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An ExpressJet pilot recently reported to work at Memphis International Airport and touched off what has turned into a firestorm of controversy.

tsa airport security scanner machine aitThe pilot, Michael Roberts, refused to go through one of the TSA’s new full body scanning machines, reports the Baltimore Sun. The machines, which are being introduced in select airports around the country, use advanced imaging technology to produce a rather revealing picture of a passenger’s naked body — and they’ve sparked debates about the importance of individual privacy versus safety in the air. The health risks of the machines, which emit low levels of radiation, have also been questioned. (The TSA claims the radiation is well within acceptable limits.)

Roberts — like all airline passengers — was permitted to opt out of the full body scan. However, he also refused his second option, a manual pat-down. “I’m not onboard with federal agents putting their hands on me every time I go to work,” he tells the Sun. Because he refused both the full body scan and the pat-down, he was denied access to the airport and sent home — and now his job may be in jeopardy. He is planning to file a lawsuit against the TSA.

Many travelers are celebrating Roberts’ protest as a heroic struggle for privacy and civil rights. But the TSA defends itself in a recent blog post (which coyly does not mention Roberts by name), stating that everyone — including flight crew and TSA agents — is subject to airport security, and that “security is not optional.”

While I’m hardly one to defend the TSA, I’m not so sure I agree with Roberts either; is a pat-down really that big a deal? But then again, I haven’t yet had to go through one of the new full body scans. Readers, what’s your take — do you think a pat-down is a reasonable alternative to the full body scan, or is Roberts justified in standing up to the TSA?

–written by Sarah Schlichter

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15 Responses to “Is Pilot Who Refused “Naked” Security Scan a Hero or a Whiner?”

  1. SkyDog says:

    I would not want to pass through one of those machines every day because of the radiation. They say it is safe but gov’t have been saying that for years about other things only to find out that they we wrong in later years. As for the pat down, well I have had that done a few times and I did not find it that bad.

  2. D George says:

    I so hope Roberts prevails. I have a medical implant and must get patted down and wanded approximately 6 times per week. It is truly awful. Most of the wanders have an attitude. Since I too refuse to go through the scanner both for privacy and radaiation reasons, it seems I’m stuck with beginning every single business trip feeling violated and miserable.

  3. Ann P says:

    Both are unacceptable options, the exposure from the full body scan or having some stranger touch you. They can use a wand without touching.

  4. R Wren says:

    Hooray for Roberts! I’m sick of the charade that is the airport security. I’m with BA on the unnecessary hoops we have to go through to board a plane. It’s not much more than window dressing at a staggering cost.

    • Pat Watson says:

      I think a lot of the security is unnecessary but the real problem is the attitudes of the airline personnel. So tired of being treated as cattle by the airlines. We pay to be treated like this, folks. I know an airline attendant who is always bitching and moaning about the terrible passengers. I tell her, “I am always courteous and polite but it makes no difference to being treated as a member of a large herd.” MOO! She doesn’t ‘get’ it but the passengers do. Now the airlines have developed a chair to get more people in. An athlete tested it and said that after a few minutes his thighs were beginning to tremble and cramp. The airlines say these torture ‘chairs’ will only be used on short flights. Yeah, right! I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’ll sell you.

  5. Denis Bekaert says:

    I still don’t understand why TSA is still so hot on the full body scanners. The majority of European countries have little use for them and will not employ them at all. The pat down procedure is so varied that I have serious doubts about its effectiveness. Some TSA employees are too casual and others are much too intrusive. Makes you wonder about the training they get. Every flight seems like a crap shoot to me.

  6. Jolly8 says:

    TSA goes much too far! They fail to follow their own rules! My wife & I are handicapped, she more than I. On a recent trip, the pat down went too far. A female TSA checked my wife with her palms in toward her body & not out as TSA rules state. I was furious, but said nothing because I believe that a complaint would only cause the to try to have us miss our flight by delaying us with more intensive and invasive means. Security is important. Using a wand would at least allow us to have some dignity! We have lost the war! Freedom is under serious attack by our own government! Next step, a physical strip search! No more for us! We avoid flying as much as is humanly possible. I stopped being a road warrior because so many amenities left town and more inhumane treatment followed with fewer benefits for all. Why should safety measures really cause threats to our lives?

  7. Roberts Is A Hero says:

    If I want to get on a commercial flight, my options are:

    – get photographed naked
    – get groped by a mouth breathing TSA “agent”; the “pat down” includes touching breasts, inner thigh, and groin

    It’s easy to say, “Don’t fly”, but what if your job depends on it? Especially in a down economy. Michael Roberts is a hero. He took a stand and could lose his job.

    My job requires travel as well.

    Am I exempt if I fly in a burka and cite religious objections?

    If not, I need a new job.

  8. Big John says:

    I always get a “Pat search” ever time because my artificial knee sets off the alarm. The full body scan was welcome for a change. If I flew every day I may feel differently

  9. Dillon says:

    Let’s see, I get arrested and I get patted down. Probable cause. I fly to LA and get patted down. Probable cause?

    Air crew may fly 20 days a month. That’s 240 doses a year of “an insubstantial” amount of radiation. I’d love to have a pilot or flight attendant (or 50 or so) wear a TLD or OSL (devices worn by folks in the x-ray profession) to see what their annual dose is.

    Is TSA willing to go for this?

  10. Johnp says:

    I can feel for the ExpressJet pilot, although I believe a patdown is not overly problematic, my opinion. Notwithstanding, TSA and its staff, policies and procedures are out of line and uncalled for. They go into our pockets, bags, luggage, open wallets, steal our money(fact), impose not-necessary restrictions, delay passengers but our Federal Government does not examine thoroughly each piece of cargo on board the same passenger plane, nor ship or postal package. So who is getting all TSA’s concern: You and me, the millions of regular flying passengers.

  11. humilated air travler says:

    For every one out there thinking that the pilot is a whiner, you need to remember one thing; he has to endure this nonsense EVERY day. There are many of us with medical conditions, implants and pacemakers who are subjected to the same nonsense. The TSA states that “they must resolve the cause of the alarm” when we with metal implants are subject to rude federal agents. we try our best to conform by providing doctor cards and telling of our implants but are treated like criminals. lately i was actually refused admittance thru the handicapped lane. Why can’t something be done for those of us who are not terrosists? they certainly did something qucik when all the arabs and muslms complained, didnt they? Americans rights are always last. It seems you have to be a minority, muslim, pedophile or speak another language in order to get any rights anymore.

  12. Abhishek (Indian student) says:

    i think that people are exaggerating about full body imaging .People have problems,
    then they can opt out but at least a pat-down is necessary for everybody .People of all religions should be given the same treatment , it should be made compulsory for EVERYONE including the staff that they should at least subjected for a pat-down. if this not done then a terrorist can easily pass through .

    I am participating in International Indian Model United Nations 2013. Can anyone give information for the following: ICAO in Portugal, conflicts about advanced body imaging(full body imaging) , ICAO measures For avoiding a Kingfisher airlines/Swiss Air situation . Please reply…

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