Airport travel starts smoothly, with no sign of delays from scanner protests

As Thanksgiving travel ramps up At Reagan National Airport, so does controversy over body scanners and pat-downs at the nation's airports.
By Derek Kravitz and Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 3:06 PM

With thousands of Thanksgiving travelers headed to airports Wednesday, National Opt-Out Day, a protest ignited by new passenger-screening techniques, appeared to fizzle.

Reports from Washington's three major airports suggested that few people were protesting the full-body scans that are the focus of the opt-out effort. The protest's organizers say the blurry images of passengers and their undergarments are an invasion of privacy.

Across the country, security lines moved smoothly, with many passengers walking through full-body X-ray machines with few issues, airlines and the Transportation Security Administration said.

Organizers of National Opt-Out Day took the easy flow of airport travel as evidence that many passengers had simply stayed home. Wednesday and Sunday are widely expected to be the two busiest days of the Thanksgiving holiday for most airports.

"What else could it be? We've been hearing for weeks about how angry people are, and now things are running smoothly? I think people heeded the advice and stayed home," said James Babb, an Eagleville, Pa., marketing executive who started the We Won't Fly campaign.

But Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, the independent body that oversees Reagan National and Dulles International airports, said passenger traffic was tracking with airline estimates, which predicted that about 138,000 people would fly out of both Virginia airports on Wednesday.

At Reagan's Terminal A, checkpoint lines moved quickly as a recorded message from TSA Administrator John Pistole played overhead. About half the passengers who were walking through a screening station with a full-body X-ray scanner in service were instead directed to a neighboring metal detector. Few seemed to mind either way.

At Dulles, Estelle Rogers, 62, of Northwest Washington was "shocked" by the calm scene.

"It looks less than a typical weekday," she said, scanning the terminal. "There were so many stories about how bad it was going to be."

Through Wednesday afternoon, wait times at some of the nation's busiest airports - Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York-LaGuardia, Phoenix, San Diego, St. Louis and Seattle-Tacoma - were minimal, according to the TSA's blog. Many wait times were five minutes or less. At one point, security officers at Newark Liberty International Airport outnumbered passengers, the TSA said.

"Things are going smoothly," TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball said in a statement. "We are thankful the traveling public is partnering with us on one of the busiest travel days of the year."

Just say no, protest urges

The opt-out campaign urged passengers to say no to being scanned by one of the more than 400 imaging machines at nearly 70 airports nationwide. Instead, they would opt for a public pat-down, a procedure that has been criticized as too invasive because a TSA officer's hands slide over genitals and breasts.

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