Fayette County

Some local airline passengers uncomfortable with procedures

Pat-downs for passengers who refuse full-body scans are performed by Transportation  Security Administration agents of the same gender and include touching the chest and crotch.
Pat-downs for passengers who refuse full-body scans are performed by Transportation Security Administration agents of the same gender and include touching the chest and crotch. Pablo Alcala | Staff

Zach McCreary said he had a full body scan Monday in Orlando, Fla., before boarding a plane for Lexington. But it didn't work, and he had to do it over, he said.

"It was an aggravating process," said McCreary, 33, of London, Ky., who had just returned from Walt Disney World.

McCreary wasn't the only traveler at Blue Grass Airport who wasn't happy about the new Transportation Security Administration procedures that have spurred criticism across the nation.

D.J. McKenney, 58, of Perry County, who landed in Lexington after a trip to Albany, N.Y., said he was patted down when his hip replacements made scanner alarms go off in both Lexington and Albany.

Both men said they understood the need for intensified security, but they are among travelers nationwide during this busy Thanksgiving travel week who say they are uncomfortable with how new security measures are being implemented.

At some U.S. airports, such as in Orlando, some air travelers must pass through new full-body machines that scan and show an individual's physical contours.

Those who refuse to use the scanners or who make scanner alarms go off are subject to thorough pat-downs that include officials touching the outside of their clothing in the genital area.

"I appreciate the security they were trying to provide," said McKenney. But he said "a full pat-down from head to toe" made him uncomfortable.

"It was a little too personal. It might have been better if everyone wasn't watching," he said.

However, he said in both Lexington and Albany, officers were careful to explain the procedure and tell him in advance that, with the back of their hands, they were going to touch his backside and the "insides of his legs."

McKenney said he was offered a private screening, but he didn't want to take the extra time.

McCreary, meanwhile, said he was concerned about being exposed to radiation from the scans, but he didn't recall being given the option of a pat-down.

Few get pat-downs

All U.S. airports implemented an enhanced pat-down in late October, according to TSA spokesman Jim Fotenos. But he declined to provide specific details of the procedure, citing security.

The Lexington airport is not scheduled to get the advanced imaging technology any time soon, Fotenos said. In Kentucky, only the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has the new imaging technology.

The scanners are intended to improve security on airplanes by detecting metal and non-metal material under clothing.

Only a small number of passengers get a pat-down, Fotenos said. Pat-downs are initiated if alarms go off when passengers walk through a metal detector or have a body scan, or when someone opts out of the body scan.

Any pat-down is conducted by an officer of the same gender, Fotenos said. People may request private screenings and may have a travel companion present.

On Wednesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year, some are calling for a boycott of the scans, calling it National Opt-Out Day.

"On the eve of a major national holiday and less than one year after al-Qaida's failed attack last Christmas Day, it is irresponsible for a group to suggest travelers opt out of the very screening that may prevent an attack using non-metallic explosives," Jim Pistole, TSA's top administrator, said in a statement.

The technology is "vital to aviation security and a critical measure to thwart potential terrorist attacks," he said.

After hearing concerns from parents, TSA implemented a modified pat-down for children 12 and younger, Fotenos said.

"As we have said from the beginning, we are seeking to strike the right balance between privacy and security," Pistole said in a statement Monday.

Pre-registration?

Miami-based travel expert Bob Diener said most airline passengers are accepting the tough new security rules, though perhaps not gladly.

But he insists federal transportation officials could make things easier for everyone by pre-screening frequent travelers, as they already do for airline pilots.

Regular travelers could simply register well before a trip, complete a form, submit to a background check, and provide fingerprint or retinal scan identification information, he said.

Those passengers then could go through a separate security line, without the need for the extensive checks other travelers now face.

"People going through the airports every day could do this, and it would reduce lines and save time," he said.

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