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Thanksgiving airport security: Some good trips and a bad one

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Early reports from airports during this holiday travel season indicate most passengers were smoothly navigating new screening procedures, which include full-body scanners at many checkpoints and more aggressive pat-downs. Lines mostly moved quickly, and despite urgings from some activists, few fliers Wednesday chose to opt out of the new scans and instead get patted down, the Transportation Security Administration said.

But not every Southern California flier reported a good trip through the checkpoint. Things went so badly at LAX for Wendy Ouriel, she said, that the Cal State Fullerton student missed her United Airlines flight back home to Rochester, N.Y., and lost her driver's license too.

It all began, Ouriel said, when she declined to go through the new body scanner Sunday night.  Besides being worried about possible radiation, "I find it degrading," she said of the machines, which generate sometimes graphic images of bodies. She also said she was suspicious when the male TSA agent "seemed to be picking out young females" to go through the scanner rather than the metal detector.

Told she would have to undergo a pat-down, she declined that too after she said she saw an agent "grab" the crotch of a man being patted down ahead of her. Having declined both screenings, she was told she couldn't fly and was sent to baggage claim to collect her luggage.  She says forgot to retrieve her driver's license, which the TSA had taken to file a report, and later couldn't find it.

Ouriel said she's now out $400 for her round-trip ticket. And as of Tuesday night, the only journey she was planning to make was to the DMV to get a new license. 

But for another flier who opted out, this time Wednesday morning, things went much better. Los Angeles Times Web producer Clare Abreu tweeted from LAX: "My boyfriend opted out of body scan. #TSA workers were polite. Pat down was firm but they didn't 'touch his junk.' "

And Los Angeles Times Travel writer Christopher Reynolds, who has transited many a checkpoint, also reports good experiences. Here's what he had to say this week:

"Enhanced airport screening is all anybody can talk about this week, and I thought I had an opinion on the subject. But it's good to have a few firsthand facts before you inflict your opinion on the world. So on Monday, flying from Salt Lake City to Phoenix, I decided to decline the new, more-revealing scan and get one of those controversial pat-downs instead.

"It was about 3 p.m., not too busy. When I stepped up and told the first TSA representative my choice, he pointed to the three lines of waiting travelers. Two of the new scanning machines were not in use at the moment, he said, so only the travelers in the far right line were going through the new, more-revealing scan. If I got in either of the other two lines, he said, I'd probably get the old-fashioned machine, no pat-down, and that would be that.

"So it was. I went through the old-fashioned machine.

"But over the summer, I went through one of the new body scanners at the Kansas City airport, and it was no big deal. Except I forgot to remove one piece of paper from my pocket before I went through, and the scanner saw it. A TSA officer asked me to step back, remove the paper and go through again, which worked fine.

"As for the rest of my travel day on Monday: It turned out fairly miserably -- two flights, each delayed by weather for more than an hour. But the TSA portion of my day was easy and fast. Shoes off, laptop on the conveyor belt, through the gate, bing bang boom. Even when another TSA representative pulled me aside to check my laptop bag after it came through the screening machine, it was all professional and cheerful.

"Sometimes when you go looking for trouble, even in an airport on Thanksgiving week, even when it comes to the spending of taxpayer dollars and the balancing of liberty and security, you just don't find it. (In fact, I didn't see any more frayed nerves than usual at the Salt Lake City airport’s security lines.)

"I know the odds are iffy, but I hope every traveler's passages on long weekends go so easily. Then we can all get back to complaining about the weather."

 

 

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