Two Airline Union Presidents Tell Pilots to Steer Clear of Body Scanners

Two airline pilot union leaders are recommending that pilots stay away from Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) screening machines at airports. Mike Cleary, president of U.S. Airline Pilots Association (USAPA), which is comprised of 5,200 US Airways pilots, recently wrote a letter to members saying that TSA has not provided “credible specifications for radiation emitted by the machines.”

Additionally, David Bates, president of the 11,000-member Allied Pilots Association, told members to boycott the body scanners because of unknown radiation exposure. In his note he wrote, “We are exposed to radiation every day on the job. For example, a typical Atlantic crossing during a solar flare can expose a pilot to radiation equivalent to 100 chest X-rays per hour. Requiring pilots to go through the AIT means additional radiation exposure.”

Regarding the amount of radiation emitted by the machines, TSA’s website says the technology was evaluated to be safe by the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “All results confirmed that the radiation doses for the individuals being screened, operators, and bystanders were well below the dose limits specified by the American National Standards Institute.” The agency’s site also says that the millimeter wave technology is thousands of times less than a cell phone transmission.

Below is Cleary’s complete note to USAPA members:

Fellow Pilots,

The TSA's rapid deployment of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) screening machines, followed by the new Enhanced Pat-Down procedures, have caused turmoil for airline pilots and the traveling public alike. These changes are far reaching, intrusive and have been implemented almost overnight, leaving little time for groups who are adversely affected to form a response.

On October 21, USAPA's Security Committee issued an update on the new AIT scanners and outlined our options for dealing with the new rules. Since that time several pilots and flight attendants have encountered problems with TSOs and their implementation of the rules. One US Airways pilot, after being selected for an enhanced pat-down, experienced a frisking that has left him unable to function as a crewmember. The words this pilot used to describe the incident included "sexual molestation," and in the aftermath of trying to recover, this pilot reported that he had literally vomited in his own driveway while contemplating going back to work and facing the possibility of a similar encounter with the TSA. This is a very serious situation, and it represents a crossroads for all U.S. airline pilots.

One of the difficulties is the TSA's intentional random application of the rules. While it might be effective for their purposes, it wreaks havoc with our ability to inform our pilots on how to handle each and every situation.

Here is a summary of USAPA's current position on AIT screening machines and Enhanced Pat-Down procedures:

  • Pilots should NOT submit to AIT screening. The TSA has offered no credible specifications for the radiation emitted by these machines. As pilots, we are exposed to more radiation as a function of our normal duties than nearly every other category of worker in the United States. Based on currently available medical information, USAPA has determined that frequent exposure to TSA-operated scanner devices may subject pilots to significant health risks.
  • Pilots should employ the following method of avoiding AIT screening:
    • Make every effort to use security access lines that utilize standard magnetometer devices. If security access points with magnetometer devices are not available, or if there is a change in the device being used once in line, pilots should elect to submit to a private TSA-agent pat-down.
    • When submitting to a private, enhanced pat-down procedure, pilots must be sure that a witness, preferably a crewmember, accompanies them during the pat-down.
    • After being subjected to an enhanced pat-down procedure, pilots must evaluate their fitness for duty. As has been determined, there is a wide range of possibilities once you submit to a private screening, and the results can be devastating. Unacceptable as this is to all USAPA pilots, and until these invasive measures are no longer implemented on airline pilots, it is your responsibility to make sure you are emotionally fit and not stressed in any way by your close encounter with the TSA.
  • Remain professional and courteous in all situations.
  • Contact any member of the Security Committee if you need any assistance.

[Names redacted.]

Let's be perfectly clear: the TSA procedures we have outlined above are blatantly unacceptable as a long-term solution. Although an immediate solution cannot be guaranteed, I can promise you that your union will not rest until all U.S. airline pilots have a way to reach their workplace ... the aircraft ... without submitting ourselves to the will of a TSO behind closed doors. This situation has already produced a sexual molestation in alarmingly short order. Left unchecked, there's simply no way to predict how far the TSA will overreach in searching and frisking pilots who are, ironically, mere minutes from being in the flight deck. As we all know, it makes no difference what a pilot has on his or her person or in their luggage, because they have control of the aircraft throughout the entire flight. The eyewash being dribbled by the TSA in this instance is embarrassingly devoid of common sense, and we will not stand for it.

USAPA's Security Committee and USAPA Legal are working diligently on several fronts to find an acceptable remedy. I directed our legal team to request of the TSA, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, any written materials that contain the protocol for conducting these enhanced pat-downs. Should this situation not be resolved by working with the TSA, we will take our concerns to Capitol Hill. On a parallel track, we are working with the other CAPA pilot unions to find allies in our struggle. Make no mistake; this is a fight to restore the dignity we deserve as the last line of defense against terrorists who would use airplanes as weapons of mass destruction. We are not the enemy, and we will not stand for being treated as such before each duty period. The TSA needs to recognize professional airline pilots for the security asset that we are, even as many of us serve as Federal Flight Deck Officers. There are a number of access mechanisms available as a remedy, including CrewPass and biometric identification. These solutions will allow the TSA to capitalize on airline pilots as security assets.

This letter is meant to provide you with important interim guidance as we seek long-term solutions. Please stay up to date on this critical affront to our profession. Documentation will be a critical element to this battle. Therefore, should you have any difficulties traversing security, please outline the incident with as much detail as possible, including TSO names and badge numbers, and send it immediately to Security@usairlinepilots.org. I urge each of you to continue to maintain your ultimate professionalism in the face of these attacks on our profession. As you maintain your composure, your union will fight unequivocally with all of our resources and allies to right this wrong.

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