Pat the body

While a national controversy over the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new security screening procedures led several airports to wonder whether one of the year’s busiest travel days would become one of the slowest for passengers, the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (CHO) sounded ready for business as usual during Thanksgiving week. 

Charlottesville Albemarle Airport won’t see full-body scanners anytime soon, and executive director Barbara Hutchinson says only one “resolution pat-down” has been conducted since October 29.

The selective implementation of Advanced Imaging Technology—commonly known as full-body scanners—led activists to create a National Opt-Out Day, in which passengers refused scanners and submitted instead to an “enhanced pat-down.” Some have criticized the enhanced pat-downs as unlawful invasions of privacy.

Travelers at CHO, however, don’t need to opt out. CHO currently does not have full-scanners and is not slated to get the machines anytime soon. 

“We have not been informed by TSA that we are to receive full-body scanners. We haven’t requested them,” says Barbara Hutchinson, the airport’s executive director, who adds that the airport lacks the room necessary for the sizable scanners.

“I am not sure how we would accommodate a body scanner from a construction standpoint,” says Hutchinson. The scanners would also require a separate room to house the personnel monitoring the screens. “Some work would have to be done.” 

Richmond International Airport (RIC) has two scanners on each of its two concourses. Troy Bell, RIC’s director of marketing and air service development, tells C-VILLE that RIC was one of the first airports to receive full-body scanners during the program’s pilot period. To date, no major disturbances or complaints about the screening equipment have been recorded.

“The only time that anything has come up has been over the course of the last week or so,” says Bell. “What really set things off was the enhanced pat-downs. TSA did not do anything prior to instituting that step to set customers’ expectations, and it just happened.” 

Locally, the Rutherford Institute has brought legal action against the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of Michael Roberts, an airline pilot who refused a body scanner screening. Roberts was subsequently blocked from passing security and boarding a plane. 

Even without body scanners, however, CHO does not discount pat-downs as a possible security measure, following new TSA guidelines that went into effect on October 29. 

At CHO, passengers pass through a magnetometer, which screens for metal objects. “If you dress for screening success, as we say, you should be able to get through there without any issue,” says Hutchinson. If the magnetometer alarms, security personnel will ask you to remove any object that might set off the machine. If the second attempt is unsuccessful, TSA agents will perform a standard pat-down, “which has been in place for years and years and is unobtrusive,” says Hutchinson. 

If the alarm can’t be solved with this first measure, then a “resolution pat-down” will be performed in a private area away from the screening point. 

“Only one [resolution pat-down] has been done in Charlottesville since October 29,” says Hutchinson. 

According to Jeff Uphoff, a member of the CHO Joint Airport Commission, TSA does not give airports and airlines the chance to inform decisions about safety screening procedures. This eliminates a line of communication between passengers and the TSA prior to the creation of safety regulations.

“Airports effectively have been cut out of the decision-making process by TSA, so we really don’t have any say on what we think is more reasonable at our facility, what measures we think we need to go to, our ability to address concerns of our customers,” says Uphoff. “We can’t act as a conduit between the customers and TSA.” 

Hutchinson agrees. 

“I know threats are very real,” says Hutchinson. “But on the other hand, I would be much happier if TSA, on a national basis, would look at including airports and airlines in their dialogue, so that we can better represent communities and the passengers.”

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