Protests of TSA airport pat-downs, body scanners don't delay Thanksgiving travel

As holiday travel ramps up, so does controversy over body scanners and pat-downs at the nation's airports.
By Ashley Halsey III and Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 12:33 AM

A day that dawned with fears of gridlock at the security gates to America's airports turned into something less than that as a protest against scanners and pat-downs fizzled dramatically on Wednesday.

Protesters showed up in ones and twos, but not in the predicted battalions. They held up signs, passed out leaflets damning the government and delayed virtually nobody.

From New York to Los Angeles - in Atlanta, Kansas City, Phoenix, San Diego, St. Louis, Seattle and at all three major airports in the Washington region - hundreds of thousands of people launched their holiday travels without falling afoul of airport security or the clamorous minority angered by scanners that produce revealing images of the human body and pat-downs deemed too intimate.

One of the biggest holiday weekend travel delays on the East Coast happened not at the airports but on Interstate 95 in Delaware, where construction at a toll plaza renowned for backing up traffic on a regular basis did that so magnificently that the state finally threw up its hands and stopped collecting tolls.

But air passengers who had feared the worst rejoiced in swift lines and security agents seemed determined to resurrect with good cheer an image trampled in the furor over the new scanners and "enhanced" frisking of those who failed or refused them.

"I have my food. I have my water. I expected to stand in line for hours," said Judith Gilbert of Arlington County. She arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport more than three hours early for a flight to Connecticut, only to find just a handful of people in front of her in a swiftly moving line.

At Dulles International Airport, Estelle Rogers, 62, of Northwest Washington was "shocked" by the tranquility.

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

Daniel Anderson, 28, of Alexandria was preparing to board a flight at Reagan National Airport with his wife and 20-month-old daughter, Alexa.

"We gotta get to Grandma's," he said as Alexa held an Elmo doll in the security line. "The choice is to have her microwaved or felt up, but we gotta get to Grandma's, so we'll do it."

At airports, the plan for 1960s-style civil disobedience faced challenges from the outset. The first was the price of admission. An airline ticket was required to reach the point in the security chain were one could "opt out" of the scanner and demand a pat-down.

Most people who flew Wednesday bought their tickets weeks or months ago, before the protest movement came to life. The few tickets to be had carried a high price tag. And those most infuriated by the Transportation Safety Administration's new policy most likely opted out of flying entirely.

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