- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The airline security kerfuffle and the nation’s slow economic recovery aren’t undermining an uptick in Thanksgiving travelers taking to the skies, ensuring long security lines potentially exacerbated by a planned boycott of body-scan machines Wednesday.

The Air Transport Association of America, the industry trade association for leading U.S. airlines, says it expects a 3.5 percent increase in the number of passengers traveling on domestic airlines this Thanksgiving holiday season compared with last year.

“It is reassuring to see travel levels rebounding with the stronger economy,” said ATA President and Chief Executive Officer James C. May. “While modest, the recovery is particularly encouraging given the deep hole that this industry was in a year ago.”

AAA, the nation’s largest travel club, predicts 1.62 million people will fly between Tuesday and Sunday - up from 1.57 million in 2009.

But a poll shows that air travelers who didn’t cancel holiday reservations over new security procedures are likely to look for alternatives in the future.

A Zogby International Poll released Tuesday shows that the new security polices will cause 48 percent of Americans — and 42 percent of frequent fliers — to chose a different mode of transportation when possible.

Overall, 61 percent of the survey’s respondents, who were polled between Friday and Monday, oppose the use of full body scans and pat-downs. Republicans, at 69 percent, and independent voters, at 65 percent, disagreed in greater numbers than the 50 percent of Democrats who opposed the polices.

The airline industry publicly is taking a wait-and-see approach to the body scanners. ATA’s Mr. May said the group was “working with the government to help assure appropriate recognition of these concerns.”

The Transportation Security Administration’s so-called “naked X-ray” machines, which take an outline image of a person’s body, and more invasive pat-downs have caused TSA Administrator John Pistole to go on the defensive in recent days. On Wednesday, he said the agency is asking government security specialists whether there is a way to make the security pat-down less invasive but just as thorough.

Regardless of the public’s penchant for flying — and all it currently entails — the airplane still will take a back seat to the automobile as the preferred mode of Thanksgiving travel.

Nearly 40 million Americans are expected to drive 50 or more miles — at least 2 million more than in 2009, according to AAA. Another 887,000 will travel by train, bus, boat or other means of transportation.

ATA said that, as with typical Thanksgiving holiday travel periods, average daily airline capacity this year will be almost 90 percent on the busiest days. The group expects the busiest day of the 12-day holiday travel period to be Sunday, after Thanksgiving.

ATA spokesman David Castelveter said it’s too early to know whether the new security measures will have a long-term adverse effect on U.S. airlines.

“We’ve been hearing from customers about the intrusive nature of the pat-downs, but we’ve also been hearing from customers who say when they fly they want to know that everybody on the airplane has been appropriately screened to assure their safety,” he said.

Mr. Castelveter added that public outcries regarding beefed-up airport security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks eventually waned.

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