US holiday travel smooth despite new security

Millions of Americans took to the skies on Wednesday for the start of the Thanksgiving holiday but air travel flowed smoothly as passengers largely ignored calls to protest more invasive security procedures.

The enhanced screening methods that have drawn complaints from some Americans and lawmakers in Congress involve revealing full-body imaging scanners and physical patdowns for travelers who opt out of the scans or raise security concerns.

By Wednesday evening—traditionally one of the busiest US travel days—there were no reports of wide-scale protests or disruptions at major airports. The Federal Aviation Administration website also showed few weather delays.

“I’m going to ask for a [body] scan. Like that guy said, I don’t want them touching my junk,” said Nick Mazzanti (36) who works in public relations in New York, referring to an Internet video that fueled protests against more invasive security.

The video captured audio of a California man telling an airport security official, “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.” Critics also waged an internet campaign urging passengers to refuse having their bodies scanned.

But a post on a Transportation Security Administration blog said, “We’re receiving reports of minimal wait times across the entire country—from Honolulu to Myrtle Beach and everywhere in between—and no disruptions.”

Music student Emile Trisfith (19) was travelling home to New York City from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for Thanksgiving and said he had been prepared for the worst. “There is always a long line but today there wasn’t,” he said.

Thanksgiving travelers were also expected to throng Amtrak rail service and highways to reach family for the holiday.

24-million travellers expected
The new airport security follows attempted attacks on airliners. Last month, authorities thwarted the bombing of US-bound cargo flights. Last Christmas Day, a man tried to set off a bomb in his underwear on a flight to Detroit.

The Yemen-based group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for both plots.

Airlines expect 24-million people to fly during the Thanksgiving holiday period. Many US families come together for Thanksgiving, which marks the European Pilgrim settlers’ first successful harvest in 1621 shared with American Indians.

The TSA estimates that fewer than 2% of the two million passengers screened daily, or 40 000, are given the patdowns.

“I’m glad they take the extra precaution,” said Stacy David (46) at Orlando International Airport in Florida. “I feel sorry for the guy who has to look at [the body scans] all day.”

But a handful of patdowns made headlines recently. The TSA apologised after a bladder cancer survivor’s urostomy bag opened during a security patdown and covered him with urine.

TSA chief John Pistole told CNN on Wednesday he believed the full-body scanners and patdowns were necessary but that officials were trying to work out if there were less invasive ways of ensuring airline security.

At least half of Americans say the airport patdowns go too far, recent polls showed. Yet most support the full-body scanning machines at airports and give more priority to preventing terrorism than protecting their privacy. - Reuters

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