Pilot anger over pat-downs and scanners

By Michael Flux, November 10 2010
Pilot anger over pat-downs and scanners

Passengers aren't the only people getting annoyed with American airport security checks. Two major pilots' unions have issued complaints about the use of full body scanners and new, more invasive pat-down techniques.

Captain David Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association, sent a letter to the 11,000 American Airlines pilots that make up his union condemning the techniques. "The practice of airport security screening of airline pilots has spun out of control and does nothing to improve national security", he said.

The US Airline Pilots Association, representing 5,200 United Airlines pilots, has also voiced displeasure. President Mike Cleary believes the procedures are "blatantly unacceptable".

Of major concern to pilots is the radiation produced by full body scanners. Pilots are exposed to large amounts of radiation on daily flights due to their closer proximity to cosmic radiation, and the health effects of additional exposure from the "backscatter" devices are so far untested.

In addition to this, pilots are embarrassed by new "enhanced" pat-down techniques which require the groin and breasts to be touched. According to Mike Cleary, one pilot referred to the pat-down as "sexual molestation" and "could not function as a crew member" after going through the ordeal.

Cleary brings up the salient point that "it makes no difference what a pilot has on his or her person or in their luggage, because they have control of the aircraft throughout the entire flight."

Both union presidents have requested their members refuse to go through full-body scanners, and that they request to be searched in an area out of view from members of the public.

Passenger advocacy groups have also voiced concern. The Association for Airline Passenger Rights issued their own stinging attack on the Transport Security Administration claiming, "TSA has a history of being a day late and a dollar short on its security measures, and unfortunately their new aggressive pat-down searches are in keeping with that history".

For their part, the TSA are standing by the scanners and pat-down techniques. TSA Chief John Pistole told MSNBC the measures provide the "best possible technology" for finding "non-metallic explosive devices that we know have been used before", in reference to the "underwear-bomber" of last Christmas.

317 full body scanners are currently in use throughout the States at around 65 airports.

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