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Pilot unions belonging to two of America’s best airlines have advised their staff to boycott body scanners, which are mandatory at airport security checkpoints. These checks are perceived as risky and intrusive. Nearly 14,000 members working for American Airlines and US Airways have been asked to avoid the body scanners. These scanners are known to peer through clothing. Instead of this, what is recommended is a pat down given by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials.
According to a recent poll, most travelers are comfortable with the body scanners. The scanners are considered as being central to the anti-terror war.
Some pilots have argued that the hand searches, which have become operational since November 1 by TSA, are increasingly invasive. One pilot has gone on record to say that he felt ‘molested’ by the pat down procedure. The experience has been described to be ‘demeaning’ by David Bates, who is the President of the Allied Pilots Association. He also advised the members to reject the body scanners.
The unions have argued that the scanners are ‘intrusive’ and could emit harmful radiation. A recent study, however, by the Food and Drug Administration shows that the radiation levels were negligible and posed no significant threat to health.
The Air Line Pilots Association, which is the largest union in the country, is collaborating with the TSA to come up with alternative techniques for screening.
This controversy is part of the battle that pilots have waged to minimize the screening. A point has been made that since they undergo background checks, the airport security checks are superfluous.
Airport Security experts are not in favor of supporting pilots in this controversy. Pilots need to make the choice between the body scanners and the pat-down procedure.
David Bates has criticized the scanners because the pilots have to go through it every single day. This increases the risks of exposure to radiation. He has argued that a standard Atlantic crossing in the event of a solar flare exposes a pilot to radiation that is nearly equivalent to one hundred chest X-rays in one hour. Asking pilots to undergo the scanner further adds to this exposure to radiation.
What does all this mean for compulsive travelers? The risks of radiation are well known in cabin crew and frequent travelers who travel over long distances.
A small percentage of travelers prefer the body scan as they perceive the frisking techniques to be highly intrusive. In addition, travelers opting for the body scan need not remove their coats, belts or shoes. This speeds up the airport security process.
David Brenner, who is the head of University of Columbia’s center for radiological research, has warned against the ionizing radiation given out by body scanners. He has stated that this radiation concentrates on the skin. Also, it may be 20 times higher than what was initially estimated. Such scanning could result in skin cancer in a small percentage of people who are prone to gene mutations. Children are at a higher risk as they do not have the ability to repair damage to their DNA through X-rays.