks?

      How many scattered incidents of abuse or neglect or problem situations need to gather before we review any of this matter of safety or proper use of these TSA personnel or machines?

      Should we not have ramps for the disabled because everyone should watch out for themselves and do as the government and hired companies say? Should we shout down those who complain who have a disability?

      Where do you personally draw the line, and do you fully know how any of this got put in place? A CNN story skewed to have uninformed folk discuss the matter and not offer any real information about who the parties are doesn't seem to help any of this.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. UCFknightman

    Whatever you do, do not cut out an aluminum foil "middle finger" and tape to your stomach like a friend of mine did. That did not bode to well for him.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      I'm going to write DONT TOUCH MY JUNK on my chest with zinc sunscreen. Hope it doesn't smear. Foil's not a bad idea.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hillary

      lol. So what happened to your friend?

      November 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. chicagoK

    Lawmakers attacking the TSA? Bull! Obama approved the security measures! Investigate the leader in the White House! Any competent executive would have made a speech to the nation explaining what the TSA was going to do and why. Every day Obama is in office he acts more like a dimwit who would be fired within 6 months at any company he could find a job with. He is not up to manager level for a McDonalds! He seems to be clueless about people and executive management decisions. Heck, I bet he could be declared mentally unfit for office and impeached. The exhibits are there.

    Read more:

    November 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • supporter

      are u a hater? or just lack common sense? SOMETHING needs to be done......

      November 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Jeez, you sound mentally ill.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      I have to agree with you. Every time I think that Obama or one of his appointees couldn't be more lame and ineffective, the administration rises to the challenge and proves itself to be completely disconnected to the issue and the people. Obama lives in a small bubble of adoration, but the rest of us see a man who can't get a single thing right. He saved the country from the threat of McPalin and failed at everything else.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • mslman71

      Supporter – something needs to be done is not synonymous with anything needs to be done because doing anything is better than doing nothing. That's just nonsense, though it seems to be in agreement with the current (and previous) administration's policies.

      Jeff - agreed.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brent

    Don't like the security procedures? Stop flying. No one is forcing people to fly, and so no one is being forced to undergo these security procedures. Besides, if airlines lose money because people reject the security measures, things will change to allow the business to survive.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      By "things will change to allow the business to survive", do you mean that when they file for bankruptcy they will be given billions in tax dollars as a "bailout"?? Either way, they will get your money....

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

      You're a moron.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • ShatteredDrift

      Will you say "just don't take the bus" when they do the same for busses?
      Will you say "just don't drive anywhere" when they put mandatory DUI checkpoints at every highway on-ramp?

      Whether or not you think any of those is extreme, the point is finding where the line is.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      I'll never fly again.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      Unlike you, hundreds and thousands of citizens use airplanes as a mean of transportation to get across America to work.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike collins


      November 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ohohoho

      The point is why should i have to sacrifice my personal liberties to fly. I'd rather not be groped if i have to visit grandma on the other end of the country for thanksgiving. It's not like these tests do anything more then the old metal detectors did

      November 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rev Egg Plant

      Folks, I lived most of my life traveling freely by air, unfettered by searches of my body and property. We all felt safe then. I don't understand why people are so willing to give up essential liberty just to feel a bit of temporary safety. These screenings won't stop a serious threat, and people will still get through the gates with an improvised weapon if they're really careful and crafty. Flying is hazardous, period. I don't fly that often, but I don't like being searched every time I do fly.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kold

    Let's just all strip down! hilarious TSA commercial

    November 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Marve G

    I wonder why every single person in America is subjected to this, yet Congress is not. Just the other day, Rep. Boehner was escorted around security lines by the TSA and allowed to proceed into the airport with NO security check what-so-ever. I am just as much an American citizen as he is... so why are my rights not as important as his?

    November 23, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      If that is true then it is a horrible example of corruption. If the intention is actually to increase security, then there should be no exemptions for specific individuals or groups. People with certain jobs (not related to airport security) should not have a free pass to skip security. Why should a person employed as a congressman be allowed to bypass security when a person employed as a lawyer, consultant, salesperson, fireman, or policeman (off duty) be subject to screening. That is wrong.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      No one wanted to touch his junk.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aurora

      No one wanted to see or touch that man's Boehner.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • some emo kid

      He pulled a Boehner on them.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ohohoho

      USA is super corrupt. Half the people in power can and are bought. Most of the people in power backing these machines are receiving cash from them

      November 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      Because he's a GOP honcho and you're not.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. HoldFast Check it out.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. lutzguy

    I don't think TSA has ever found a bomb or terrorist while passing through security. Some day they may, but I really think their main mission is to find that snack that you are trying to sneek onto the flight. Since the airlines don't supply food anymore, they want you to buy that stuff in the terminal.

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

    Pistole just did another interview, he said nothing to deflect the fact that other countries are NOT irradiating or doing abusive pat downs in their process, yet he is okay with what they are doing - so why are being more intrusive of our own citizens traveling within the US??? This man is so incredibly out of touch with what a threat 'really' is!

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

    The scans and pat downs mean nothing as long as outside cargo, such as USPS mail, is put into empty space in airlines. Frankly, I hope the TSA agents get cancer in 10 years from being around X-rays all day. It would serve them right.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • tonysgirl1959

      Wishing cancer on the agents who are just doing their job, is way out of line. In fact, wishing cancer on anyone is just wrong! Wow.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tk smith

    These procedures by the TSA should be outlawed. whats stopping people from putting explosives inside their private parts? Next thing you know the TSA will have the authority to give cavity searches likes its no big deal. i will not have someone inserting their fingers inside my body.

    November 23, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
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