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. Mark

    I have an idea. I'll fly on the plane with all of the folks whoare willing to go through the screening and all of the folks who don't want to be screened can fly on a plane together.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Eric Pieters

    Bringing the TSA new requirements out just after the "shellacking' received by the party in power, certainly has taken the a lot of air time out of the sting of the loss experience by the Democrats.

    Perfect political ploy as what we have come to expect from this administration to divert the plublics attention off what is really important around the economy and lack of progress toward jobs.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Separate Line for OPT OUTS!

    Anyone that opts out tomorrow should be placed in the pat down line right after the ID check – that way the majority of us going to Grandma's will get there on time. If they choose to Opt Out at the last minute (cheating) then they go to the end of the opt out line! TSA CREATE A SEPARATE LINE RIGHT AFTER THE ID CHECK! Keep the lines moving tomorrow!

    November 23, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Deborah

    Most pediatricians want to avoid putting your young child through any type of X-ray, because they have admitted to me X-rays can cause damage to their DNA and affect their development. Now, the other option for patting down young children instead of the radiation is even more troubling, because, it rides a close line to dramatizing a child so young. Bottom line, is the scanners don't detect everything that could be shoved up a rectum or even implanted inside the body. I use to fly occasionally and loved it then, but now, I hate it. I would prefer to drive now, but to all that would say to me Don't fly, spare us your protest, I say to them, whats next after this: Body Cavity Searches, Stronger Body X-rays, Bracelets that Zap and knock you out if you get out of line. Everyone has lost their minds, there are better ways, and we need to go back to profiling people and background checks when flying. Simply put, we are loosing are freedoms, and back then flying on Airlines use to be fun, not anymore. Spare our children this disaster created by the TSA.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. misty

    The solution is simple why not use dogs to detect explosive chemicals? A dog's nose can detect an explosive chemical the size of a grain of sand. It's more cost effective and also more reliable than a full body scanner and a pat down and not as invasive.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. maggie

    Lots of bravado from "The Wall." My guess is that if he/she was on one of those airplanes that went down in 9/11 that there'd be some praying going on. Please.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rachael

    I don't mind the extra security as long as it is being done by competent professionals and in an intelligent, efficient and effective manner. I definitely prefer strict security to a plane being blown up (with or without me on it), however I wonder how effective the TSA and these extreme measure really are. Simply making security more intrusive does not make it better. I have heard that the TSA staff is barely paid minimum wage and is poorly trained. I know my parents had a bad experience with TSA when my disabled mother's California ID has expired and they refused to allow my father to be present when they talk to her. My uncle's family was also harrassed for 4 hours because their adopted child's paperwork was different than the TSA staff thought it should be – but exactly as they were told to present on an earlier trip and in the end it was determined to be correct and the TSA staff wrong. I think the public's real objection is to the poor handling of security by the TSA and the confusion and stress of their screening process. Certainly profiling is wrong, but is it neccesary to harrass the disabled, elderly and children in the name of security? Making a disabled woman talk to the TSA without her husband or x-ray scanning a 6 year old does nothing to improve security if they are not terrorist. Meanwhile the real terrorist are pretty clever and will figure out how to get around these new procedures. Actually, I think it is vital to the security to our entire nation that the Federal government insist that the TSA staff is well trained and conducts security intelligently, efficiently and effectively and if that means more intrusive security, fine as long as it is effective.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jean

    IF this is so critical to keep the flying public safe, why are senators, congressman, congressional aides, etc all exempt from having to go through the screening process? Today, John Boehner was seen and videotaped bypassing security to get on a flight.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. kathy

    What a bunch of whiners. I feel sorry for the TSA employees that have to touch all those nasty people! Blame crazy Muslim extremists who put explosives now in dogs , in their shoes, their underwear, ink cartridges, baby milk......

    November 23, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Susan

    Ok, I believe that a robotic device can be developed that can view the x ray images and allow most of us to pass security without having our private parts exposed to strangers (TSA agents). If we have the sofistication to create a see through clothes machine, then we also have the ability to create a robot that can observe the images and clear most of the public to board a plane, its that simple. I think that most people would gladly comply in that case.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angela

      The automation idea is an interesting one I had not heard. Unfortunately, it would not make me feel ok about sending my children through the machine for radiation exposure and nude photography. Neither security option is appropriate for young teens to experience just to visit their grandparents. (Everyone over the age of 12 is required to have the full groping pat down if they or their parents refuse the radiation scanner.)

      Now a combo of the ultrasound (NOT Xray) machines they use in the Netherlands plus robotic inspection–I think I'd be ok with that!

      Thanks for you comment–I really think that some good old American ingenuity could solve the problem in a much better way.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mary

    It's about time that there is some media coverage of people objecting to this issue. There has been huge coverage of celebrities getting engaged or getting divorced or "accidentally" killing themselves, etc. etc. This concerns our basic rights as United States citizens, and it's incomprehensible that so many people go along like sheep with these edicts from the Department of Homeland Security. Why, if they had been investigating liquid bombs for months, did they have to all of a sudden, in one day, inconvenience millions of travelers and confiscate their personal property?

    November 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Skeptic

    Thanks to the airport scanner, my doctor finally knew where his scalpel is. It's in my stomach.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. burrito

    We will need two kinds of security policy,one for peoples who don't care about be screening by xray machines and another for kind people who wanna fly in risk,like stupid,the problem gonna be.Who will be the stupid pilot to fly the airplanes full of stupid.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Amused

    In the 9 years the TSA has been doing its checks have they ever intercepted a bomb? Once even? I don't think so. The US should get some training from Israel. Their security staff are highly paid professionals and they detect potential threats by talking to you. Period. And it works 100%. The US is not taking security seriously if it takes entry level workers and pays them a lousy salary (and part time for 3 years before you can go fulltime???) and poor benefits. This isn't a security system. This just doing the least possible so that the government can say it is doing something. All it is doing is frustrating and scaring a lot of people for nothing.
    http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-11/opinion/yeffet.air.security.israel_1_airport-security-isaac-yeffet-el-al?_s=PM:OPINION

    November 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ryan

    The pat downs are outrageous only because the TSA has trained their people to use the pat downs not as a way to keep the flying public safe, but as a means to punish people who opt not to use the full body scanners. They are paying millions and millions of dollars for those scanners and do not want the majority of people to opt out of using them, making them look like they wasted all that money. Which they did. Look at Israeli airlines and airports, they haven't had an issue with bombs on planes and they don't do this, they just have very well trained screeners. Something the TSA doesn't have, since they hire from the bottom of the barrel, and pay very poorly. Detecting bombers, rather than bombs is the safer, less personally invasive, and less costly route.

    November 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
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