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. fmjk

    The majority of travellers absolutely do not mind. This is just one more issue being exploited by the very vocal right wing that doesn't represent the people. If a Democrat was opposed to security measures, they'd turn right around and call him a terrorist! No one cares what you look like naked - just go through the scanner and get on with it. If it bothers you - walk! Other airlines have been frisking passengers since the 70's - as usual, we are behind the entire civilized world.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • LEB

      This Democrat is VERY MUCH opposed to the naked scanners and the TSA feel-ups. It's not a conservative vs liberal issue. People on ALL sides of the political spectrum from liberal to libertarian are opposing these new measures, because we all have the exact same 4th amendment right protecting us against unwarranted and unreasonable searches and seizures. If we let this pass, and let the government treat us all like criminals simply because we bought an airline ticket and have "nothing to hide," then what's next? The line has to be drawn somewhere.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • troll

      The right wing doesn't do anything right and the left wing always has to step in a come up with intelligent and correct solutions. That's why the left is in control of everythi... nvm. Leave your RvL arguments out of this one.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Annoyed

    This whole thing is annoying, either comply with the safety regulations or don't fly, that's why we have cars/trains/buses/boats. Everyone just needs something to complain about and this week it happens to be this... if it wasn't this issue it would be something else!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Brianne

    Well since there really isn't better technology just deal with it.

    If everyone is so concerned about people seeing their bits and touching them over their clothes (which is not picnic for the TSA agents) then the only other option is to just scrap everything. And when your plane gets taken over by some nut who may have a grudge against someone for something and your plane is driven straight into a high rise then you, your family, your friends can't say boo about it. It was your right to get on that plane with little to no security and stuff happens. When you take the Fed Gov out of trying to secure your plane then you should not have a leg to stand on when life happens to you.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • LEB

      I'd gladly take my chances if I had the option for "at your own risk" flying, if it meant I could keep my shoes on and my private parts private. Millions of other travelers would, too.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      And what guarantee do you have that the scanners and the groping will prevent anyone from getting on to your plane with something dangerous?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |

    I know I'd personally prefer it if terrorists hid their explosive devices on their person, rather than in their luggage. We all know that the TSA is terrible out screening luggage. At least if it's on their person, chances are that the passengers will jump their *sses before they can trigger it. The TSA and government are abusing their authority, IMHO.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. bill

    where are all of these polls coming from?
    oh i know, polls are made to make people think what the media wants you to think

    November 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fmjk

    By the way .... not one of the 9-11 attackers was wearing a turban. So good luck with that profiling. And they are definitely smart enough to dye their hair blonde next time.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      None of the terrorists were white, none of them were born in AMerica to American parents. If a passenger was born in a muslim country and/or his parents were born in one and/or they have visited a muslim country in the past 10 years than they should be profiled and asked some extra questions. The rest of us should fly with only the regular security checks.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • DB

      Profiling goes way beyond what people are wearing. Just because that's how you pick out who might be a terrorist doesn't mean that's how profiling works. How about checking out the guy who is flying from Yemen with no passport? Or how about the guy who has made numerous trips to Pakistan recently? There are plenty of red flags out there. Nobody's dumb enough to think all you have to do is look for the guy name Ahmed who's wearing a turban.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John

    They should only be doing pat downs on people who were born in muslim countries, have parents born in muslim countries and/or have visited a muslim country in the past 10 years. They can be very respectful about it. The government seems to think that these pat downs are acceptable but in reality all terrorists seeking to destroy US aircraft are muslim. If they focused on muslims only both muslims and non muslims would be safer.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. RogerB

    This scanning and touching just violates our rights and make nothing safer. If the terrosist wanted to explode the "bomb" then they just do it at the terminal and probably do more damage than in the plane.... You still die and all this security does nothing. Wake up people. It's a goverment scam than solves nothing and just violates you! Can you reallky prove that images are not being saved and big data base collected by the goverment? Think for yourself and you'll see the truth!!!

    November 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael

    Oh and buy the way...Michael Chertoff makes tons of money off of these backscatter x-ray machines.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. INIsurvive

    I recently flew to DC from Providence RI. Before entering the new body scanner I took off all metal (belt, watch, coins, etc.). After they scanned me I was repeatedly asked what I had in my front pocket. I repeated answered "nothing". So the gave me the crotch pat down and found out that other than mr. happy I wasn't packing anything. I said to the TSA agent, "These machines don't seem to work very well if you think my pockets were full of something." He said, "No, they don't". This is another scam foisted by our government outsourcing to a worthless contractor that tax payers end up owning. Remember the last machines that puffed air at you to see if you had explosive materials and cost a bundle?? Why are they all gone now?? The perception of security and inside deals is what it's all about...

    November 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bubba(Nevada)

      Mr. Chertoff is laughing all the way to the bank. After all, the manufacturer of these scanners is a client of the Chertoff Group.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eldon

      if you get patted down b/c they sa yu have toothpaste and you dont are they allowed to detain you until your flight leaves?then say oh you didnt hav toothpaste?so you missed 1 flight so you wait 4.5 hours to board plane again but this time the see a expensive bottle of shampoo in your luggage right next to your cheap conditionaire so they open up your shampoo smell it an take it but lave the conditionaire and reserch you again?you never left airport,you were pointed out as having been patted down 1ce before but they grope yopu again,this happend to my wife i wish the news would get ahold of thisstory the security guy loved the shampoo you could tell how he lookked at you he wasd going to keep it when the law breaks the law you have no law

      November 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • buccakenji

      Each of you seems surprised that these kind of things happen in our government. Ever heard of the corporate and political elite also referred to as the 'good ole' boy' fraternity?

      I believe that you will also find that all of the suspects in the 'bombing' scares boarded planes OUTSIDE the U.S. So why is it so important to subject American citizens to any kind of intrusive body searches when the perpetrators didn't originate here? Anyone care to explain???????????

      November 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charles

      Couldn't agree more. We are not even allowed to pat down people like this in Iraq and Afghanistan while at war. If I did this on my next deployment at a security check point I would probably lose rank at the very least to be made an example out of. Why is this ok to do to civilians who have committed no crime. I get that safety is important, but we have to be realistic here. whats next cavity searches? Where do we draw the line?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Noelle

      Check out the link & 'follow the money':!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • buccakenji

      In case you want to challange this rediculous procedure, THERE IS NO LAW REQUIRING ANYONE TO SUBJECT THEMSELVES TO A FULL-BODY SCAN OR INTRUSIVE SEARCH. These are RULES that have been established by bureaucrats that DO NOT HAVE THE FORCE OF LAW. Feel like challenging, though, and you will probably spend a lot of money and get to the Supreme Court. And we know that if you start in the obscene, perverted 9th Circuit Federal court, every decision will go against you until you get to the Supreme Court. Given the resources, I WOULD CHALLENGE THIS UNTIL THE DAY I DIE...................................

      Also in case you didn't hear, John Boehner, the expected majority leader ot the new Congress, was NOT SUBJECTED TO ANY SCAN OR PAT DOWN. These procedures don't apply to everyone selectively.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      I wonder what happens when "Mr. Happy" is sporting a Prince Albert?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • mik

      maybe who ever wrote this column should go to the airport and ask to be patted down. Maybe after they get patted down they can write about how intrusive pat downs are/arent.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • girlking

      buccakenji you couldn't be more correct and that is the subject no one has asked the head of the TSA. And we all know that some one born in the 30s, 40s and 50s, Caucasian, African-American, Asian, etc wouldn't even think of harming anyone in this country so some one please tell me why my mother of 68 would be patted down or taken throw a scanner that would reveal her private parts. That generation is too modest to want to have anyone besides their spouse or doctor look at them. We have to come up with something better for that generation.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      All the outrage over such a small thing in retrospect. All fostered by lack of balanced media (CNN) reporting. It turns out that only 1% – 3% of all passengers who fly are subjected to pat-downs. CNN likes the fuss. They think they're right on the story. How pathetic! I'll bet the people writing these "reports" have little experience. "Research" for them is "let's get something out". Give me the freaking truth and nothing but the truth. Give me the facts.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Yes, Charles. Body cavity searches are next. But they are not only going to give you the option of the witness of your choice but also the option of lube for an extra fee.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunny

      The risk of harmful radiation exposure from backscatter scans is very small, according to David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University and a professor of radiation biophysics.
      But he said he is concerned about how widely the scanners will be used.

      "If you think of the entire population of, shall we say a billion people per year going through these scanners, it's very likely that some number of those will develop cancer from the radiation from these scanners," Brenner said.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • toxictown

      INIsurvive is correct.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • a happy jew

      the new airport scanners will help airport officals identify wich passengers require a kosher meal

      November 23, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • JenniferBT

      Boy oh boy is CNN using incorrect stats. TSA must have asked them to write an article swaying the people NOT to participate in the anti-TSA Thanksgiving weekend protest?

      These security measures are overkill and NOT RIGHT. We should be more concerned about being killed by a DRUNK DRIVER than dying in a TERRORIST ATTACK. THOUSANDS OF DRUNK DRIVERS KILL PEOPLE EVERY YEAR. But only 90 people die every few years - and we react like this?!?!?!

      To those of you who are for these "safety" measures, how do you even sit behind the wheel every day??? Cars are much more RISKY than these airplane flights!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ff1

    Let the market decide – offer no security flights at a discount.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      I know that these ideas are thrown out tongue in cheek, but I think that it's a wonderful idea. But I would make it realistic. No one is arguing for NO SECURITY. The argument is between intelligent profiling, which I and millions of others are willing to invest in, vs. the "treat everyone the same (as a suspect)" approach. We believe that the latter is hugely expensive, results in grandma getting felt up and, most importantly of all, is aimed at the last attack and not the next attack. I think that if you set up one airport with one type and the other airport run by the Israeli trained group, the results would be instructive. Maybe FLL vs. MIA or LGA vs. JFK where it's all in the same market.

      And INsurvive raises an interesting question. Remember all of those air puffer machines??? Where did they all go??? How many terrorists did we catch with them?

      November 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cleo

      I like this idea! I would actually pick this flight.

      And for those who want very safe flights, I'd say they should follow the examples set in other parts of the world where body cavity searches are randomly done at the airport. Body cavity searches are a quick and effective means to ensuring much more safety on flights. All you have to do is drop your pants and spread your legs. A trained TSA agent would quickly probe you and you'd be set to fly. It is done in other parts of the world. Why not here if we're having so much trouble??? Actually, the way things are going, I'm sure this will come to America in the next few years. We've come so far already...

      November 23, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • mshrmit

      I agree with Kevin. Some security this day and age is okay. For instance, I don't mind having my luggage x-rayed. However, when I traveled with my 8-week-old daughter, they tore open the never-been-opened diaper packages and scattered them throughout my luggage. Was that really necessary? Unless they set off the metal detector, is it really necessary to take off shoes and belts? Flights no longer provide food, but you aren't allowed to bring real food with you, just the crap that they past the security checkpoints (far past the real restaurants)? Why should we have to go through a full-body scanner?

      To me, what we are doing now is a result of hysteria, not serious safety concerns. Give us our basic liberties back. And, yes, it is a right to be able to travel unmolested. You have less security checks going into another country than you do boarding a plane between two cities in the same country.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmericanCabbie

      There already is a no security "flight" available – The Boston – New York – Washington route on Amtrak. This is Amtrak's only profitable line – they have put the shuttles out of business. Ther is NO security to get on the Metroliner or Acela and you get to your destination faster than if you drove to the airport, went through security and then drove from the landing airport to downtown.

      For this route the train is a viable option and people use it. No security, no metal detectors, no nothing – and New York, Washington and Boston are high profile targets.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John Doe

    I'm still waiting for them to address the NEED for this security! PLEASE SOMEONE REALLY LOOK INTO THIS AND ADDRESS THIS!

    -Since 9/11, a majority, if not all, of the attacks have come from OUTSIDE the US.
    -If these procedures are only implemented domestically and only protect against people in the US ALREADY, then our "security" is false and they should take all this extra effort and use it to actually protect our borders.

    The underwear bomber came from Amsterdam headed to Detroit. So even with this new security in the US this guy could have easily boarded a flight to NY instead and started this 9/11 thing all over again.

    Bad news for those that say "I'd rather be pat down then blown up"– flights can still be taken out, and this only gives you "security" from those crazies that are already within your borders.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • dhb

      Why do you think people are coming from outside the US now? Maybe, just maybe because all these security measures we have mean that you can't get things through in the US now? Has anyone ever thought of that? Evidently not since everyone says that nothing has happened within the US since 9/11 – which is when all this extra security STARTED! Seems to me that the extra security is doing what it was meant to do.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      I fly internationally and US Govt (I think TSA itself) drives the security processes, even in foreign countries, for US bound flights. These scanners are being installed in Montreal and Toronto as we speak. They don't exist in Costa Rica (where I also recently returned from). I think that approach in and out of US is very similar. If there's heavy traffic in an airport, they have the new tech. Small airports rely on old approaches. Same outside US.

      What this means is that the underwear bomber getting on a plane was the fault of the people and processes in place today and in whom so many here continue to place unquestioning trust.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jane Dough

      You're trying to apply thoughtful logic to an emotional issue. Well said, but probably falling on fear-deafened ears.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • chupacabra

      I agree. I'm sick of the "Do you want to get blown up or do you want the xray?" Neither, because *I* am not carrying anything to blow us up, so to ME, as a non-suspect, innocent traveler, I don't NEED to be put through the ringer in security. You know who does? People flying from countries harboring terrorists, people with one-way tickets with no luggage. You know, how about profiling? So the rest of us can get on with our lives? I'm so sick of seeing them pull a granny out of line for the wand, and you know, she's just a damn granny. She's not a terrorist. Good grief.

      November 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tankrothchild

    First, they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, then you win. We are somewhere in between ridicule and attacking right now. Congrats CNN for showing who's side you're really on and it's not the American people's. CNN talks about bias news reporting but fails to look into the mirror.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • kat40915

      Yeah, thats about where we are. Looking forward to the "win" part

      November 23, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. martin

    The survey is a bit misleading since it was more of a push poll covering a random sample of people, giving them questions like "Would you rather be patted down or blown to pieces". In reality this is a ridiculous reaction to a potential threat that happened a year ago, a bomb that didn't work, wouldn't have worked, and came from outside the US (so outside the scope of these scanners). This is just a boondoggle for the security industry, an out of control monster that we unleashed that can't have enough resources, can't exercise control - they're the enemy, not some lunatic fringe of wannabe terrorists.

    November 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob in NM

      Right on!!!

      November 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kevin

    I'm glad to see the outrage. It's about time. We need to have an intelligent discussion. And not because this is intrusive, which it is, but because it's a massive boon doggle that is INEFFECTIVE. TSA has spent $50B in last 9 years looking for "things", which move (shoes, to underwear to body cavities w instead of people. So we simply search EVERY PERSON in a shell game looking for the THING.

    Intelligent, multi-variable screening would be much more effective, more flexible (because I don't have to change equipment just because the bombs move inside the body) and damage our economy less. And, afterall, the foundation of our power is our economy.

    Opt out day will fizzle because of 2 things. One is that most Americans won't sacrifice for their principles (and if you opt out, you'll likely not make it home until Thursday) and Two, the TSA will just let you stand there waiting. They aren't flexible in deploying people to shorten lines in the best of times. Don't think that they're smart and efficient enough to find a way to get you through.

    A better approach is to, within the boundaries of the law, express your opinions to TSA people, ask lots of questions, agitate and slow down the process as much as possible. Peaceful resistance can be practiced everyday (for those of us who fly 3 or 4 times a week) – not just on one day. Fly safe....... in spite of the TSA (and watch your junk).

    November 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tuffy

      There is a video on of John Pistole telling everyone that they have the right to opt-out. So if a TSO corrals you and ignores you, demand to see a supervisor. Also, call your airline. They have a vested interest in your travel experience.

      November 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • KWSFL

      Have to say...I like the idea of agitate and slow the process. Although, I plan to stand my ground and get groped as long as I get to the airport with sufficient time to waste. Either way they will know my opinion when I make it through security with all due respect of course 😉

      November 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
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