Have any of you flown since TSA (Transportation Security Administration) installed Advancing Imaging Technology (AIT) body scanners at Philadelphia International Airport? I had not really paid much attention to the body scanner news until I started to think about my own upcoming travel plans. In a few days, my husband and I will be heading off to Budapest, and in the midst of locating our passports and checking weather forecasts, the news of a ‘National Opt Out Day’ hit the headlines.
A grassroots organization, We Won’t Fly has big plans for November 24, the day before Thanksgiving — and the most-travelled day on the calendar. The airline boycott effort by the organization is organizing the National Opt Out Day; a mass x-ray scanner opt outs at airports around the nation.
We Won’t Fly wants to highlight the health and privacy dangers of TSA’s x-ray airport scanners. The protests to x-ray scanners range from privacy issues to concerns over increased radiation risks. Part of the privacy issue stems from what amounts to a nude picture of each traveler. For the record, the AIT scanner cannot store, transmit or print the body images; and they are deleted immediately once viewed and they have zero storage capacity.
Another variable for passengers is not knowing ahead of time if they will be required to pass through the AIT machines. Some airports require all passengers to pass through, others choose randomly, and still other airports (for example, Harrisburg International Airport) say the AIT machine is “optional”. Officials at Harrisburg International Airports rationalize that if passenger follows procedure and clears through the normal metal detector, the full body scanner is optional. If a passenger sets off the traditional metal detector, they have a chance to check their pockets and go through the metal detector once more before they are required to go through a held-held metal scanner.
I did a bit of checking and the AIT scanners have been at the Philadelphia International Airport for about 3 weeks, and by all reports Philadelphia has opted for a stricter process than some of the other airports. If the AIT is offered at the checkpoint lane that you are in, passengers will be asked to go through the AIT. At the Philadelphia Airport, if you opt out of the AIT scanner process, the passenger is required instead to go through an intimate pat down by a TSA officer, beyond the more traditional hand-held metal detector. I will not discuss the specific pat down details, except to say that for most this personal body touching is probably not a viable option. Here is the choices as I see it for travelers at Philadelphia Airport – (1) the full-body AIT scan; (2) the intimate pat down or (3) you do not fly.
Unite PA, a Lancaster-based Tea Party group is taking an extreme stand, claiming that the pat down and AIT machines are ‘sexual assault’, even if TSA is a government agency. Unite PA is promoting Opt Out Day on November 24, even if it means the traveler forfeiting their Thanksgiving by not traveling. As a heads-up, the Opt Out Day organization is planning a demonstration at Philadelphia airport for Nov. 24. Travel is going to be a nightmare during the upcoming holiday travel season and I think we can anticipate additional delay.
What I don’t understand is why do the airports vary on the AIT requirement . . . ? Where is the Federal regulation, why should some airports (Harrisburg) that have AIT scanners, be permitted to continue to use the traditional hand-held metal detector. The question I need to ask myself is why we are flying to Hungary from Philadelphia instead of Harrisburg! I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has traveled from Philadelphia International Airport in the last 3 weeks.