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Few Delays for Thanksgiving Fliers Despite ‘Opt-Out’ TSA Protest

November 24, 2010 at 4:48 PM EDT
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Air travel was easier than many anticipated Wednesday at major U.S. airports on the busiest travel day of the year. Few fliers opted for a pat-down screening instead of a full-body scan -- a relief for many after critics called for an "Opt-Out Day" to protest strict and more invasive new security measures. Tom Bearden reports.
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JIM LEHRER: It was an easier day than expected at the nation’s airports, as major disruptions and delays failed to materialize. NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden has our report.

TOM BEARDEN: The day before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year, and, this year, there was the potential for the traditionally long lines to stretch even longer, because of a loosely organized protest dubbed National Opt-Out Day.

Some travelers said they would express their displeasure with new security measures by requesting enhanced pat-downs, rather than go through scanners with advanced imaging technology. The Transportation Security Administration estimated early this afternoon that only about 1 percent of passengers were opting out of the scanners.

The pat-downs can take four minutes or longer, the scanners as little as 10 seconds. And, on ABC this morning, TSA Administrator John Pistole warned the protest could cause problems.

JOHN PISTOLE, administrator, Transportation Security Administration: Obviously, there’s some unknowns in terms of how many people may decide to protest. And that’s one of the variables that we are prepared to deal with.

But the bottom line is that, if a number of people protest at a particular checkpoint, it will definitely slow things down. And I just feel bad for the rest of the traveling public who’s simply trying to get home for the holidays and be with loved ones.

TOM BEARDEN: Of the more than 40 million Americans expected to travel this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, about 1.6 million of them go by air, according to AAA. Here at Denver International Airport, most people are more concerned about making their flight than making a statement.

JOHN GRALLA, air traveler: I’m fine with it. I’m a frequent traveler, so I’m kind of used to having to jump through the hoops to get on a plane and go where I need to go.

SUSAN MILLER, air traveler: I’m not worried about it. I would much rather do that than run into trouble on a plane.

TOM BEARDEN: That sentiment was echoed by travelers at Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

ISHNA HAGAN, air traveler: I’m going to go through whichever. I just want to get home. It doesn’t — either way, it’s fine. Security is my — is most important to me.

TOM BEARDEN: Still, some were reluctant to go through the scanners.

AARON CANIPE, air traveler: And I have heard in the past that some of these, you know, files have leaked out of, you know, people’s, you know, full-frontalness, you know, being ex — public — put to the public. So, you know, I don’t think I’m going to go through with it.

CHARLES NEILL, air traveler: I would prefer the pat-down. I don’t want any more rays running through my body, all the X-rays I have had in my life.

TOM BEARDEN: The NewsHour asked viewers to report in via Twitter. Most were not finding many problems.

One person at Baltimore Washington International Airport wrote: “All that talk about TSA boycotts and delays were exaggerated. Quick trip through security.”

Another traveler at Dallas/Fort Worth tweeted this: “No problems. No scan or pat-down, nor did I see anyone else doing it.”

While it seemed air travel was going smoothly today, the uproar over the new security techniques has some thinking about reforms at TSA. Florida Republican John Mica, who is in line to chair the House Transportation Committee in the new Congress, contends the agency’s screening methods are inefficient.

REP. JOHN MICA (R-Fla.): Right now, we’re spending all our time on every American. Who is spending time on airport employees, pilots, millions of people who have top-secret clearances?

There are folks like myself that can go into the White House or nuclear facilities and not go through what we do to get on an airplane. Screening and re-screening those people that don’t pose a threat, and using all your resources in that unfocused manner is — that has to be changed.

We can direct our resources, our technology, and our invasion of privacy on the bad guys, not the good folks.

TOM BEARDEN: But, for now, the screenings and pat-downs will continue, while most passengers hope the lines will keep moving.