It’s time to tell the TSA what you really think of it — and for it to listen

Travelers love to complain about the TSA, and even though the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems claims to listen, most of us know better.

Don’t believe me? Try sending the agency an email, complaining about your last pat-down. Do you hear the sound of crickets? Me too.

But now a court has ordered the TSA to listen, and to pay attention — and maybe, if we’re lucky, to do something about it.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ordered the TSA to engage in something known as notice-and-comment rulemaking on its screening procedures, and specifically its use of full-body scanners. You can leave your comment at the Federal Register website until June 24th.
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Is there a better way to screen airline passengers?

scannedIf you look enviously at the TSA Pre-Check line whenever you’re at the airport — where pre-cleared air travelers breeze through the checkpoint without having to be scanned, remove their shoes or face a humiliating “enhanced” pat-down — then join the club.

If you ask yourself: “What sets them apart from me?” and the answer is, “Nothing, really,” then you’re well on your way to answering a question that has haunted aviation security professionals since 2009.

Is there a better way to screen air travelers than scanning them?
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What do you really know about the TSA?

Hey babe, you on the no-fly list? / Photo by Drewski 2112 - Flickr
When it comes to the TSA, you may know less than you think.

I was reminded of that last week when I heard from Sergei Shevchuk, a reader who was flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Delta Air Lines.
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Ridiculous or not: Just who does the TSA think it is?

Hardly a day seems to go by that I don’t get a complaint about the Transportation Security Administration.

Today it’s Judi Kutzko’s turn. She believes many air travelers like her are afraid to stand up to the agency for fear of being blacklisted.

“TSA can — and often does — make things miserable for anyone who speaks up,” she says.

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TSA Watch: Should we avoid screening — or embrace it?

Full-body scan or pat-down?

It’s a choice that hundreds of thousands of air travelers will make for the first time this summer.

Not willingly, mind you. Some passengers are even going so far as to change the way they dress in an effort to avoid the whole thing. Susan Jones, an executive from Bellevue, Wash., wears clothes that won’t set off the airport magnetometer, hoping to pass through the checkpoint quickly.

“I have a favorite underwire garment that gets caught going through the machine,” she says. “So I try to remember not to wear it when I’m traveling.”
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Another kid gets the once-over by TSA — what can the agency do to improve its image?

Seems the TSA just can’t get a break. First there’s the fallout from the pat-down video of a six-year-old, which I covered yesterday.

This morning comes the unbelievable story of Bill Gordon, a 63-year-old air traveler from Colorado who was pulled aside and patted down for the crime of having something in his pocket while passing through the security checkpoint in Memphis.

Yes, apparently that’s enough to make the TSA suspicious. That, and criticizing the agency. (More on that in a minute.)
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Are you traveling more after the TSA’s unpopular scandowns?

Compelling journalism connects dots, telling a story by revealing a bigger picture. But what happens when you connect the wrong dots?

For example, here are two facts that should be connected only with great care and perspective: The latest Transportation Department numbers, which show domestic airlines carried 58.1 million passengers in November, up 6.1 percent from a year ago, and the introduction of the TSA’s unpopular scans and pat-downs, which prompted many air travelers to say they would stop flying.

Put them together and you get headlines like, Despite new security measures, airline travel soars.

Oh, really?
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Do the TSA’s new body scanners solve our screening problems?

The TSA is at it again. Earlier this week, it announced that in an effort to “enhance security while strengthening privacy protection” it had begun testing new scanning technology that doesn’t show screeners naked images of passengers.

But that is not why I’m writing about the beleaguered federal agency again. I promised you, dear reader, that I would pace myself with these TSA posts, and I am trying. It’s been five days since my last one.

It seems we’re at it, too. Just as the government made a big splash with its new scanning technology announcement (and we had the usual cast of critics and apologists trading insults, which was disappointing) so, too, have passengers and their advocates made some important — yet largely unreported — progress.

Before we get to that, a few words about the “new” scanners, which are actually just a software upgrade. The application is being used in existing scanners at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and will be loaded into machines at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in “the very near future,” according to the agency.

In a blog post accompanying the announcement, the TSA claims that only a “small percentage of travelers have had privacy concerns” with the screening process, and that this fix “eliminates” them.

That’s an interesting perspective. I wonder what the tens of thousands of passengers who are subjected to a physical pat-down would have to say about that. What’s more, I wonder how that flies with the passengers who are worried about radiation from those scanners?

(If you can’t wait to answer the question, please scroll down and take today’s poll.)
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The government admits it really wants to see your genitals at the airport

And we thought things couldn’t get any stranger.

Earlier this week, I suggested it might be the end of the world for travelers, thanks to a preponderance of odd events. I was kidding, of course.

But I should have written that post yesterday when the TSA out-bizarred all of us by publishing a post delicately titled, A Friendly Suggestion on Products Designed to Conceal Sensitive Areas, on its blog.

I’m not kidding this time. Read it for yourself.
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Do corporate travel managers support body scans and pat-downs?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find anyone who supports the Transportation Security Administration’s controversial body scan and pat-down procedures. But this morning, it seemed as if I had: corporate travel managers.

Travel managers are the folks who manage multi-million dollar travel programs for big companies. They are represented by the National Business Travel Association (NBTA), which bills itself as the “world’s premier business travel and corporate meetings organization.”

In a press release issued today, the NBTA announced that it had met with TSA Administrator John Pistole and expressed “its support for the security measures the TSA has introduced over the last several weeks.”

Oh really?
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