Holiday travelers face body scanning

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Depending on which regional airport local travelers use this Thanksgiving, they could be in line for security measures that might leave them feeling like a holiday turkey—plucked nude and pawed over.

Amid airport security changes by the Transportation Security Administration, airports around the country have started using full-body scanning machines that can see under clothing to detect hidden objects.

Several airports in the region have the new scanners, and new TSA rules say people lucky enough to pass through an airport checkpoint with one of the machines must either undergo a scan or submit to an intensive, full-body pat-down.

Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport has four of the new body scanners. Two are located at the airport's Concourse C, and the other two are at the airport's Concourse D, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

O'Hare International Airport in Chicago has 23 of the body scanners; Chicago Midway Airport does not yet have the scanners, the Chicago Department of Aviation reports.

Dane County Regional Airport in Madison and Chicago Rockford International Airport in Rockford don't yet have body scanners; the airports continue to use traditional security methods such as metal detectors, TSA officials said.

Jim Fotenos, a spokesman for TSA's Midwest region, said the TSA has about 450 body scanners at 69 airports nationwide, but the agency plans to put 1,000 more body scanners at U.S. airports in 2011.

Fotenos said it's too early to say whether new body scanners could end up at Madison or Rockford airports next year.

For anyone planning a Thanksgiving flight out of an airport that's using the new body scanners this year, here's what to expect, Fotenos tells the Gazette:

-- The machines, like traditional metal detectors, are set up at airport concourse entrances and are used as primary screening devices to scan passengers individually.

-- Each scan takes less than 30 seconds and is designed to find metallic and non-metallic foreign objects, including weapons and explosives, that may be concealed under passengers' clothing.

-- The scans transmit beneath-the-clothes images of people's bodies to a TSA security screener working in an enclosed room. Scans that show a potential foreign object on someone's body prompt further searches, including full body pat-downs. Images gathered during the scans are immediately and permanently erased.

-- Some airports that use body scanners continue to have concourses outfitted with traditional metal detectors, but security is set up so that a passenger entering a concourse will either pass through a body scanner or a metal detector—not both, the TSA says.

As with metal detectors, only a small percentage of walk-through screenings trigger the need for further searches, Fotenos said.

People at body-screening checkpoints can opt out of the screenings, but under new rules by the TSA, those people are subject to intensive, full body pat-downs that can vary in length from two to four minutes, officials say.

Passengers have the right to have the pat-downs conducted in a private room with a person of their choice as a witness. Pat-downs are only conducted by same-gender officers, the TSA says.

National media reports this week have fueled speculation about a possible public backlash against the new body scan machines. The reports suggest that large blocs of passengers plan to opt for pat-downs in favor of body scans, which could bog down security, leading to flight delays and long waits.

While the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports unusually long waits for passengers at Mitchell International Airport, the newspaper says it's not clear whether that's attributable to TSA body screens and pat-downs or the start of the holiday crush.

Fotenos said increased baggage checks are the main culprit for airport security snarls.

Dane County Regional Airport spokeswoman Jennifer Miller said she doesn't expect security will lead to significant holiday delays at the Madison airport.

At Chicago Rockford International Airport, passenger flights are expected to double from about eight flights a week in off-peak seasons to 12 to 21 passenger flights a week, airport spokesman Thomas Bona said.

But even at holiday capacity, Bona said security at the airport doesn't get bogged down.

"Every year at the holidays, we tell people to get themselves here a little ahead of time, but we haven't seen an increase in delays. Our wait times are normally small," he said.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune reports the TSA is now banning carry-on of dense food items the agency says can flag as explosives during security scans. For instance, passengers can't carry on gravy, cranberry sauce, cheese dip and maple syrup, according to tsa.gov.

The TSA, however, still allows people to carry on pies and cakes.


McClatchy-Tribune and Gazette staff

If you are slipping out of town for the long Thanksgiving weekend, you might be doing some sliding as part of your holiday travels.

It looks like a wintry mix is on tap for Wednesday, with snow in the forecast for parts of northern Wisconsin and a combination of rain and snow for southeastern Wisconsin, according to WTMJ-TV meteorologist Michael Fish and the National Weather Service office in Sullivan.

"As of right now, it looks like the better chances of accumulating snow are further to the north and west, but still, keep updated on this storm, as someone in Wisconsin will be affected by snow," Fish said of what's likely in store as thousands of people head out on Wednesday.

If you plan to stay around Rock or Walworth counties, you can expect rain Wednesday through the night, with a chance of snow Thursday, said Penny Zabel, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Friday through Sunday should be dry throughout most of the state, she said.

If people are traveling toward Minneapolis or northwestern Wisconsin, chances are good that they will hit snow Wednesday, said Chris Kuhlman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

At this point, it's hard to nail down the amount, Kuhlman said, but the hazardous weather outlook for Minneapolis and northwestern Wisconsin says several inches of snow and areas of blowing snow seem more and more likely.

For southeastern Wisconsin, Kuhlman said there's a chance of rain or snow starting Wednesday morning, but it will change to rain across the region in the afternoon as temperatures increase. During the day Wednesday, a high of around 40 is expected.

As the temperature falls, it will be a rain-snow mix for southern Wisconsin that will end early Thursday morning, he said.

"Even if we do get mostly snow, it's not expected to be a high amount," Kuhlman said.

And it likely won't stick to the ground because soil temperatures in southern Wisconsin are still pretty warm at this point, he said.

Still, the wet and snowy weather likely won't be a welcome sight for the more than 860,000 people from the Badger state that AAA Wisconsin estimates will be traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Of those, 809,000 plan to travel by auto and 33,000 by air, AAA Wisconsin says.

Last updated: 3:24 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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