WASHINGTON -- With one of the year's busiest traveling days fast approaching, the Obama administration's top transportation security official on Monday urged passengers angry over safety procedures not to boycott airport body scans.
John Pistole said in nationally broadcast interviews he understands public concerns about privacy in the wake of the Transportation Security Administration's tough new airline boarding security checks.
But at the same time, he said a relatively small proportion of the 34 million people who have flown since the new procedures went into effect have had the body pat downs that have come under withering criticism in recent days.
With the Thanksgiving travel rush less than 48 hours away, Pistole implored passengers Monday not to take delaying actions or engage in boycotts of body scans, actions he said would only serve to "tie up people who want to go home and see their loved ones."
Pistole had pledged Sunday to review security procedures in the wake of a public outcry. But he also said the TSA must balance people's demand for privacy with the need to protect passengers from those who would try to set off bombs on planes.
A loosely organized Internet boycott of body scans is under way, and Pistole said he hoped people would exercise sound judgment over the busy Thanksgiving holiday. A National Opt-Out Day is scheduled for Wednesday to coincide with the busiest travel day of the year.
"Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it takes to cause huge delays," said Paul Ruden, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents, which has warned its more than 8,000 members about delays resulting from the body-scanner boycott. "It doesn't take much to mess things up anyway -- especially if someone purposely tries to mess it up."
Body scans take as little as 10 seconds, but people who decline the process must submit to a full pat-down, which takes much longer. That could cause a cascade of delays at dozens of major airports, including those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. nationwide security programs, "there is a continual process of refinement and adjustment to ensure that best practices are applied."