11/26/2010 | Mark Huffman | ConsumerAffairs.com
The nation's airports have not been happy places since new passenger screening policies went into effect this month.
Many passengers have objected to being subjected to full body scans, allowing a security agent to, in effect, see beneath their clothing. Others have objected to the more intimate pat downs that have been offered as an alternative.
While passengers are angry, Transportation Security Administration screeners are bearing the brunt of the emotion. Last week the union representing screeners called on TSA to provide protection for its members, some who said they felt intimidated by passengers' hostility.
Despite media reports, it's not exactly clear how the majority of the flying public feels about the new security measures. A poll by Zogby International found that 61 percent of those surveyed oppose the new measures, with 48 percent saying they would seek alternatives to flying in the future.
But a USA Today/Gallup survey, conducted at about the same time, found that most people don't object.
Still, it's clear that many people do. John Gage, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees thinks TSA should have done a better job of preparing passengers for the new procedures. But Josh Klapow, a professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) School of Public Health, thinks airline passengers were primed for a meltdown.
"Invasive body scanners and pat downs are the tipping point that is putting us over the edge regarding air travel,"Klapow said. "We're so frustrated by air travel in general: the cost, the inconvenience, the almost de-humanizing experience. So it's not surprising that people are rising up to object to the latest humiliations, the full body X-rays or the dreaded pat-down. It's the last straw."
Intellectually, passengers may understand that this sort of security is important and necessary, Klapow says, but emotionally, it pushes them over the edge.
A little civility
So what's the solution? Since the backlash to the enhanced screening techniques largely stems from an emotional response to the long list of indignities associated with air travel, Klapow says that to restore civility to flying, we need to understand and examine the entire flying experience. It's not just pat downs; it's pat downs on top of everything else associated with modern flying.