Chicago (AP) - As if air travel over the Thanksgiving holiday isn't tough enough, it could be even worse this year: Airports could see even more disruptions because of a loosely organized Internet boycott of full-body scans.
Even if only a small percentage of passengers participate, experts say it could mean longer lines, bigger delays and hotter tempers.
The protest, National Opt-Out Day, is scheduled for Wednesday to coincide with the busiest travel day of the year.
"Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it takes to cause huge delays," said Paul Ruden, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents, which has warned its more than 8,000 members about delays resulting from the body-scanner boycott.
"It doesn't take much to mess things up anyway - especially if someone purposely tries to mess it up."
Body scans take as little as 10 seconds, but people who decline the process 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
"I don't think it would take that much on the busiest day of the year to slow things down," said Gerry
Not all airports have the machines, which resemble large refrigerators. And not all travelers are selected for scans. But
The full-body scanners show a traveler's physical contours on a computer in a private room removed from security checkpoints. But critics say they amount to virtual strip searches.
The protest was conceived in early November by Brian Sodergren of
Public interest in the protest boomed this week after an Oceanside, Calif., man named John Tyner famously resisted a scan and groin check at the San Diego airport with the words, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." A cell-phone video of the incident went viral.
Other groups have since taken up Sodergren's cause.
"I had no idea what was being started and just how upset people were," said Sodergren, a health industry employee. "I'm just a guy who put a website up."
The Transportation Security Administration has a new pat-down procedure that includes a security worker running a hand up the inside of passengers' legs and along the cheek of the buttocks, as well as making direct contact with the groin area.
Pat-downs often take up to four minutes, according to the
Factoring in those time estimates, it would take a total of around 15 minutes to put 100 people through a body scan - but at least 6 hours to pat down the same number of travelers.
Fotenos declined to say if the agency was taking precautionary steps ahead of the protest, saying only that passengers can make their experience better "by coming prepared and arriving early."
Pistole acknowledged the public distaste for more intense security, particularly hand pat-downs, and called it a "challenge" for federal authorities and airport screeners.
Also Friday, the
David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents the airline industry, declined to speculate whether the protest would trigger delays.
"It is impossible to assess how many people will take part, but we would be disappointed if many travelers did participate on one of the busiest days of the year," Castelveter said.
He said airlines always urge customers to show up early during peak holiday travel times and were not suggesting any changes specifically because of the protest.
Delta Air Lines planned to have extra staff in place as it normally does during a holiday travel period. Spokeswoman Susan Elliott said the company was not taking any extra precautions in case of widespread protests.
Southwest Airlines Paul Flaningan said only that his company was "aware of what is being talked about, and we are in constant communication with the
He said Southwest was not bringing in extra workers specifically because of the threatened protest.
Karen Pride, a spokeswoman for Chicago's Department of Aviation, which oversees O'Hare and Midway airports, would say only that the airports planned to bring in extra workers for the holiday, but she declined to address the potential effect of the protest.
Sodergren sounds much less strident than many critics of screening procedures. And he says he's not trying to cause disarray at airports.
"I have no idea what's going to happen," he said "I don't think it will be chaos. And I have no desire to slow the system down."
But some protesters are aiming to do just that.
Another participating organization called "We Won't Fly" features a blurb at the top of its website that says, "Jam
Organizer James Babb of
"They won't have the manpower to reach into everyone's crotch," he said.
Passengers cannot opt out of both the scan and the pat-down once they have been selected for the enhanced searches, according to
Even if someone in a security line becomes frustrated and decides not to fly,
At least some entrepreneurs are offering passengers other forms of protest.
And for anyone who wants to express displeasure with pat-downs, Tyner's confrontation has spawned online sales of T-shirts, bumper stickers and even underwear emblazoned with the words, "Don't Touch My Junk!"
Ironically, one person who will not take part directly in Wednesday's protest is its instigator, Brian Sodergren. He said his wife is too uncomfortable with the prospect of either a body scan or a pat-down, so they are driving the several hundred miles to a relative's home.