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. Embarrassed

    So to anyone who feels that such pat downs are not a problem... and from the comments it feels like theres quite a few... 2 weeks back i flew international out of ZZZZZ airport and they asked for a pat down and as i stepped into this make shift area, the officer began patting me down. Here is the embarrassing part – i am kind of large down there, and i was wearing a pair of briefs and the officer literally started getting way too "touchy" in trying to inspect. if that was not enough, he wasn't convinced and I was escorted to a closed area for a more thorough screening, they asked me to remove my jeans for further screening and after i did that, the officer could barely control his laughter. He actually let out a chuckle a couple of times. Why should I not sue them for harassment? I dont remember signing up for a free serving for humiliation when i bought my ticket. How would you like your father/husband/child laughed at like that?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |

      I don't get it. Isn't this why they use the X-ray? If they scanned you, they would have seen you didn't have anything other than your own body parts. I don't understand the pat downs along with the X-Ray. I don't want to be crude, but where does it stop IUDs in women......Those can be seen on the X-Ray, are we going to have to remove those? I worry mostly about taking my 6 year old on a trip and having Chester Molester at the station patting her down. I think the scan is enough. Sorry you had to go through that, really is crazy stuff.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CaliforniaBC

    All those people who are complaining about this will be the first ones to scream and holler blaming Obama for not keeping us safe if a terrorist attack occurs that could have been prevent through these measures.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BeenThereDoneThat

    What in the world has come over us. That travel is available to those that aspire to utilize it is a privilege not a right. To protect our those things our country holds dear is an obligation to some and a duty to others.
    The mandate is as Americans, we protect each other. Our getting livid about another's job is absurd. If you don't want the hassle stay home. If you want to travel then shut up and abide by the rules.
    The less said, the better off we all are. Tell that to the Limbauchs and his hearers, too. If it is not helpful it becomes harmful. It instigates the weirdness in others to perform hateful tasks.
    In the mode we are in now as vile responders, we are aiding in our own self-destruction. America will self-destruct before the first nuke is fired.
    In the late 70's we dug a deep hole and put all our livestock in it. We refused to go to market for then $1.50 profit. Now we are inundated with hormone-raised meats, imported poisonous meats, agri-infused with bio-chemicals. What does the 21st century American family look like? It seems as though we are being systematically eradicated from the face of this earth.
    Don't blame the president. It is our greed that has pushed the death knell.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • RDU

      well said!

      November 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. trf101

    Give America back to the Americans – Stop the nonsense with the BS airport scanner/patdowns of innocent people and check those who really fit the profile of being a potential terrorist threat aboard a plane. I don't care if this is not politically correct.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • trf101

      They have to use some common sense and intuition here, but wait this is a government run operation, duh.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Amen...And this reply is coming from someone who flies 150K miles a year.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • e

      Because terrorists would never think to use someone who doesn't fit the profile? They couldn't find a woman, dye her hair and dress her up in American style clothing? Profiling only makes it EASIER for people to avoid being searched simply by not fitting into your racist idea of what muslims look like.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • chamby

      People seem to miss the point of profiling. It is not by race, it is by behavior. There are certain traits that are observed, male or female, any race or creed, that are telling to a professional of improper behavior. Those individuals that show those traits are questioned to see how they react and to look for other telltale signs. It has nothing to do with whether you are Muslim, in fact, last I knew, there was no way to tell one's faith from just looking at them.

      And don't forget, the cargo doesn't get screened as well as the people. That's why the printer bomb was such a big deal. The cargo hold of the plane is the part that isn't carefully screened.

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

    So, as the story implies; most people will submit to degrading unreasonable procedures for the "privilege" of being able to go visit their families. This is a tremendous victory for freedom and the American way!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Caryn

    I fly twice a week and have no intention of going through one of the scanners, it's not an issue of what the TSA screener will see, but the potential health issues that will be discovered ten years from now. You can't get cancer from a pat down, can't say the same for the scanners, why do you think the pilots don't want to go through them?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rudolph

      Flying twice a week would make you a Poornstar by the TSA standards!

      November 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brennon Meadows

    I don't care how few people this is affecting, it's the principle of the matter. If the measures we are putting in place to stop terrorists from attacking America is destroying the freedoms that make America great, then there is nothing worth defending, is there? I would even go as far as to say that these security measures and others like it -cough, patriot act, cough – are WORSE than the terrorists themselves. Because they not only destroy freedoms from the inside, they instill a sense of terror (as shown in the very beginning of the clip) in our own people. At this point I would say it is safe to say that our own government is doing more "terrorizing" than the so-called "terrorists".

    November 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. shinea

    If this whole thing is so innocuous how come certain politicians are not required to have the pat downs like the rest of us! Are they supposed to be more patriotic then we are? Are they supposed to be immune from being traitors? It's already been proven that politicians are LESS trustworthy then the general population. That is the OUTRAGE. If anything THEY should be subjected to full cavity searches! This is a total bunch of BS! THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING FOR US!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Audrey

    I will be opting out tomorrow...not to join some "rebellion", but because I don't feel safe going through the scanner. They keep saying they are safe, even though they are X-rays! Would any of you pregnant ladies take a chance going into one of these things? Asbestos was considered safe too...but would you go into a building with asbestos in it now?
    I feel sorry for the TSA people. They are getting abuse for doing the job their superior is mandating. Remember the soldiers in Vietnam got abuse for just doing their job too???
    I will be opting out tomorrow for my own safety, but I will be very nice to the poor woman who has to give me a pat down. Surely this is not the job these people signed up for! Ugh...

    November 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Carl

    It starts with airport security and before you know it we will be living in a police state. The government has figured out that all they have to do is claim what they are doing is protecting us from terrorists and Muslim extremists and people will give up their rights without a moment's hesitation. Amazingly Tea Partiers and other right wingers that otherwise want government out of our lives seem to be the biggest proponents of this.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jeff

    Here's another thing to think about when you allow yourself to be patted down.... Those gloves that TSA uses to touch you aren't changed with every passenger. Who knows, the gloves could have come in contact with someone who has a venerial disease or something else and now those same gloves are going up and down your chest, touching your legs...opps, the TSA employee felt a bulge and needs to check that out too. Who knows if you're safe from disease after this, but hey, at least you're safe on your flight, right?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tim

    annd this is why everyone else hates americans....cause were nothing but a bunch of big whinny babies, complaining about this and that..ive done alot of traveling and this is just gonna add onto the american jokes! Thank you america for being full of a bunch of conspiracy, redneck, big brothers gonna get me, conservatives! Grow up please! If you dont want to be scanned or patted take the freakin bus or heres an idea drive! Stop being so paranoid that the gov is out to get you! And stop making the Nazi germany jokes, none of you obviously read history if this was nazi german all you idiots wouldnt be complaining, youd prob be out helping find the local jew or round up the gypsies cause youd be sooo brainwashed by propaganda! which you already pretty much are cause you all spend the day sitting in front of your tv watching Fox News and trusting in everything the media tells you!

    November 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. hideaki

    I rather want to know whether this body scanner is safe enough for pregnant lady or not. I can't find any detail information about the scanner, amount of exposure, and long term effect. Any comprehensive study?

    November 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Prego

      This is my concern. I am pregnant and going to fly in January. I will not get scanned because of the radiation involved.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rick

    TSA is the biggest waste of federal spending there is. I work at an airports and I see these fools everyday I wouldn't trust them to guard a pile of dog s**t in my backyard. TSA is an illusion set up by the government to give the American public a false sense of security. Does anyone actually think if a terrorist wanted to blow up an aircraft that TSA would actually be able to stop them? Come on TSA is a joke and should be disbanded so all the employees can go back to work at McDonald's.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • bogus

      So because YOU think they are useless we should just stop protecting ourselves?.... We should cease all protective measures because YOU thinkits a waste of money? Clearly, you are the one with the cognitive issues and should be t5arget #1 for Osama Garbage Bin Laden

      November 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • e

      so what is your solution? No security? You have better ideas I am sure TSA would love to hear them.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Alice

    When terrorists blow up planes and buildings we question the strength of national security. When national security implements safety procedures, we scream about our rights. SHUT UP. No one is being killed by a pat down, but you could be killed by a terrorist on a plane...the threat is REAL. Stop crying about it.

    November 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • bogus

      Now thats what i am sayin sister! Better yet, put all these spineless whiners into one single NO SECURITY airport and let Al Quadea know when and where.

      November 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
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