TSA Removes X-Ray Body Scanners From Major Airports, But Some Will Remain

tsa For all those who are against having to go through X-ray body scanners at airport security, you’ll be happy to know some are now being removed. During the past few weeks, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been quietly switching them out for safer radiation machines.

While the main goal of the change is to speed up the lines at security checkpoints in major airports, the transition will also lead to less passengers being exposed to radiation.

So far these X-ray machines, called backscatters, have been replaced at Boston Logan International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare, Orlando and John F. Kennedy in New York.

One concern people have with the backscatters is the fact that the radiation has been linked to cancer at higher levels. Moreover, the machines produce images of passengers’ naked bodies. The new millimeter-wave scanners help these problems by instead emitting low-energy radio waves similar to those in cellphones, as well as producing generic cartoon images instead of the person’s actual body.Before you get too excited, know the backscatters are not being phased out altogether. They are still being used at certain airports, including some major ones. Additionally, in late September the TSA awarded three companies potential contracts for the next generation of body scanners. One of the systems, made by American Science & Engineering, uses backscatter X-ray technology.

“They’re not all being replaced,” TSA spokesman David Castelveter told ProPublica. “It’s being done strategically. We are replacing some of the older equipment and taking them to smaller airports. That will be done over a period of time.”

The upside to this is research has found the radiation emitted from the body scanners is trivial and nothing to worry it. That being said, many scientists are also arguing that if there is a safer alternative that allows passengers more privacy, the TSA should use it.

“Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we’re going to have some cancer cases?” David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, told ProPublica last year. “It makes me think, really, why don’t we use millimeter waves when we don’t have so much uncertainty?”

Nothing is simple, however. Research has shown the millimeter-wave scanners have a much higher false-alarm rate, 23% to 54% compared to 5% with backscatters. The TSA hopes using both machines in different airports will lead to competition, creating better technologies at a lower cost.

[Image via Carolina K. Smith, M.D. / Shutterstock.com]

[Via Chris Elliott]

TSA workers are blaming body scanners for cancer; D.C. public interest group calls for independent reviews

body scanners cancerWorkers for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from locations around the country are reporting higher-than-usual rates of cancer, strokes and heart disease amongst employees who work on or near new full-body scanners.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. recently obtained information under the Freedom of Information Act that shows TSA employees at Boston’s Logan International Airport reported a suspected “cancer cluster” to their supervisors, only to have the higher-ups downplay the problem and refuse their request for dosimeters, badges that monitor radiation exposure and are routinely used in other industries where workers come in contact with X-rays and other potentially harmful forms of radiation, states Seattle Weekly.

EPIC has filed a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of body scanners at US airports, pending an independent review.

TSA’s official statement is that they have “implemented stringent safety protocols to ensure that technology used at airports to screen people and property is safe for all passengers, as well as the TSA workforce.”

Still, existing studies cannot confirm or deny that the full body scanners are safe. Are frequent travelers also at risk?

“We’ve said to TSA, ‘If there’s all this info that you have that can show people than they’re not at risk, that the levels are that low, why not share that information?’ It has given employees the idea that if they’re not given the information, there must be something to hide,” said Milly Rodriguez, an occupational health and safety specialist for the American Federation of Government Employees.

Reports from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology–both of which were “publicly characterized” by TSA, according to EPIC–found that the radiation from the scanners could exceed the “general public dose limit.”

Still, proving a direct correlation between radiation emitted from the scanners and cancer or disease in any working population is difficult.

“[Cancer clusters] are very difficult to show,” Rodriguez told Seattle Weekly yesterday. “There are so many things that can cause cancer in a group of workers. They live in same community, so it could be something there. They’re all in similar age groups. It’s just so difficult to isolate the cause.”


[Image via Flickr user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com]

The 10 easiest ways to improve air travel this holiday season

holiday season air travelIt’s time for you to drag your screaming kids, annoying spouse and endless amounts of overstuffed bags through the airport, as you find your way over the river and through the woods. Thanksgiving is behind us, and that’s the really ugly time to travel, but Christmas is no picnic either. The gate areas and bars will be crowded, and it’s going to be awfully hard for you to be happy while darting from Point A to Point B.

How nice it would be if we could all follow some fairly specific rules designed to keep each other from blowing up – and make all our travel experiences far more efficient. Just under a week after I started at Gadling, two years ago, I wrote six ways to “[m]ake your flight (and mine) easier this holiday season.” As we approach Christmas, this list is definitely worth another look.

In the 700+ days since writing that post, I’ve done more flying and more travel writing. Consequently, I’ve accumulated a bit more knowledge … and a handful of additional pet peeves. A lot has changed since late 2008. The global financial crisis, originally putting severe pressure on the travel market, has given way to something of a recovery, forcing airlines and online travel agents to compete head to head for your business. And, even though ticket prices are up 13 percent year over year, they are still far below peak levels — and may be at their lowest in 15 years. In some environments, pricing is even flat year over year.

So, it makes sense to revisit this issue. Below, you’ll find 10 ways to make holiday travel a lot better for everyone:

%Gallery-7858%

1. Know what you’re getting into: be ready for poor service, big crowds and unreasonable people (from passengers to crew members). It is what it is. Lamenting the social injustices committed will get you nowhere, and you’ll become the barrier to progress that you so despise already.

2. Pay the damned extra baggage fee: the overhead bins will be full. Even though airlines are adding capacity as the travel market recovers, they’re not being generous. So, be realistic about the size of the bags you try to cram overhead or under seat – and expect the rest of the people on the plane to have the same overhead plan. If everyone were more realistic from the start, flying would be much, much easier.

3. Bring stuff to keep the kids busy: don’t expect young children to be reasonable – they’re young children. I have enough trouble staying reasonable, and by all chronological measures, I’ve been an adult for a while. If you have kids, it is your job to entertain them (or help them entertain themselves). It may take a village, but you left that at home.

The problem with people today is they have to be entertained 24/7. That’s why they’re at their worst on the airplane.less than a minute ago via web

Also, check this out from a couple of years ago:

Forget every rule of good parenting. Sometimes, you need to let your kid cry to learn a lesson. Here’s the problem: we don’t need to learn that lesson, too. Do what it takes to keep your kid under control. If that means coloring books, candy or … dare I say it … active parenting, do it. Do what it takes. Your round trip involves two days of your kid’s childhood. Whatever you do for the sake of expediency will not make a lasting impression.

4. Pay attention to the flight attendants (for a change): look, do you want to be responsible for creating the next Steven Slater? Of course not. Even if you are forced to deal with unreasonable requests demands from them – not to mention horrid customer service – it’s a lot easier just to play ball. Save your fights for truth, justice and the American way for a flying season that isn’t insanely busy. In the end, doing battle with a nutty flight attendant is only going to keep you from getting to your destination and away from the plane as soon as possible, so it makes sense to sacrifice your principles.

Add to this my advice from a while back:

Know when to quit. We all love to scream at airline employees, and we know they are lying to us. When they say that weather caused the problem on a sunny day, when they say that there are no more exit row seats, when they say the flight is overbooked … we just know it’s bullshit. So, we fight. Sometimes, it works. Appeasement in the form of flight vouchers, hotel stays and free meals sometimes flow. But, at a certain point, you need to know when to stop. If you’re on a full flight of people with super-triple-platinum status (and you’re not), don’t expect to get a damned thing. Accept that you will lose.

Fighting the good fight is okay, but at a certain point, you lose the crowd’s sympathy. Be aware that people who look like serial killers don’t often get what they want (or need).

5. Keep your mouth shut: don’t share your life story with gate agents, TSA employees or anyone else. Nobody cares. Even if you do forge a momentary connection, it will have evaporated by the time you’re stuffing a stale Nathan’s hotdog into your once-talking mouth.

6. Step into the damned body scanner: the whole “opt-out” thing didn’t work right before Thanksgiving. So, it’s time to give up on this. You’ll live. There were no reports of people growing extra heads because they went through the body scanners a month ago. And, the odds do seem awfully low that your pictures will wind up on some strange airline-fetish porn site.

Seriously, just deal. Okay?

7. Be smart at the security checkpoint: this is an important one, because it’s so easy to cause the line to back up. I’m just going to plug in my suggestions from Christmas 2008:

Don’t prepare for the security stop when you’ve already bellied up to the X-ray machine. While you’re in line, do the following:

1. Pull your laptop out of your bag (if you have one)
2. Take your ID (license or passport) out of your pocket, bag, etc.; hold it with your boarding pass
3. Empty your pockets into your carry-on; do the same with your watch, cell phone and any heavy jewelry
4. Remove your shoes, and carry them on top of your laptop
5. Repeat #4 with your coat and hat

Now, you have a stack of personal belongings on top of your laptop. Carry them like you did your books back in grade school. You can drop the laptop into one bin for the X-ray machine, pick up the clothing and drop them in the next bin. It’s fast. It’s easy. It doesn’t leave you screwing around while people are waiting.

8. Look at the rules in advance: know what you can get through airport security and what you’ll have to check or leave behind. We’re in the internet age, so it’s not like you need to fax a request to the TSA or drive to the airport to scope out the signs. And, I’ll even make it easy for you: here’s the TSA list of prohibited items.

9. BYOB on the plane: whether it’s burgers or booze, take care of it ahead of time. Make your purchases at the food court or pack them at home. If you don’t be ready for whatever is being served on the plane. Have the appropriate form of payment ready. Keep in mind that airline food tends not to be terribly healthy, so if you want to keep your arteries clear (or clog them even more aggressively), take control of your culinary future.

10. Stay flexible: some situations will be within your control, but many will not. Understand what you can change and what you’ll have to live with, and the process will get a lot easier for you.

[photo by The Consumerist via Flickr]

Baywatch hottie Donna D’Errico told to strip down for TSA body scan

Baywatch Donna D'Errico TSA body scan
She might not have been the biggest name on the show, but former Baywatch actress Donna D’Errico seems to think someone remembers her. She believes she was singled out by the TSA for a full body scan because of … well … her body. She was the Playboy centerfold once upon a time, after all.

According to SlateV, D’Errico is “outraged” over this and follows Khloe Kardashian‘s televised comparison of her TSA pat-down to a public rape.

The TSA, observes SlateV, “is damned either way.”

So, what would D’Errico have rather had? She seems to like the hands-on approach and would have preferred a pat-down.




[photo by Lucca Castellazzi via Flickr]

TSA to impede travel market recovery? Not buyin’ it

TSA airport security

When I finally crawled out of bed and caffeinated Saturday morning, I made the rounds on Twitter and found a bold statement by travel journalist Christopher Elliott: “Thanks to TSA, 2011 could be a flat year for travel”. Despite the digging he did, I’m just not buying it. Passenger inconvenience, especially when it comes to leisure trips, isn’t likely to have a major effect on the travel industry in 2011.

You’ve read it from me on Gadling before: it isn’t the leisure traveler that defines the travel market; it’s the business traveler. These are people who have no choice but to hit the road, whether because they are instructed by their bosses or because they recognize business opportunities that they need for growth or simply to keep their companies alive. As business conditions continue to improve in the broader economy, demand for flights is likely to increase, and those buying tickets will have relatively little choice in the matter.

We’re looking back on what’s shaping up to be a positive year for the travel industry, particularly the airlines. And, according to Elliott, on his blog, “2011 was shaping up to be the best year for travel since the recession began.” He cites expectations of higher prices, even if only slightly, but pent up demand by travelers for “long-postponed vacation[s].”

Thanks to TSA, 2011 could be a flat year for travel http://bit.ly/gsbOfTless than a minute ago via web

The next year of the recovery could be imperiled, however, by new measures implemented by the Transportation Security Administration, specifically body scanners. In fact, Elliott writes:

But now that the Transportation Security Administration has introduced full-body scanners at many American airports, and subjected those who opt out of the machines to an “enhanced” pat-down, the 2011 outlook has changed, say travelers.

To support this claim, he talks to Jeff Cohen, an Austin, Texas-based securities trader, who claims to be “torn about whether I’ll travel more next year or not.” Cohen tells Elliott he goes on “a couple of large trips a year” and had a big one in mind for the first half of next year, “to somewhere exotic.” Now, Cohen tells Elliott, “[T] he recent TSA crackdown has me rethinking that.”

Further, the Consumer Travel Alliance sees the traveling public as generally unlikely to increase its travel activity. Elliott continues:

A majority (46 percent) say they will travel “about the same” as they did this year. Slightly less than a third (30 percent) will travel more, while just less than a quarter (23 percent) will travel less. This contradicts several earlier surveys, which had predicted a significant upswing in travel next year.

The key word here is consumer. The focus, here, is on leisure travel. The needs of business travelers are again overlooked.

Let’s consider Cohen’s case for example. So, he’s rethinking his leisure travel plans for next year. If he has to hop on a plane to close a deal or bring in a new client, is he going to do that? Would he sacrifice a two-hour flight for a 10-hour drive do so? I don’t know the guy, but drawing on my white-collar experiences, I think I know how he’d react to a major business opportunity a few states away … and it wouldn’t involve turning the key to the ignition.

The business traveler really has little choice in whether to hit the road. Could he skip a business opportunity or pass on a project in favor of something local – or to wait for a gig nearby to arise? Of course. But, that would mean turning down the very fees that put food on the table. Sales professionals need to travel to bring in business, fulfillment teams (e.g., the folks who provide the good or service sold) may have to take to the friendly skies and support sometimes needs to be provided on site. This is just how the nature of commerce has evolved. If conditions continue to improve, more of these people will be buying plane tickets.

And, they’ll pay more for them.

The nature of business travel, given that it occurs in order to support subsistence or the accumulation of wealth (both important), is that it is inelastic, at least relative to leisure travel. There is effectively no choice but to get on a plane, unless extreme measures are brought into the equation. Since business travel relatively inelastic, these travelers will pay more, which supports a continued travel industry recovery.

The fact that business travelers tend to be willing to pay more for their tickets also means that they have less choice in whether to fly. Sure, there are tools out there such as videoconferencing and online collaboration software that can provide a substitute, but a recovering market means that there’s more capital available, which facilitates investment in face-to-face meetings. When your boss tells you to travel, you travel.

As a result, the decision to travel is itself relatively inelastic for the business traveler.

So, if the business traveler is the backbone of the travel industry recovery, the TSA is unlikely to get in the way in 2011, even if every passenger listens to the snap of a rubber glove before an invasive pat-down begins.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the leisure traveler. The impact of the TSA security measures may involve a bit of hype there, too.

Even before Thanksgiving, the close to two thirds of consumers thought the body scans weren’t a big deal, with 70 percent stating they didn’t expect the enhanced security measures to slow travel down during the busiest travel season of the year.

Further, economic growth, if it occurs, will provide consumers with more disposable income. Those who have an interest in travel are likely to become more ambitious, taking the trips they’ve always wanted to. Elliott finds many who disagree with this assessment, but there’s nothing like having a freshly filled checking account to alter your perspective.

We all love to hate the TSA, and I’ll admit that I’m among the many in that camp. There’s nothing worse than waiting in a long security line at a crowded airport. The notion of having to devise and carry out strategies for getting through the checkpoints faster indicates the absurdity of what goes on in airports today. Efficiency is as low as customer service, and there’s little we can do about it.

That said, will body scans and pat-downs impede a travel market recovery next year? It doesn’t seem likely. General global economic trends will determine how many people get on planes next year, not the policies crafted and implemented by government employees.

[photo by oddharmonic via Flickr]