Much-hyped US airport pat-down protest fizzles

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The Independent Travel

A much-hyped protest against body scanners and invasive pat-downs fizzled Wednesday as many US airline passengers said preventing another terrorist attack was worth a few moments of discomfort.

"I don't care what they do - I'd rather be safe," said Stefanie Hammond as she prepared to board a flight for Reno, Nevada at Chicago's O'Hare airport.

Hammond had a simple message for people who balk at the scanners and pat-downs: "get over it!"

A national backlash against the new security measures gained traction last week after a cell-phone video of a disgruntled passenger telling a screener "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested" went viral.

The Obama administration worked to quell the uproar by pleading with the public for patience and reminding them that stringent measures are needed in the wake of a string of foiled bomb plots against US-bound airliners.

Those include the Christmas Day bomb attempt last year when Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young Nigerian, allegedly tried to ignite plastic explosives concealed in his underwear as his plane came in to land in Detroit.

Wednesday's loosely organized protest and its potential to slow already swollen security lines on one of the busiest travel days of the year got ample airtime on network news channels during an otherwise quiet news cycle.

The online organizer of National Opt Out Day urged holiday travelers to request full-body pat-downs - which take a lot more time to perform - rather than submit to what he calls a "naked body scanner," to "send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change."

While several protesters heeded the call - one even videotaped himself walking through a checkpoint in a skimpy bathing suit - there was little impact on operations.

"Security screening is going very smoothly today," Lauren Gaches, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, told AFP.

"In terms of passengers opting out of advanced imaging technology, the numbers we're seeing today are consistent with the numbers we've seen since the implementation of the technology, which is about one percent."

Carolyn Amos was among those who stood with their arms in the scanner while an off-site screener checked to see if anything suspicious appeared on the x-ray image.

"I was glad they were viewing it in another room - I was afraid I'd have to catch a glimpse of myself naked," the Florida native said after landing in Chicago.

Her brother - who had flown in from Utah - joked that he was disappointed he didn't get a pat-down.

Scott Minniear said he thought the uproar was overblown and said that while he wouldn't like to see his teenaged daughter frisked, he wouldn't object.

"If it makes sure that flight takes off and lands when it's supposed to - pat me down," he told AFP.

Jonathan Shaeffer, an early morning protester at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said several opt-out supporters were planning creative civil disobedience, including wearing kilts with no skivvies underneath.

But despite the levity, Shaeffer said he felt the passenger rights issue was serious and "doesn't deserve to be lampooned."

"There is no basis for someone in position of authority to impose that (invasive procedure) on you," the 27-year-old student and part-time security guard told AFP.

"You shouldn't have to have a scanned picture of your naked body to show that you're secure."