So Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the busiest travel days of the year, has been designated as National Opt-Out Day by those a little fed up with the Transportation Security Administration insistence on full-body scanners and aggressive pat downs. As its organizers sell it, this is an attempt to raise the issue in the public conscience and thus motivate citizens to demand change (from the organizer’s web site):
We want families to sit around the dinner table, eating turkey, talking about their experience – what constitutes an unreasonable search, how forceful of a pat down will we allow on certain areas of our body, and that of our children, and how much privacy are we will to give up for flying? We hope the experience then propels people to write their Member of Congress and the airlines to demand change.
Of course, such actions have externalities. As USA Today reports (Security protest could disrupt Thanksgiving travel, Nov 20), the enhanced pat downs are much more labor intensive and it wouldn’t take too many people opting out to demand a lot of resources.
Not all airports have the machines, which resemble large refrigerators. And not all travelers are selected for scans. But Berry estimated that up to 20% of holiday fliers will be asked to use the full-body machines — meaning tens of thousands could be in a position to protest. …
Pat-downs often take up to four minutes, according to the TSA’s website, though that could be longer if someone requests it be done in a room out of public view or if an ill-at-ease traveler asks for a full explanation of the procedure beforehand.
Factoring in those time estimates, it would take a total of around 15 minutes to put 100 people through a body scan — but at least 6 hours to pat down the same number of travelers.
No idea how those calculations change if many people follow Jeffrey Goldberg‘s awesome suggestion to take Opt-Out Day to the next level (two words: kilts and commando!). In any event, we are heading to an interesting convergence of civil disobedience and queuing dynamics.
I have seen nothing to date on how the TSA plans to deal with this protest (beyond asserting that it is an irresponsible and bad idea). If I ran the TSA, I would be inclined to say “screw ’em.” Just because people demand extra resources, doesn’t mean the TSA is obliged to provide them. Schedule one female and one male agent to handle pat downs at each check point let protesters cool their heels to have their junk touched. That would leave the majority of travelers unaffected in getting to their planes while the opt-outers pile up.
Of course, I don’t run the TSA. Indeed, I have spent enough time in New Hampshire to buy into almost any idea that has a hint of live free or die to it. If I were flying on Wednesday, I would be inclined to participate in Opt-Out Day (although I would probably skip the kilt). However, it is worth noting another point Goldberg makes in his post on the Atlantic site:
But I believe that opting-out saves you exposure to radiation, and allows a federal government employee to share in your humiliation (while on the one hand — or in both hands, as the case may be — your genitals are being groped by a low-paid federal government employee, it is no great pleasure — and certainly no elevating spiritual experience — to be the one who frisks people’s crotches in an airport, which is why I hope National Opt-Out Day causes hardworking TSA employees to tell their bosses, “Enough.”)
That is, the TSA higher ups have set up their front-line workers to fail. The average TSA agent cannot be enjoying this experience either. It will be interesting to see what finally causes the system to break, a fed up public or a workforce unwilling to enforce stupid rules.