Will Turkey Day Fliers Cry Foul?

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 19, 2010

(by Scott McCartney, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) – Airlines will have extra staff, spare airplanes and plentiful plastic bags for shipping car seats. Airports will have executives working as greeters, gifts in Los Angeles for restless kids in long lines, and people with big yellow clipboards in Boston acting as roving information booths.

Yet even with most elaborate preparations for the crowded Thanksgiving travel rush, which starts this weekend, the lowdown is that the pat-downs could sour some family feasts.  An estimated 24 million people will fly over … this Thanksgiving holiday, according to the Air Transport Association. That’s up 3.5% over last year.

While bad weather is usually the biggest threat to holiday travel, there’s a bigger concern this year: new Transportation Security Administration procedures, including full-body scans and aggressive pat-downs that have screeners feeling inside waistbands and touching [private areas].

The body scanners-385 of them now deployed at 68 airports-have raised privacy and radiation-exposure concerns. And the pat-downs, which started Nov. 1, have drawn fire from travel groups, lawmakers, civil-rights advocates, and pilot and flight-attendant unions.

The fear is that Thanksgiving travelers-many of them students, families and older people who fly once or twice a year-will be unfamiliar with TSA procedures and slow to get through checkpoints. Full-body scanners require removal of wallets, belts, jewelry and everything inside pockets.

“With people getting partially molested at checkpoints, all that is going to be a real shock for them,” said Greg Wells, senior vice president of operations at Southwest Airlines. “TSA will create an issue for us. It’s going to slow things down.”

Southwest will have employees with walkie-talkies at checkpoints to hold airplane departures if passengers are stuck in long lines.

Previously, TSA screeners just did a cursory check with the back of their hand, avoiding sensitive areas. Now, anyone who sets off a metal detector, refuses to go through a full-body scan, or has anything on his or her body that the scanner picks up will get the new, more-thorough pat-down procedure.

The changes close gaps identified both by would-be terrorists and by government investigators who covertly try to smuggle weapons through to test the effectiveness of screening, said TSA Administrator John Pistole.

“If you have two planes, one where people are thoroughly and properly screened and the other where people could opt out of screening, which would you want to be on?” he asked.

American Airlines and Southwest both say the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is now busier than Wednesday. The busiest day of the whole holiday remains the Sunday following Thanksgiving, but Monday is hectic, too.

To help relieve congestion and reduce delays, the Federal Aviation Administration said it is opening up some restricted military air space a day earlier this year. Starting at 6 a.m. eastern time Tuesday, commercial airlines will have several additional corridors for flights off the East Coast, plus additional routes across the Gulf of Mexico, into and out of Southern California and across New Mexico. The program ends at 6 a.m. eastern time Nov. 29.

Southwest, the largest domestic carrier in terms of passengers, says it will have extra baggage handlers on duty because it expects an avalanche of luggage since it is the only U.S. airline that lets passengers check two bags without paying additional fees.

Workers who stack suitcases inside airplanes while on their knees get tired quickly and will need more-frequent breaks, and the Thanksgiving rush means extra hands will be needed in baggage-sorting rooms to avoid jams, said Southwest’s Mr. Wells. “It’s all hands on deck,” he said.

Even the airline’s strategy for cancellations is different. “We won’t be canceling anything. We’ll just run late to get everyone where they want to go,” Mr. Wells said.

United Airlines and others schedule workers differently during the holidays because the clientele is different. People who don’t travel often tend to show up at the airport sooner, so more workers may be needed at check-in counters earlier, said Scott Dolan, senior vice president of airport operations.

In Los Angeles, 150 airport employees, from custodians to senior management, will wear red vests and work the departures level for the third year. They direct travelers to check-in or security lines, answer questions like how long it will take to get through lines and try to relieve anxiety, even giving away coloring books and squishy airplane toys to kids and hand-sanitizer wipes, puzzle books and luggage tags to adults.

“It’s all intended to relieve the pain and anxiety of travel,” said Barbara Yamamoto, customer service director at Los Angeles International Airport and head of the Thanksgiving effort.

Boston’s Logan Airport has a similar program called “BOS Team,” with administrative staff working as greeters and line managers who pull people to the front when their flights are soon to depart. They carry yellow clipboards with a big question mark on them to make them easy to spot.

“They look for the lost face,” said Brad Martin, deputy director of aviation who runs Logan’s effort at Thanksgiving.

Write to Scott McCartney at middleseat@wsj.com.

NOTE: This article was first published November 18, 2010 on wsj.com.

Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com

Questions

1. How are airlines preparing to handle the 24 million people who will be flying over Thanksgiving? Be specific.

2. What are airports doing to make travel easier for passengers? Be specific.

3. What is the Federal Aviation Administration doing to help reduce flight delays this Thanksgiving?

4. a) What usually causes the biggest delays/problems with air travel over Thanksgiving?
b) What is expected to cause the biggest problems/delays in airports over Thanksgiving this year? Be specific.

5. a) How has airport screening changed since November 1, 2010?
b) What concerns do travelers have with the new screening methods?

6. a) The new TSA screening method requires a passenger to go through a full body scan, or if he refuses, to receive an invasive 2 minute pat-down.  It has been in place less than a month.  If this is the best method for keeping us safe many wonder how good a job the TSA was doing before November 1st.  Read the bullet points below.  What do you think about Abdulmutallab’s ability to fly, and the U.S. visa he was permitted to keep? 
b) Are the suggestions about Israeli airport security in “Profile Me if You Must” below a good idea?  Explain your answer.

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ABOUT WOULD-BE BOMBER UMAR ABDULMUTALLAB:

  • On Christmas Day, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, was arrested after attempting to detonate explosives concealed in his underwear shortly before his Amsterdam to Detroit flight was to land.
  • As the bomb started to ignite, a Dutch passenger leaped over rows of seats and put out the blaze.
  • In November 2009 Abdulmutallab’s father had gone to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to warn that his son was being radicalized in Yemen.
  • The embassy then warned counterterrorism officials in the U.S. about the father’s tip, but ultimately it was determined there was insufficient information to revoke Abdulmutallab’s U.S. visa or to place him on a no-fly list.
  • Earlier in 2009, Great Britain placed him on a no-fly list after revoking his U.K. visa.
  • One week before the flight, Abdulmutallab bought a one way ticket to Detroit in cash. He boarded a flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Amsterdam on December 24 and then connected on his flight to Detroit. He checked in no luggage.
  • Neither the father’s warnings, nor the international ticket purchased in cash, nor the lack of luggage prevented Abdulmutallab from boarding the flight. Security screenings in Nigeria and before his connecting flight in the Netherlands failed to find the concealed explosives.

 CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ABOUT ISRAELI AIRPORT SECURITY (from a commentary “Profile Me if You Must“):

  • Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries.
  • No plane leaving Isreal’s Ben-Gurion Airport has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist.
  • The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.
  • The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?
  • Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.
  • The United States need not … import the Israeli system. …The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.
  • I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”
  • Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any [person] who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. …
  • The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.
  • Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either – all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

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