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Travel

Airport lines move smoothly despite warnings

Posted November 24, 2010 3:01 a.m. EST
Updated November 24, 2010 6:37 p.m. EST

— The lines moved smoothly at airports around the country Wednesday despite an Internet campaign to get Thanksgiving travelers to gum up the works on one of the busiest days of the year by refusing full-body scans.

The Transportation Security Administration said very few passengers opted out. There were only scattered protesters across the nation — including, presumably, a man seen walking around the Salt Lake City airport in a skimpy, Speedo-style bathing suit and a woman wearing a bikini in Los Angeles.

"I expected people to actually be with posters and walking around and saying, 'It's not right,' because we saw it in the newspapers," said Amy Kirkland, who flew from Dallas to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

By Wednesday evening, though, there had been no disruptions at security checkpoints at RDU, where 32,000 travelers were expected to pass through, airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said. 

Duke University graduate student Daniel Raimi arrived two hours earlier, expecting to spend time in lines. Instead, he had time for an impromptu jam session with musicians playing at RDU.

"There obviously  has been a lot of huff and puff about the new TSA security measures, and I was worried that people would be doing the opt-out thing and make lines extra long," Raimi said.

"It was literally the easiest travel experience I've ever had, especially around the holiday season," said Ceri Roberts, a Northwestern University student who flew out of Chicago.

A loosely organized effort dubbed National Opt-Out Day planned to use fliers, T-shirts and, in one case, a Scottish kilt to protest what some call unnecessarily intrusive X-ray scans and pat-downs. The security screenings have been lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" and mocked on T-shirts, bumper stickers and underwear emblazoned "Don't Touch My Junk," from a line uttered by a defiant traveler in San Diego.

Travelers at RDU, though, said they saw no one protesting security and only a few pat-downs or full-body scans. RDU did not see an uptick in people declining the body scan, according to the TSA.

"A few people in front of us got patted down twice because they set the buzzer off twice, but it was nothing out of the ordinary," Kirkland said.

Two protesters at the Phoenix airport held signs decrying "porno-scans" and drew sidelong glances from some passengers but words of support from others, who told them, "Thank you for being here."

The protesters, husband and wife Patricia Stone and John Richards, of Chandler, Ariz., said the TSA has taken security too far.

"Just because you buy a plane ticket doesn't mean you have to subject yourself to awful security measures. It's not a waiver of your rights," said Stone, 44. "The TSA is security theater. They're not protecting us."

Security lines at the airport, one of the nation's 10 busiest, lines were moving quickly and steadily. Wait times for security checks at major U.S. airports from San Francisco to New York were 20 minutes or less Wednesday morning, according to the TSA, and no serious disruptions were reported.

At the Atlanta airport, Ashley Humphries, 22, was given a pat-down search of her chest and crotch by a female screener after bobby pins in her hair set off a metal detector.

"I can see how it would make someone uncomfortable, but I'm not easily offended, so it really didn't bother me as much," said Humphries, who was traveling with her fiance to spend Thanksgiving with family in Tennessee.

Another traveler, Robert Shofkom, 43, of Georgetown, Texas, wasn't too worried about delayed flights, maybe just strong breezes. Shofkom said he planned for weeks to wear a traditional kilt — sans skivvies — to display his outrage over body scanners and aggressive pat-downs while catching his Wednesday flight out of Austin.

"If you give them an inch, they won't just take in inch. Pretty soon, you're getting scanned to get into a football game," the information technology specialist said.

More than 1.6 million Americans are expected to fly during the Thanksgiving. If enough people opted for a pat-down rather than a body scan, security-line delays could quickly cascade. Full-body scans for passengers chosen at random take as little as 10 seconds. The new pat-downs, in which a security agent touches a traveler's crotch and chest, can take four minutes or longer.

The full-body scanners show a person's contours on a computer in a private room removed from security checkpoints. Critics say that they are virtual strip searches and that the new, enhanced pat-downs are humiliating and intrusive, too. TSA officials say the procedures are necessary to ward off terror attacks like the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound plane last Christmas, allegedly by a Nigerian man who stashed explosives in his underwear.

Robert Pena, who flew from Miami to RDU, said that he never worried that the protests would cause problems.

"I'm actually a corporate pilot, and most of the time in aviation, things are made to be bigger than what they really are," Pena said.