Flying home for Thanksgiving? Better pack your patience. You can expect long lines and new security measures at Logan Airport this week.
According to the Air Transport Association, over 24 million people will be flying this Thanksgiving holiday, up 3.5 percent from last year. The TSA is expecting to screen an average of 2.2 million people per day this weekend, up from the 1.8 million people it normally screens on a daily basis.
New security measures are also expected to complicate the holiday rush. Over the summer, Logan installed new full-body scanners, which come in two forms — backscatter X-ray and millimeter wave imaging. Currently, there are more than 380 full-body scanners in 68 airports nationwide. Both types of machines work by bouncing waves off the passenger and producing an image from the reflection of the waves and their energy. The systems, known as Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), are capable of seeing underneath clothing, a point that has raised privacy concerns.
After a person is scanned, the image is sent to a computer in an isolated “resolution room” where a TSA officer looks at it. The officer physically assisting the passenger never sees the photo, the TSA explains, and instead communicates with the officer in the back room with a wireless headset. After the passenger is cleared, the photo is automatically deleted by the machine. Officers are prohibited from taking cameras or phones into the resolution room. The millimeter-wave scanners also blur the face of each passenger.
A passenger can decline use of the machine and receive a physical pat-down instead, but those measures have themselves been the subject of controversy due to new rules that have made them more invasive than ever before. TSA employees must now use the front of their hand during the pat-down procedure, checking up between the legs until they meet resistance. Pat-downs also include a breast pat-down for women.
Passengers will only receive a physical pat-down if AIT sees something suspicious on them, they set off a metal detector, or they refuse AIT. Over 99 percent of passengers choose AIT over physical pat-downs and a recent CBS poll shows four out of five Americans support AIT.
Recently the Internet has been aflame with stories of pat-downs gone wrong, complaints about invasion of privacy, and concerns about radiation from the backscatter machines. The TSA says AIT has been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration, The National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which have deemed the new technology to be safe. The scans emit an amount of radiation equivalent to that received during two minutes on an airplane, and the millimeter-wave technology is one thousandth as powerful as a cell phone transmission.
A loose campaign against AIT in airports has declared Nov. 24 (the busiest travel day of the year) “National Opt-Out Day.” The campaign calls for all air travelers to decline the use of AIT. Declining AIT means a lengthy pat-down and organizers are hoping officials will take notice of the delays resulting from the protest.
To help ease travel frustrations, Logan will have a “BOS Team” wandering around the airport with yellow clipboards, answering questions for passengers. The staff will greet travelers and manage the security line, bringing late passengers up to the front if they are close to missing their flight.
Security at Logan Airport has also decided to change their use of AIT in response to the controversy over screening tactics. Instead of the detailed image now shown to an officer in another room, Logan wants to institute scanners that show a stick-like figure right at the security checkpoint. All that will be shown on the screen is a stick figure with blocks around it depicting anything suspicious. However, these changes will not take place for another six to twelve months.