It’s national opt-out day. Will you participate?

Early yesterday afternoon I passed through O’Hare airport on the far end of terminal 3, approached the security checkpoint and was selected for scanning with a backscatter detector. With a boarding pass in my back pocket I was also selected for a pat down. In this case, the TSA officer used the back of his hands to check my entire back side – and sent me on my way (without the computer that I forgot at the checkpoint) to gate K7.

The Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) was a simple security measure that day, but today, on the nation’s busiest travel day many will face it for the first time. And in protest, many are advocating a movement to opt-out of the scans.

In lieu, those who opt out will be subject to an intensive pat down, the results of which has been covered on the web ad nauseum.

More importantly, however, is the added time necessary for a pat down. AIT scans already take longer than a quick walk through a magnetometer, and opting out of one adds further time to the affair. Some critics of the movement are thus concerned that unsuspecting passengers will be held up at security and more flights will be missed.

Needless to say, if 95% of passengers choose not to be scanned by an AIT device this Wednesday it’ll surely send a strong message to the brass at the Department of Homeland Security. If a few trouble spots cause innocent passengers to miss flights though, I’m not so sure that it’s worth it.

[flickr image via billypalooza]

“I Don’t Like the TSA” song – music video going viral

I don't like the TSAJonathan Mann doesn’t like the TSA, and he’s written a song to prove it. And it rhymes. Furthermore, the music video for the “I Don’t Like the TSA” song has totally made our morning.

The glory of Mann’s delightful rant is that it’s actually clever, and while it expresses a certain angst I think a lot of us have come to feel, it’s upbeat and fun. Bonus: it’s one of those songs that’s easy to dance to sitting down.

In recent weeks, perhaps in response to a mass sense of dread as holiday travel time approaches, there have been a number of attacks on the futility and invasiveness of the TSA. Our editor Grant Martin posted an article just yesterday suggesting that maybe, just maybe, the TSA isn’t that bad (Why you shouldn’t be concerned about airport x-rays and patdowns). Still, whether you want to freak out over x-rays or not is your own business.

Jonathan Mann wants you to. The video is somewhat hyperbolic (“if I refuse them groping me then they’ll treat me like a detainee”) and morphs into what seems like a serious PSA-style plea for consumer action, directing people to www.wewontfly.com. Is making a music video about hating the TSA an outlandish overreaction? Probably. But the call to action seems to be “an attempt to stop the ever increasing ridiculousness that is TSA regulation.” For frequent fliers, it’s hard to argue with that notion. There’s this ever-present worry about “what’s the TSA going to make us do next?”

So, have a watch. The lyrics are included after the jump for your singalong pleasure — and, you know, in case you want to print them out and start singing this in line at the airport over the holiday travel season. Good luck with that.

I Don’t Like the TSA – lyrics
by Jonathan Mann

I don’t like the TSA
I don’t see how they keep me safe
they scan me with their x-ray
then laugh at me when I’m at my gate

And if I refuse to show them my penis
then they insist on groping me
g-g-g-groping me
and if I refuse them groping me
then they’ll treat me like a detainee
d-d-detainee

I don’t like the TSA
taking off my shoes don’t keep me safe
they scan me with their x-ray
or they grope me which is not okay

Don’t get me wrong
this isn’t about the agents
’cause they’re just doing their jobs
this is about the policies
and companies that are profiting
and i question the safety
of bombardment with x-ray
maybe the government’s tests
we’re quite so accurate
they say the dose is .02
microseiverts but how much
is deposited in the skin?

And that’s why
I don’t like the TSA
I don’t see how they keep me safe
they can scan me with their x-ray
and then they’re laughing at me when I’m at my gate

Oh-oh-oh

I don’t like the TSA
I don’t see how taking my shoes off is keeping me safe
I don’t know why they gotta use that great big x-ray
and then they’re laughin’
they’re like “ha ha ha ha ha ha ha”
all the way down
the corridor … and stuff

[via @jetsetfarryn]

“Love those gigantic tits” remark lands airport scanner operator in hot water

Well, that didn’t take long did it? A mere month after London Heathrow introduced full body scanners, the first harassment case is already being investigated by the authorities.

When 29 year old Jo Margetson accidentally walked through the scanner, an airport security guard thought it would be hilarious to mention how he “loved those gigantic tits”. This was of course the situation everyone feared – I’m just surprised it took this long to happen.

The security guard has been issued a warning for sexual harassment, which will no doubt be the first of many to be issued to people that have access to the scanner images.

Miss Margetson is furious about the incident – ‘I can’t bear to think about the body scanner thing,’ she said. ‘I’m totally traumatised by it.”. She spoke to the police after the incident, and they in turn reported the case to BAA, the airport operator.

In the United States, the full body imagers are monitored by staff in a remote location, and we have been assured that images will never be shared – even though the purchase requests made by the government requested scanners that have storage and sending capabilities. In other words – it is only a matter of time till US airports are faced with similar cases.

The problem with this equipment is not the technology – which has been proven to work just fine – humans are the real issue, and knowing that some of the operators manning the checkpoints are going to be on the lookout for “big tits” won’t help the public’s attitude towards them one bit.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Ten tips to make your trip through the airport security checkpoint easier on everyone

Flying can be a stressful way to spend your day, especially if you only fly once or twice a year. Reports of terror attempts and airport evacuations don’t make things any better. Thankfully, if you follow some simple tips, your trip through the checkpoint can be really simple, allowing you more time to enjoy the dreadful airport food, or to waste your money at the airport duty free shop.

We’ve gathered ten tips that can make your checkpoint experience as stress-free as possible. Not just for you, but for the hundreds of others trying to make it to the other side of the checkpoint at the same time.

Read up on the rules

Are you an “amateur” traveler? Were you allowed to carry box cutters and knives the last time you took a flight? Then chances are you are not up to date on the latest airport security rules. It is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, a prepared traveler is a rare breed, so consider yourself lucky that you are showing an interest in it.

The best starting point (other than this article) is of course the TSA web site. Their “what to know before you go” has the nitty-gritty on airport security, prohibited items and of course their own tips on getting through security as efficiently as possible.

Frisk *yourself*

Before you even think about stepping into the security line, frisk yourself. Really – run your hands up and down all your pockets, front and back. Remove anything metallic, and you’ll reduce the risk of missing that loose change or pocket knife.

Don’t just assume the metal detector will find it for you.

Find the right line

Many airports have introduced separate TSA lanes for the different kind of traveler. The black or diamond lane is for the experienced traveler. These lanes won’t have as many staff members assisting you. The casual traveler lane may have someone helping point out the bins, and the family/medical liquid lane is where you’ll get the most help. Especially if you are traveling with kids, you’ll want to pick the green lane. Sadly, not all airports have adopted this system.

The lanes are not a contest – don’t worry if you need to go to the casual traveler lane, because picking the right lane will make life easier on you, and your fellow passengers.

Liquids liquids liquids

I don’t think I can remember the last time I passed through the checkpoint without seeing some poor sole being pulled aside because he or she forgot to remove liquids from their bag. I mean, how on earth can there still be people left that don’t know about the liquid rules?

It really isn’t that hard – the only liquids you are allowed to carry, have to be inside a one quart bag, each bottle has to be under 3 ounces, and you are only allowed one bag per passenger. Your “baggie” must be taken out of your bag and placed on the x-ray machine or in a bin on its own.

There are obviously exceptions for baby milk and medication, but you will need to declare them at the checkpoint.

Don’t step in line till you are ready

Don’t be one of those travelers that walks into the airport, gets in line at the checkpoint and then starts getting ready for the screening. Unless you are in a terrible hurry to catch a plane, the area before the checkpoint line is the best place to prepare yourself.

Relax, take a deep breath, and start emptying your pockets. Don’t wait till you reach the x-ray machine to remove your wallet, the safest place for it right now is inside your bag. Don’t forget to put your ID and boarding pass in your shirt or pants pocket, because the screener will want to see them.

Invest in a checkpoint Friendly laptop bag

If you regularly pass through the checkpoint with a laptop, do yourself a favor and invest in a checkpoint friendly laptop bag. These bags are specially designed to fold open, allowing the x-ray machine a clear unobstructed view of your computer. They cost about 25% more than a normal laptop bag.

The advantage of a TSA friendly laptop bag is obvious – you don’t need to take your laptop out of its bag, greatly reducing the risk of damage. It also shaves about 30 seconds off your trip through the checkpoint. A good place to find a large assortment of checkpoint friendly bags is Mobile Edge. This company makes stylish bags for men and women, with bags starting at just $49.95.

Pack wisely

When you pack your bag, think carefully how it’ll look on the x-ray machine. Try not to stuff too many cords together, try and spread your gadgets around a bit, and always check your bag for items that don’t belong there. Two metal tubes with wires sticking out of them may be nothing more than two laptop batteries and some cords, but to a screener, it may look like something worth some extra attention.

(Image from The Register)

Never assume it won’t beep

Just because that oversized “Texas” belt buckle didn’t set off the metal detector last week, doesn’t mean it won’t beep today.

If you have something large and metallic, do us all a favor, and take it off. One of my number one checkpoint pet peeves is people at the metal detector that act amazed when all their metallic objects make the machine beep.

Seriously, these machines are designed to DETECT METAL. So anything larger than a wedding ring is going to make it beep. And for your information – the TSA will not let you just waltz on through once you point it out. They will make you remove it, put it back through the x-ray machine, and have you attempt to walk through the detector again. And in most cases, they’ll make you do this while I am waiting for you to stop beeping.

Count before and after

Put as much as possible in your bags. Too often, I’ll see people put a bag, shoes, a laptop, their toiletries, their phone, wallet, keys and watch on the belt. Don’t do it! Not only do you run the risk of damaging your items, you also run the risk of something being stolen or “otherwise misplaced”.

Put all your items in a zippered jacket pocket or bag. The ideal screening involves nothing more than your bag, jacket, shoes and your clear toiletries bag.

It sounds dumb – but count before and after. If you put four items on the belt, be sure to remove four items at the other end. Travel is stressful, and it isn’t too hard to forget your phone or laptop at the checkpoint. By the time you realize you are missing something, it may be too late.

Move away as soon as you can

Did you make it past the checkpoint without setting off any alarm bells? Gather your crap and walk away. Almost every checkpoint has a nice sitting area at the other side, which is the perfect spot to put your belt back on, remove your important items from your bag, and tie your shoes.

Standing around at the end of the x-ray machine doing all of this is only going to slow things down for everyone else. TSA agents like to keep the area as empty as possible, and if too many people are holding things up, you’ll delay the entire line.

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Are airport x-ray machines bad for your health?

A man in a scanWe all know from wearing those iron aprons at the dentist that x-rays are not good for you. Radiation is dangerous, and radiation poisoning can lead to very serious health problems and even death.

Radiation poisoning usually occurs when someone is exposed to a heavy amount of radiation for a short period of time, but in rarer cases, long term exposure to small doses can also be damaging. So, should frequent fliers be worried? What about pilots and cabin crew?

Millimeter-wave imaging-technology units, which are currently operating in 19 airports, don’t produce the kind of radiation we get from x-rays, but backscatter units like this do. Following the terrorism attempt on Christmas, the US has just ordered 150 backscatter screening systems (like the above).

Is it dangerous? Probably not. Rodale reports: “According to TSA, the amount of radiation you’re exposed to during a two-second millimeter-wave scan exposes you to radio-wave radiation that is 10,000 times less powerful than radiation levels that pulse from a cellphone.” They also note that the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement “found that a traveler subjected to at least 2,500 backscatter scans per year would barely reach the Negligible Individual Dose.”

Wait. Barely? That’s not really what we wanted to hear, but 2,500 would come to seven scans per day, every day. At that point, you’re not a traveler, you just have a weird hobby.

The concern that no one can shake (besides that of privacy) is that of machine stability and maintenance. Backscatter scanners do have the capability of doing harm; they just won’t if they’re functioning properly. Rodale adds, “If you feel uncomfortable going through advanced-imaging airport body-scan machines, know that you do have the right to an alternative search, although it may be in the form of a more invasive pat-down-type search by a security worker.”

For more information on radiation poisoning and radiation sickness, visit MayoClinic.com.

[via Rodale]