Those who decline full-body scans, as seen above, must submit to pat-downs.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

The introduction of full-body image detectors and the use of more intrusive pat-downs has some passengers fuming.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Airport travelers decrying pat-downs

  • Article by: RANDY FURST
  • Star Tribune
  • November 16, 2010 - 9:54 PM

With controversy swirling nationally around airport body scanners, some female passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport expressed outrage on Tuesday at the pat-downs that are also part of the new security measures.

"I felt like I was molested," said Heather Kelley, 40, of Minneapolis, who was on a business trip.

Frustration over airport security procedures has been on the rise, but the introduction of full-body image detectors and the use of more intrusive pat-downs have more passengers fuming and calling for protests.

Yet in random interviews on Tuesday at the Twin Cities airport, 22 of 30 passengers who had full-body scans voiced few or no complaints other than at the inconvenience of having to remove everything from their pockets, even tissue paper. Alycia Isabelle, 33, of Hartford, Conn., offered a typical comment about the screening. "If it is going to keep me safe, it's fine with me," she said.

But Kelley said she felt violated by the pat-down conducted in lieu of a body scan. It was conducted by a female agent with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). "They felt all my female parts," she said.

Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said his agency has been receiving a growing number of complaints in recent days about full-body screening and pat-downs.

"It isn't a large amount, but we are starting to see more," he said. Callers were given a phone number for the TSA in Washington, D.C.

Hogan said that three weeks ago the TSA changed its pat-down procedure nationally. "They don't have to use the back of their hands now, they can use the front of their hands and feel all the way up to the crotch."

Asked what he thought of the policy, Hogan said, "We want aviation to be safe, but also to minimize discomfort. The threats are real and they are doing the best they can."

On its website, the TSA states: "Pat-downs are one important tool to help TSA detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives. Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, among others."

In the body scan, a TSA screener is in a room nearby and reviews a full-body image, although the passenger's face is blurred. Under TSA rules, those who decline the scans must submit to pat-downs that include checks of the inside of the thighs and buttocks, the Associated Press said.

At the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Michal Kisilevitz, 43, of Washington, D.C., said she got a "really unpleasant" pat-down on Tuesday after going through the full-body scan and doesn't know why she was patted down as well as scanned.

"You feel like they are feeling up your crotch," she said. "I read about this in the newspaper and thought, 'What's the big deal?' Now I get it."

A business associate, Greg Su, also of Washington, said he saw the pat-down. "It was invasive," he said.

Others, like Maye Johnson, 61, of Eagle River, Alaska, complained that the body scan alone was objectionable. "I feel horrible," she said. "The idea that someone is looking at my full body is extremely humiliating."

Travel experts are warning that a "National Opt-Out Day" protest set for next Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, one of the busiest travel days of the year, could lead to checkpoint delays at airports.

The Associated Press on Tuesday quoted pilots complaining about unnecessary searches of flight crews.

Tom Walsh, a pilot and sometimes aviation consultant, said that "pilots are beyond fed up" with the searches of flight crews. "The TSA is wasting valuable time and money searching the crew -- who are not a threat."

Top federal officials said on Monday that the procedures are safe and necessary to ward off terrorist attacks.

"It's all about security," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "It's all about everybody recognizing their role."

John Tyner, 31, a software engineer, posted an Internet blog item last weekend saying that he was ejected from the San Diego airport after being threatened with a fine and lawsuit for refusing a groin check after turning down a full-body scan. He said he told one TSA worker, "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."

"I told the person that being molested should not be a condition of getting on a flight," he said. He captured the incident on his cell phone.

"This is not considered a sexual assault," a supervisor can be heard telling him.

"It would be if you were not the government," replies Tyner.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

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