Is the TSA’s “opt-out” policy a scam?


How badly does the TSA want you to use its full-body scanners? Badly enough to bend a few facts, say passengers like Melissa Paul.

Paul’s story is definitely worth paying attention to, even if it looks familiar. And it’s a timely one, too, in light of a federal judge’s declaration yesterday that air travel is a right, not a privilege. It’ll make you wonder if the TSA’s so-called “opt-out” policy isn’t just a big scam that’s meant to herd us into one of these machines.

Wait for the poll, please.

A few weeks ago, Paul was making an international connection through Phoenix, so she had to go through security a second time.

“They opened the Pre-Check area to other travelers and I thought I would get the regular metal detector instead of the full body imaging scanner,” she recalls.

She was wrong.

“The TSA agent directed me to the full-body scanner after my companion and I had already placed our bags on the conveyor belt for the X-ray scanner,” she says.

Paul, like a lot of smart air travelers, prefers not to use the poorly-tested and controversial advanced imaging technology.

She continues,

I was standing right next to the sign that explains the “Advanced Imaging Technology” and advised that travelers may opt out of the screening. I pointed at the sign and told the TSA agent that I would like to opt out.

He directed me to wait just next to the AIT scanner. He loudly announced to everyone else waiting and going through the scanner how little radiation there was and that it is completely safe and painless.

Paul spent 10 minutes waiting in the TSA timeout box. She finally asked an agent if she could be screened.

“We don’t have a female agent available right now for a pat down,” the agent replied.

“What about her?” Paul asked, pointing to an agent on the other side of the AIT who was waving everyone through.

“We’re short handed right now,” the agent insisted.

“What about him?” she asked, pointing to another agent at the metal detector, who was standing there, not doing anything.

“We’re short-staffed,” the agent repeated.

Paul waited another 10 minutes.

“Eventually, I couldn’t wait any longer without risking missing my flight and had to go through the AIT,” she says. “I guess if you have to stand around until it is time for your flight to leave eventually you will make the right decision.”

The right decision, according to the TSA, would be to avoid a retaliatory wait time and comply with the screening.

After all, it’s for your own safety — unless you have a little Pre-Check icon on your boarding pass or unless the “randomizer” chooses you to go through the metal detector.

The right decision, according to me and others, would be to politely tell the TSA agent “no thank you.” You don’t have to be an activist to know that the machines are easily foiled, unproven, possibly even dangerous.

If you ask me, the TSA has no business pressuring us into one of these machines. For some air travelers, the TSA’s “opt-out” policy could be viewed as a tricky way of getting us to step inside these poorly-tested machines. In other words, the policy (perhaps even the machines themselves) are a scam, in the broadest sense of the word.

But I acknowledge that there are some people out there who think these full-body scanners are a necessary layer of security and that without them terrorists would be blowing our planes out of the sky.

And that’s why we have today’s poll. Here you go.

Is the TSA's "opt-out" policy a scam?

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And by popular demand, here’s another poll about the headline on this story. I aim to please!

Is the headline in this article a "scam"?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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