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Holidays on the Fly

20 December, 2010 15:27  Erin Erin

The one thing that can bring down "holiday good cheer" and "goodwill toward men" can be the flight home to see your family. Nothing quite dampens the mood like overbooked flights, sleeping in airports, and invasive security scanners. Don't let the flight home ruin our holiday! Be aware of the potential issues, prepare, and be jolly.


The biggest change this holiday season is the advent of full-body scanners. Security through airports has been ramped up each year, and this change is intended to heighten security without increasing time waiting in lines. The advanced imaging technology screens passengers for metallic and nonmetallic threats including weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under layers of clothing without physical contact. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has ok'd use of the scanners in the US and many airports are now equipped.

People queuing for a scan in an airport. A policeman said: Europe has been slower to embrace this new technology. Europe is the only region in the world where airports pay for their own security measures. "Pre-9/11 security costs at European airports were about 5-8 percent of airport operating costs", explained ACI's spokesman for Europe, Robert O'Meara. "Now security operations at European airports account for about 35 percent of operating costs". Currently, Britain, the Netherlands, and Italy have scanners in place. Canada has also updated several airports with the scanners.

Types of Scanner

There are two types of scanners, millimeter wave and backscatter.

Millimeter wave machines: Use electromagnetic waves that bounce off the body to create a black and white three-dimensional image. This scanner has a privacy filter that blurs facial features. There are also two types of millimeter wave scanners: active and passive.
Active scanners: direct millimeter wave energy at the subject and then interpret the reflected energy. he energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is thousands of times less than what is permitted for a cell phone.
Passive scanners: read only the raw energy that is naturally emitted from the human body or objects concealed on the body. NO energy is directed at the subject and is as safe as a digital camera for both the screener and the subject.

Backscatter: These machines use low level X-ray beams over the body to create a reflection of the body displayed on the monitor. The nude images resembles a chalky drawing with facial features blotted out. Each full body scan produces less than 10 microREM of emission, the equivalent to the exposure each person receives in about 2 minutes of airplane flight at altitude.

How it Works

To go through the machines, travelers walk between what looks like two large boxes, and stand 5 to 7 seconds with hands overhead. An inspector in another room views the picture on a monitor.
If a potential foreign object is spotted on the person's body, additional screening is required, including a hands-on pat-down.

After you have passed through security, the image is immediately deleted. The passengers are free to exit and collect belongings. The entire process should take less than one minute.

Prepare for Scanning

Before entering the scanner, travelers should remove ALL items from pockets and set aside accessories including wallets, belts, bulky jewelry, money, keys, and cell phone. Security can only observe a vague body shape so anything sticking out from your body may require further inspection.

To watch a video of how to proceed for the scanners, go to TSA's guide.

Alternative to the Scanners

Currently, using the scanners is voluntary. It has been reported that over 99% of passengers choose to be screened by scanners over alternative screening procedures. However, if you refuse to go through the scanner, there will be a 2-4 minute intensive pat-down. Screeners might also use explosive-tracing devices (cotton swabs) or hand wands to check for suspect items.


There are two primary worries about the new scanners: radiation and privacy.

Security advisors insist that the radiation exposure is equal to what passengers get in a plane for two minutes at 30,000 feet. However, there are some scientists that dispute this claim and have been vocal in the media about their concerns. The primary complaint is about the distributed of the radiation. These scientists fear the volume of radiation may be safe for the entire body, but not directed at a smaller area. Fears concerning exposure to children and expectant mothers have also been mentioned and some have called for further testing.

Privacy is the second concern. People are wary of technology in which security can effectively look under their clothes in a "digital strip search". To assuage these concerns, scanners are not supposed to store or save images. The image is only seen during the evaluation, and the person reviewing the image never sees passengers in-person.

In addition to privacy, some travelers have complained that the pat downs are too invasive. Checking of the groin and inside the waistband of pants has angered some passengers. Security personnel counter that these measures are necessary to properly ensure safety.

Worst Airports in the World

Airport: arrival-departure© Robert Wilson - Fotolia.comAlong with the joys of regular holiday travel by air, there are the inevitable delays due to weather, maintenance issues, or just all out disaster. Under these conditions, the worst circumstances, several airports have been named "The Worst Airports in the World".

  1. Once again at the top of the list for the worst is the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. A transient population that calls the airport home, continually poor facilities, and few places to eat make entry into the city of lights a dark affair.
  2. Russia's Moscow Sheremetyevo has a reputation for being dirty and chaotic. Clouds of cigarette smoke mark common areas and little information not in Russian is displayed.
  3. LA's LAX is busy, crowded, and offers limited seating for the massive amounts of travelers that go through here and are occasionally stranded here. There are also reports of an especially tough immigration/security staff.
  4. Officially known as Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport, this airport suffers from being older and in poor shape.
  5. The Indira Ghandi Airport is set up differently from most airports, creating confusion. Traveler's enter a lobby and are not allowed into the main terminal until 3 hours prior to departure.
  6. Chicago o'Hare airport receives complaints of a lack of seats and poor signage- not good for a major US hub. The airport also suffers from a dramatic weather climate that can cause long, overnight delays.
  7. The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is new and improved, but still has problems concerning adequate seating, air-conditioning, and too many mosquitoes.
  8. Complaints about London's Luton airport concern a basic lack of facilities and services.
  9. NYC's JFK airport is an extremely hectic location. The customs/security staff sees a barrage of people each day and can handle travelers roughly.

Tips to Fly By

In the hopes of making your travels as safe and stress-free as possible, there are a few tips to fly by.

  • Make sure you buy your ticket under the exact name that appears on your ID. Nicknames are not obvious, especially when traveling abroad.
  • If you have a disability, contact the airline and prepare accordingly before you travel. Similar precautions should be taken when traveling with a baby or young child, or an animal.
  • Do your own bag check before you leave. See if you have anything that won't easily pass security in your carry on.
  • Know your airport's code. There is a three-letter airport code for airports and by making sure your bags are labeled according you can hopeful prevent any mistakes.
  • Exercise caution in duty-free shops. Know your prices as not everything is a good deal. Also consider the three-ounce rule for liquids. For example, if you are transferring to another domestic flight after clearing customs in the U.S., you'll have to put your liquid duty-free purchases in a checked bag.

For even more travel information, United State's TSA has more tips about how to get through security safely and quickly.


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         EasyExpat on

"No Proof Scanners Are Safe" [Reply]

You might want to read this article before you fly:

And, the 99% statistic must be old. Many more people are OPTING OUT of these scanners because of the genuine radiation and privacy worries.

Chris     20 Dec 2010, 23:47