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TSA to Passengers: Radiation or Groping?

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How would you like a tough-love security pat-down so thorough it would shame the most inveterate serial groper in the Tokyo subway system? No? Then how about a full-body backscatter X-ray that amounts to a virtual strip search (or as Stephen Colbert said, "that X-rays your X-rated parts")? If you're troubled by either option, voice your opinion in the new Your Travel Voice survey, sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association.

2010-b-tsa-scanner-1.jpgAlthough the new security measures were announced by the Transportation Security Administration three weeks ago, the issue caught fire with an increasingly doubtful public this weekend when a video was posted online documenting a confrontation between a TSA screener and software engineer John Tyner, who was planning to board a flight at San Diego International Airport. When Tyner balked at passing through one of the new full-body scanners (out of health concerns), a TSA agent explained the alternative: a comprehensive frisking, including groin, that would leave no stone unturned. An indignant Tyner said, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested."

Not only has the resultant video gone viral, it's unleashed a new wave of air traveler anxiety over the TSA's latest security procedures. With the busiest travel season fast approaching, the timing couldn't be better (or, worse).

Entrepreneurs are already selling "Don't touch my junk!"-inspired T-shirts on CafePress and other online stores. The Allied Pilots Association, which represents 11,000 American Airlines pilots, last week urged its members to opt out of the full-body scanners because of radiation concerns. The union also urged pilots to request a private pat-down because it would be "unacceptable to submit to [a pat-down] in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot." The TSA then announced yesterday that it plans to alter its policies for pilots, perhaps allowing them to pass through security with a biometric ID card.

And we regular travelers are left wondering why concerns about health and humiliation are valid for pilots, but not for us.

Mark Orwoll

Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure.

Photos courtesy of Cafe Press (top) and the TSA.

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