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TSA to exempt pilots from screenings, mulls ‘G-rated’ scanners

By Daniel Tencer
Friday, November 19, 2010 15:10 EDT
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Flight attendant, breast cancer survivor forced to expose prosthetic breast

Faced with a growing public backlash against its new screening procedures, the the TSA is reportedly now considering measures to soften what critics say are unnecessarily intrusive pat-downs and full body scans. But for the time being, it appears pilots will be the main group to benefit.

The federal agency tasked with airport security says pilots traveling in uniform or on airline business will see “immediate changes” in the way they are screened. It’s not clear, however, what those changes are, and TSA head John Pistole says his agency is still working with pilots on a final agreement for screenings.

Meanwhile, ABC News reports that the TSA is testing new body scanners that will show only a “stick figure” instead of a dully detailed image of a naked traveler.

Viewers on the other end of the X-ray would see anomalies — anything from a suicide vest to a cell phone on a belt clip — highlighted on the anatomically-ambiguous figure. No images were available to illustrate what the new scan would look like.

ABC notes that “the technology isn’t there yet.”

In a Senate hearing Wednesday, TSA administrator John Pistole said the new scanners are generating too many false positives. Therefore, the TSA is hesitant to confirm a rollout date, though Boston’s TSA security director, George Naccara, told a local paper that Logan International Airport is set to be the first to get the new “stick figure” scanners by late winter.

Pilots have been among the most vocal opponents of the TSA’s new screening measures, which involve a full-body x-ray for selected travelers, or, if they opt out, a pat-down that involves the touching of breasts and genitals.

A pilots’ union earlier this month recommended that pilots opt out of the scanners. One pilot faces career jeopardy after refusing both the scanner and the pat-down on privacy grounds. Even Capt. Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero of the Hudson River crash, has come out against the new screenings.

There are at least 300 full-body scanners operating at 65 US airports. The TSA says that by the end of this year, there will be some 1,000 machines deployed.

Stories of air passengers being traumatized by the new screening procedures continue to accumulate. A flight attendant who is a breast cancer survivor says she was horrified when, during an “aggressive” pat-down at the Charlotte, North Carolina, airport, she was ordered to expose her prosthetic breast to two female TSA staffers.

“She put her full hand on my breast and said, ‘What is this?’. And I said, ‘It’s my prosthesis because I’ve had breast cancer.’ And she said, ‘Well, you’ll need to show me that’.”

Cathy was asked to show her prosthetic breast, removing it from her bra.

“I did not take the name of the person at the time because it was just so horrific of an experience, I couldn’t believe someone had done that to me. I’m a flight attendant. I was just trying to get to work.”

Flight attendants’ unions are also raising concerns about the new screening procedures, but it is unclear at this point if the new rules for pilots will apply to flight attendants as well.

A spokesman for the US Airways pilots association welcomed the TSA’s move.

“The number-one goal of any airline pilot is the safety and security of the passengers. This decision will enhance the efficiency of the security system by enabling more time for TSA personnel to address potential terrorists rather than pilots,” James Ray said.

 
 
 
 
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