Chris Granger, The Times Picayune
From the Times Picayune, 11/24/10
Despite prospects of thick holiday traffic made even worse by protests against new screening procedures, everything proceeded smoothly on Wednesday at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport and at most other airports around the country.
"There have been no issues at all," airport spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said.
The day before Thanksgiving has the reputation of being the busiest air-travel day of the year nationally, although it is never the busiest in tourism-driven New Orleans. This year, there were concerns that protests of expanded security screening procedures could erupt, prolonging the security process and, perhaps, making some travelers miss their flights.
An Internet-organized "opt out" day urged airline passengers to refuse screening by new full-body scanners, potentially requiring a more lengthy pat-down security check.
But few in New Orleans -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- heeded that call. By Wednesday afternoon, there were no traffic jams of the human or vehicular variety at the New Orleans airport, and the terminal was free of pickets and tantrums.
For days, the X-ray scans that can see through people's clothing and the new pat-downs that include passengers' crotches and chests have been the target of a backlash among politicians, bloggers and others. The security screenings have been lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" and mocked on T-shirts, bumper stickers and underwear emblazoned, "Don't Touch My Junk," from a line uttered by a defiant traveler in San Diego.
At the Phoenix airport Wednesday, husband-and-wife protesters Patricia Stone and John Richards held signs decrying "porno-scans" and drew sidelong glances from some passengers but words of support from others, who told them, "Thank you for being here."
At Denver International Airport, Chris Maj, a 31-year-old computer programmer, carried a sign that read, "END THE TSA ASK ME HOW." He and three others handed out pocket-size copies of the Constitution.
"They're touching breasts, they're touching buttocks, all of these places that if you or I were to touch, we'd go to jail," he said.
But most passengers brushed off such concerns.
One such passenger was Brittany Lindsay, a forward on Tulane University's women's basketball team, as she and her teammates checked in for a flight to San Francisco for a game at the University of California, Berkeley.
"As long as I get to my plane on time, I don't care," she said.
Jokingly, several male passengers suggested that protests would evaporate if young women patted down the men and young men did the same for female passengers.
That turn of events, which would run counter to Transportation Security Administration policy, did not happen.
By midafternoon, six travelers asked for pat-downs instead of screenings at Louis Armstrong Airport and were cleared to board their flights, regional TSA spokesman Jon Allen said.
Armstrong's Wilcut said about 15,000 people were expected to board flights Wednesday, adding, "We do 18,000 a day on a regular basis."
The airport's busiest day ever came after the 2002 Super Bowl, when 33,000 people moved through the terminal, she said.
According to posts on the TSA's blog, wait times in security lines were minimal, and few passengers around the country insisted on pat-downs instead of scans. By midafternoon, that total included 15 in Cincinnati, seven in St. Louis and 26 in Atlanta, the world's busiest airport, where 47,000 passengers were expected to board flights.
Protest organizers, however, were not prepared to declare the event a flop, saying the publicity alone cranked up pressure on the White House and the TSA to review their security measures.
"The TSA now talks about re-evaluating everything," said James Babb, an organizer for one of the protest groups, We Won't Fly. "That is a tremendous victory for a grass-roots movement."