Holiday Travel? Tips on New TSA Screenings


Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: It's not enough this year to stress out about how many diapers to pack, or what snacks the little ones will reliably eat, or whether or not to download multiple episodes of "Yo Gabba Gabba." For those of us flying for the holidays this year, the new TSA security screenings -- and the high level of attention they're getting in the media and online -- have added a new thing to worry about. Here's what you need to know.

What's "Advanced Imaging Technology"? 

Hundreds of airports this year have added what they call "advanced imaging technology," which includes two new types of screening machines, known as millimeter wave (which operates on microwave technology) and backscatter (which uses radiation, such as in an X-ray). If you scroll down a bit on this page from the TSA, you can see what each of these machines looks like. That's important, because while some travelers are expressing concern over either machine's use due to the fact that body parts can be seen while travelers pass through them (though these images are viewed by a TSA employee in another room), others are more worried about the potential health effects of the backscatter machine only. (The TSA claims that both machines are safe; so far, nobody has challenged that claim regarding the millimeter wave.) 

Do I Have an Alternative? 

Yes, but it's one that many travelers find equally upsetting, if not more so. As detailed by a recent "gotcha" video and a post by a mommy blogger, what the TSA calls its "enhanced pat-down" is, in many minds, akin to sexual assault. The new screening guidelines call for TSA agents to touch travelers in many very personal body parts. Many parents especially worry about subjecting their children to such an invasive, frightening procedure. (Videos popped up all over YouTube purporting to show just that, though at least one has been acknowledged to have nothing to do with the new rules.) Many parents were relieved when the TSA issued a new statement on Tuesday, November 16, to say that they would perform a modified, toned-down pat-down for kids under 12. So, either you get scanned by a full-body scanner, which may violate your privacy and have health implications, or you get patted down in a manner that you may find upsetting? Yes, that's pretty much your choice if you want to fly these days. 

Am I Alone in Finding This Upsetting? 

Not at all. It's been the biggest story all over the Internet in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, generating a growing grassroots resistance movement. Hating the TSA has long been a nonpartisan issue, and the reaction to the new TSA rules has brought together hardcore Libertarians and left-leaning privacy advocates. It's the rare topic on which the ACLU and some of the more vociferous right-wing bloggers agree. Some have called for a National Opt-Out Day on Wednesday, November 24. If you're flying that day (and it seems half the country will be), you should get to the airport as early as humanly possible, because the security lines will be brutal.


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