Travelers at Logan, elsewhere opt out of Opt-Out Day
Travelers in Boston and other airports around the country were mostly opting out of National Opt-Out Day, a protest of new invasive airport security measures that threatened to cause delays on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
At Logan International Airport, only 300 had chosen a pat down out of 56,000 travelers screened at the airport as of 5 p.m., according to the Transportation Security Administration.
The Opt-Out Day was an Internet campaign thought up by a Virginia man to encourage passengers to get a pat down instead of going through a new full-body scanner that shows revealing images. There were concerns about snarled security lines because scans typically take five to seven seconds, while pat downs can take two to four minutes.
At Logan, the longest check-point wait time hit 12 minutes -- not much worse than on a typical weekday -- and most passengers in Terminal A, for example, appeared to breeze through security this morning, with few people choosing to be frisked instead of stepping through a full body scanner. And most of those who did opt out said they elected a pat-down because they were concerned about possible health risks the machines pose.
The Quinn family, of Malden, arrived at Logan about an hour earlier than they normally would in case there were long lines due to the protest. Only one family member -- 64-year-old Joe Quinn -- was directed to go through a body scanner, one of 17 throughout Logan. The rest of the family was sent through a traditional metal detector, and all were quick to laugh at themselves for worrying about a possible delay.
"We've got an hour and half to kill," said 23-year-old Matthew Quinn.
"All because of the hype," added his mother, Katherine Quinn, 59. "It's like the snow storm that never appears."
Full-body scanners were added at many airports this year after an attempt by a Nigerian man to bring down a Detroit-bound plane last Christmas with explosives hidden in his underwear. The scanners show blurry but accurate images of a traveler's naked body. Travelers can opt out if they agree to a pat-down search, but some people have found the pat-down more objectionable than a body scan. Typically about one percent of travelers choose a pat down.
With 107,000 people expected to travel through Logan today -- about 20,000 more than on a typical weekday -- Massachusetts Port Authority chief executive Thomas Kinton said the airport prepared for possible disruptions by stationing more state police at security checkpoints and coordinating their efforts with TSA officials.
During a morning walk-through of the airport with Kinton today, Massport director of aviation Edward Freni noted that as of 8:30 am it appeared "less people are opting out than on a normal day."
"It was more hype than anything," Kinton said about his initial worries over National Opt-Out Day.
Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, espionage, and intelligence studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., was monitoring the protests and said a majority of people seemed recognize the need for more aggressive security measures -- and the desire to be home for the holidays quickly.
"There are certainly plenty of people who just want to get where they're going for Thanksgiving," he said.
The man who launched the protest campaign, Brian Sodergren, did not return calls from the Globe.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center disagrees with the government's use of full-body scanners to screen travelers and supported the campaign no matter how many people participated.
"Right now these machines are not effective at detecting powdered explosives and the American public is trading their privacy for the illusion of security," said Ginger McCall, assistant director of the center’s Open Government Project. "We need to work on developing technology and implementing procedures which respect privacy and ensure security -- and the scanners do neither."
U.S. Senator John F. Kerry, the Democrat from Massachusetts, vowed to examine how a better balance can be struck between keeping the skies safe and protecting people's privacy.
"I refuse to accept the notion that we can't keep people safe without undermining our civil liberties," he said in a statement. "I will evaluate the changes being made by TSA to ensure that there is a fair and smart balance."
Maria Campbell, an art institute student traveling home to Ohio, said she routinely chooses a pat-down instead of going through the scanner to protect her privacy.
"It's invasive. I don't want to be digitally strip searched," she said of the new machines.
Campbell said her pat-down today was in show of support for Opt-Out Day. "For my friends who would find this traumatic," she said, "I'm doing it for them."
Matt Carroll, a 22-year-old from Connecticut, chose a pat down for the first time instead of going through the scanner at Logan because he was concerned about the machine's radiation levels. He said he will continue to do so -- until he's convinced that scanners are safe.
"I just heard it wasn't necessarily safe with the radiation levels," he said. "I heard a lot of people were opting out."
The TSA has said that the scanner's radiation level is equal to what a person is exposed to during two minutes of an airplane flight.
Most US travelers accept the new full-body scanners as a way to enhance security, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they backed the scanners.
Jason Marinko, of Malden, who was flying to Virginia to visit his in-laws, said he doesn't mind the new measures.
"I'd rather the TSA and the airlines do all they can to make us safe," said Marinko.
To read what passengers should know about airport security features, click here.)
Weather, however, was shaping up as a much bigger threat. Though most flights in and out of Logan were on time, wind delayed flights in and out of New York's LaGuardia airport and New Jersey’s Newark International Airport.
Globe wires contributed to this report.