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updated: 12/4/2010 8:39 AM

Airport security deserves a dressing-down


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Did you hear about the woman who stripped down to her altogether on a flight from Chicago to New York last week? She took "dress is optional" to a new level on the Delta Air Lines flight.

When flight attendants attempted to cover her with a blanket, she became agitated. The fact that there was a blanket available is quite amazing. But I digress. Authorities said she was emotionally disturbed. I believe she just may be ahead of her time.

With the new body scanners and thorough pat-downs welcoming passengers at most airport security checkpoints, agents are exposing a lot more than terrorists, and it's not a pretty sight.

One man wrote, "They should issue hospital gowns with boarding passes. The agent touched everywhere. I kept waiting for him to ask me to cough."

Last week at San Francisco International Airport, I overheard a woman, who was standing spread eagle in front of the whole world, say, "Usually someone buys me dinner before they do this to me."

But besides the embarrassment of being undressed in front of the whole world, there's also the fear factor. The FAA claims there's no danger from radiation from the scanning equipment. But common sense (something which is often lacking in our airline security policies) says otherwise. Hospitals use radiation shields to reduce the amount of radiation the X-ray machines emit. And doctors recommend limiting the number of body scans a person experiences annually.

When the machines became a reality, both the pilot and flight attendant unions were adamant about the possible dangers of body scans to their members and the invasion of privacy caused by extreme pat downs. The FAA succumbed to the pressure and now both groups are exempt from the full-body scans and the intimate, personal pat-downs.

Just as before, employees do need to go through the metal detector. But there's more. Several government officials and law enforcement officials also get to skip the severe screening techniques.

At some airports, passengers are saying they've had enough. At the Salt Lake City International Airport, one man stripped down to a Speedo swim suit to protest the hands-on screening of passengers. At the same airport, a passenger took a video of a young boy who was too frightened to raise his arms for the scan and his father removed his shirt. The video has been getting a lot of attention on YouTube.

Travelers at some airports are advocating passenger slowdowns by boycotting the body scanners and insisting on the personal pat-downs, which take more time and could cause passengers to miss their flights and general chaos in the industry.

"It's one thing to fly once a year and go through a full-body scan," said frequent flier Jean Cowden. "But getting zapped every week is a different story. I can't help think there will be consequences down the line."

If invasive body scans and pat-downs was the front-line defense against terrorism, nobody would complain. But security on the tarmac itself has still not been addressed.

One pilot, who flies small planes, told me he has clearance to land at any major airport in the United States. He takes off from private landing strips and his plane is not checked out before or after he lands. He could have anything onboard and he's already passed our security lines.

It's hard to take a body scan seriously when there are such holes in our security in other areas. And that's the bare facts.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached at