'Opt-Out Day' fizzles: Air travelers say scans aren't 'a big deal'

Boston's Logan Airport and others nationwide saw no huge 'Opt-Out-Day' boycotts. A few passengers opted out of the scanners, but not enough to cause problems.

Rick Wilking/Reuters
Transportation Security Agency (TSA) workers carry out security checks at Denver International Airport the day before the Thanksgiving holiday. Air travel flowed smoothly despite national 'Opt-Out Day' protests over new security procedures, including calls for passengers to boycott high-tech body scanners.

Despite the weeks of preparation and media-hyped anticipation, no massive "Opt-Out Day" protests appeared at Boston’s Logan International Airport on Wednesday. Media reports suggest that the scene at other American airports was no different.

As usual, the airport used all of their scanners – the new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners that critics call a "virtual strip search," as well as the traditional metal detectors that still stand at each checkpoint – to scan passengers.

Anyone who wished to submit to the scan could line up for it, but anyone who didn’t could choose to go to the classic airport metal detectors and walk through effortlessly. Of those passengers were directed to the scanner, few exercised their right to opt out.

Ha Le was one of the few who chose to go through the new machines. “Considering what might happen, I don’t think it’s a big deal to get scanned,” the Harvard student said.

Others felt opting out would single them out. "I felt a little uncomfortable at the idea of going through the scanners,” says Natalie Ornell, a Wellesley College student, but she didn’t plan to opt out. “I almost get the feeling if I opt out, you’re signaling to other people that you’re a little suspicious.”

Phillip Aguilar, a medical student at Harvard, didn’t go through a scan Wednesday, but he has before at San Francisco International Airport and thought little of it. “I traveled every week for a year and a half, and of everything I deal with at airports, that would be one of the things I would care about the least.”

But he added: “I don’t think it’ll keep something new from happening.”

Many passengers, concerned about the promised delays, allowed hours of time before their flights – resulting in a terminal full of bored travelers, whiling away two to four hours.

IN PICTURES: Airport security

“I don’t know what all the hype was about. I went in and through, and everyone was really courteous to each other,” says Josh Snyder, a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He filled his extra hours by writing an essay and taking advantage of Logan’s free WiFi Internet.

Alice Adler, who was awaiting a flight to California, remarked that “security was faster than usual.”

“A lot of these things are media events, and this this was,” added Edward Ginsberg, a physics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The scanners "need to be checked to make sure that you don’t get an overdose of radiation and to be sure they’re working properly, but I don’t think they’re intrusive or invasive or anything.”

The biggest slow-down of the day appeared in the morning when five consecutive people opted out of the scan, said an agent who was present. Each requested a private room for their pat-down. Since the private-room pat-down requires the presence of a second, same-gender TSA agent, the five protests meant that the checkpoint’s staff was abruptly down by 10 people, and the line quickly backed up. But it was cleared within half an hour, the agent said.

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