Travellers vowing to boycott controversial see-through airport scanners have threatened chaos on the busiest US air travel day.
Americans have voiced outrage over the new, personally invasive security searches and threatened airport protests that could snarl up the system on Wednesday – the peak of Thanksgiving holiday travel.
Body scans take as little as 10 seconds, but people who refuse to undergo the scan must submit to a full pat-down, which takes much longer. That could cause a cascade of delays at dozens of major airports, including those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.
The Obama administration and security chiefs acknowledged public anger but emphasised the need to keep travellers safe from potential terror attacks in the sky.
The uproar is over new procedures implemented by the Transportation Security Administration, which was created after the September 11 2001 terror attacks and has toughened airline security significantly since.
The new checks include body-scanning devices at about 70 US airports that produce virtually nude, although unrecognisable, images of travellers. Those who refuse the scan are allowed to undergo pat-down body searches, but those can include the touching of genitals through clothing.
Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole said he understood public anger about privacy but stressed that a relatively small proportion of the 34 million people who had flown since the new procedures came in had body pat-downs.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the government was “desperately” trying to balance procedures that maximised security and minimised invasiveness. He said President Barack Obama’s highest priority during the holiday season “is to ensure that when you or I or others get on to an airplane, that we can feel reasonably sure that we can travel safely”.
That however, may not dissipate a continuing internet campaign to boycott body scans. A National Opt-Out Day is planned to coincide with the busiest travel day of the year, when Americans leave home in huge numbers for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Reminding Americans of the alleged Christmas Day bombing attempt by a Nigerian with explosives in his underwear to bring down an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight, Mr Pistole said: “We all wish we lived in a world where security procedures at airports weren’t necessary, but that just isn’t the case.”