Pilots among those dismayed at scanners, pat-downs

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CHICAGO (AP) — Airport security stops one airline pilot because he’s carrying a butter knife. Elsewhere, crews opt for pat-down searches because they fear low-level radiation from body scanners could be harmful. And in San Diego, one traveler is told he can’t fly at all when he likens an intrusive body search to sexual harassment.

Annoyance at security hassles has been on the rise among airline crews and passengers for years, but the widespread use of full-body image detectors this year and the simultaneous introduction of more intrusive pat-downs seems to have ramped up the frustration.

As passengers have simmered over being forced to choose scans by full-body image detectors or rigorous pat-downs inspections, some airline pilots are pushing back. Much of the criticism is directed at the Transportation Security Administration.

“I would say that pilots are beyond fed up,” said Tom Walsh, a pilot and sometimes aviation security consultant. “The TSA is wasting valuable time and money searching the crew — who are not a threat.”

Even one of the nation’s most celebrated pilots, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, has detected the growing unease.

“The fundamental reason is that airline pilots are already the last line of defense for anyone who poses a threat to the airplane,” said the soft-spoken Mr. Sullenberger, who successfully ditched his US Airways plane in the Hudson River last year after it struck birds during takeoff. “We are — and would like to be considered — trusted partners in that important security mission.”

The scanners show a body’s contours on a computer stationed in a private room removed from the security checkpoints. A person’s face is never shown and the person’s identity is supposedly not known to the screener reviewing the images. Under TSA rules, those who decline must submit to pat-downs that include checks of the inside of travelers’ thighs and buttocks.

Top federal officials said Monday that the procedures are safe and necessary sacrifices to ward off terror attacks.

“It’s all about security,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. “It’s all about everybody recognizing their role.”

That’s not how John Tyner sees it.

The software engineer posted an Internet blog item over the weekend saying he had been ejected from the San Diego airport after being threatened with a fine and lawsuit for refusing a groin check after turning down a full-body scan. He said he told one federal TSA worker, “If you touch my junk, I’m gonna have you arrested.”

“I told the person that being molested should not be a condition of getting on a flight,” the 31-year-old said in a phone interview Monday.

Mr. Tyner, who was eventually told he could not fly at all because he refused both modes of search, captured the incident on his cell phone.

“This is not considered a sexual assault,” a supervisor can be heard telling him.

“It would be if you were not the government,” replies Mr. Tyner.

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