Nov. 9, 2010 — -- Two of the largest pilots' unions in the nation are urging commercial pilots to rebel against current airport screening rules.
In late October, the Transport Security Administration implemented more invasive patdown rules. Travelers and pilots were faced with a new dilemma -- have a revealing, full-body scan or what some are calling an X-rated patdown.
Pilots are piping mad over the options, saying the full-body scanners emit dangerous levels of radiation and that the alternative public patdown is disgraceful for a pilot in uniform. Some pilots have said they felt so violated after a patdown, they were unfit to fly.
Last week, the head of Allied Pilots Association, a union representing 11,000 American Airlines pilots, wrote an email to pilots suggesting that they forgo both going through a full-body scanner and submitting to a public patdown. Instead, Captain Dave Bates urged pilots to opt for a private patdown.
"In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot," Bates said in an email.
Just Monday, the head of the US Airways Pilots Association said the new security screening rules have caused turmoil for not only the traveling public, but for pilots, too.
"These changes are far reaching, intrusive and have been implemented almost overnight, leaving little time for groups who are adversely affected to form a response," Captain Mike Cleary said in a message to the US Airways Pilots Association.
Cleary said that one U.S. Airways pilot was so traumatized by a patdown, that he has been unable to function as a crewmember.
"The words this pilot used to describe the incident included 'sexual molestation,' and in the aftermath of trying to recover, this pilot reported that he had literally vomited in his own driveway while contemplating going back to work and facing the possibility of a similar encounter with the TSA," Cleary said.
Cleary advised pilots to have a fellow crew member be on hand to witness a patdown.
New Pat Downs Use Front of Hands
The patdowns, implemented Oct. 29, allow TSA officers to pat down passengers with the front of their hands, instead of the backs of their hands.
A security expert who demonstrated the new procedure on a mannequin for ABC News explained the changes.
"You go down the body and up to the breast portion," said Charles Slepian of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center. "If it's a female passenger, you're going to see if there's anything in the bra."
The new patdown protocol could be used at any of the nation's 450 airports on passengers who require additional screening.
Experts say there's a solid reason for the more invasive examinations: It's possible to slip a gun through the existing patdown, and there's even concealment clothing for sale to make it easier.
The uncomfortable patdown is an alternative to the use of Advanced Imaging Technology, full-body scanners that allow security to see beneath clothes, creating a photo-realistic picture of the passenger's body.
Tens of thousands of passengers are submitted to patdowns and full-body scanners every day. More than 300 full-body scanners are being used at 65 airports across the country.
TSA officials maintain the machines are safe. They say with security machines, unlike medical X-rays, most of the radiation does not enter the body, but bounces off the skin's surface.
Concerns About Radiation in Full-Body Scanners
The dose of radiation from a full-body scanner is 2000 times less than a chest X-ray and 200,000 times less than a CT scan. Still, scientists who have studied the issue extensively urge caution.
"People have different sensitivities to radiation," said David Brenner from Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research. "Children in general are more sensitive than adults to radiation and the developing embryo and fetus in pregnancy are the most sensitive of all."
While scientists debate how dangerous the radiation in the full body scanners is, Cleary and other pilot advocates are urging pilots not to take the health risk.
Cleary told pilots that their stance against the scanners and the patdowns is a "fight to restore the dignity we deserve as the last line of defense against terrorists who would use airplanes as weapons of mass destruction. We are not the enemy and we will not stand for being treated as such before each duty period."