At BWI, one man's campaign to 'Travel With Dignity'

As Thanksgiving travel ramps up At Reagan National Airport, so does controversy over body scanners and pat-downs at the nation's airports.
By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 3:45 PM

Tall, trim and and meticulously dressed, his military bearing showing through his gray business suit, Jonathan Schaeffer on Wednesday set out to challenge the government that until very recently he defended.

With federal airport security officials using revealing scanners and "enhanced" pat-downs, Schaeffer says he's now defending the Constitution.

His table, with a sign that said "Travel With Dignity," was set up in the main concourse at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. A neat array of material protesting new security measures by the Transportation Security Administration was spread out: a pamphlet Schaeffer wrote describing the TSA's "manual groping of the genitals, breasts and buttocks" as part of the new pat-down; a petition in support of a congressional effort to curtail the TSA; copies of the Constitution; and a "complaint-compliment" form passengers could use to rate their TSA experience.

"We're calling the TSA's bluff on its policies," said Schaeffer, who said he recently left the Navy after six years as a language expert. "This is a nonpartisan issue."

He said his protest at BWI on Wednesday began as a discussion among friends on Facebook.

He got a permit from the airport for his table and set up in a designated spot. Though he knew of no one who planned to protest in the security line, he said he was encouraging people who were asked to go through the scanners to decline.

"But most of the people who are protesting this are choosing not to fly at all," he said.

Schaeffer said he was alarmed by a CBS poll two weeks ago that found 81 percent of the public didn't object to the scanners. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week found that nearly two-thirds of Americans support the use of the machines.

"That's a real risk for our civil rights," he said. "It's baffling to me that only 20 percent of the people really care."

Despite fears that unfamiliar new procedures, protests and the crush of holiday travelers would cause an airport mess, getting through security was a breeze at BWI after the rush to make breakfast-hour flights abated.

"I have my food; I have my water; I expected to stand in line for hours," said Judith Gilbert of Arlington as she arrived more than three hours early for a flight to Connecticut.

Fewer than two dozen people were making their way through security ahead of her, with some being directed to a new scanner but more heading through traditional metal detectors. Seven of the new scanners were in use at BWI, all of the type that uses radio waves rather than radiation.

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