American’s Pilots Want to Be Exempted from the Nude-o-Scopes

The American Airlines pilots union wants to exempt its pilots from the TSA’s nude-o-scopes because they’re, well, stupid. And they are, though what I object to is the idea that pilots would get exempted but not the rest of us.

Now, they’d justify special exemptions for pilots because of the frequency with which they go through the backscatter machines and the chance that repeated exposure could have detrimental effects. But certainly frequent flyers go through them as often or more often. And of course radiation risk really just applies to one type of device (backscatter) and not the other (millimeter wave).

But at least the Allied Pilots Association is against the nude-o-scopes, the Airlines Pilots Association, which represents pilots at most US carriers, actually favors them. I’d love for someone to figure out why?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The more relevant point is that pilots with malicious intent don’t need to carry weapons or anything else dangerous through security checkpoints, because they already have access to the controls of the airplane.

  2. “But certainly frequent flyers go through them as often or more often.”

    Gary, certainly some frequent flyers go through them often, but not MORE often that pilots. Even supposing pilots fly back and forth several times a day without ever leaving the secure area–they still need to clear at least once a day. –>5-6 times a week.

    That’s more than almost any frequent flyer out there. There may be a few frequent flyer commuters (i.e. people on shuttle routes twice a day), but aside from that small group, you’re making quite a grandiose claim.

  3. The law says that pilots who work for an airline cannot fly more than 100 hours a month or more than 1,000 hours a year. Most airline pilots fly about 75 hours a month, so I doubt a pilot would get scanned more often than others.

  4. I see this as a positive development. It gives the rest of us a stronger argument against the whole process.

  5. I agree with TWJ, what could a pilot possibly want to smuggle through security – something that would allow them to take control of the plane?

  6. Gary, your post sounds like you are in favor of this security circus? Anyone against these ridiculous invasions should be commended not ridiculed.

  7. What more union bashing?, we all know that secuirity theater is just that and the main union goes along with the show for the good of the industry. What to do about the notion that pilots could be a security threat is one that even the most harden right wing security nut has no viable answer. For both health and safety, x-ray machines are bad for our health but they are a well known corporate lobbyist dream and thus now our reality.

  8. @TWJ, @David,

    While I agree that a pilot can do a lot of damage from the cockpit, they can only do this if they are willing to give up their own lives.

    I believe that pilot screening addresses the issue of the pilot who wants to do harm but yet also wants to live. A pilot who is exempt from screening could still pass a bomb or explosive material to a passenger on a different flight once they clear security.

    However, even in the case where the pilot wants to do harm without care to his/her own life, he will still have to get past the absolute last line of defense, the pilot or co-pilot with him in the cockpit. If pilots were exempt from screening they could more easily get a weapon through that could be used to subdue the other pilot.

  9. @KennyG, I assume you’re referring to Gary’s first sentence, which reads: “The American Airlines pilots union wants to exempt its pilots from the TSA’s nude-o-scopes because they’re, well, stupid.”

    I also did a double-take there. It is poorly written (sorry Gary) to imply that the union is stupid. In fact, I believe Gary is trying to indicate that the nude-o-scopes are stupid.

  10. @David – you do realize that just because someone looks like a pilot, he may not be a pilot, right? It’s not beyond terrorists to duplicate a uniform and badges, take something through security, and then either hand it off to someone else who boards with a legitimate boarding pass or simply go in the bathroom, change clothes, and board as a passenger.

    That’s why pilots can’t be entirely exempt from screening if passing through the standard security checkpoints, at least not with current ID technology.

    And the radiation argument simply doesn’t (pardon the pun) fly. Cranky Flier has the numbers on his blog today, but the summary is this: a pilot flying 1000 block-hours a year on trans-cons gets a dose of around 5,000 microsieverts a year. Going through the scanner once per flight would add about 10 to that figure. Brett sums it up as “If pilots are really concerned about radiation exposure, they should stop flying.”

    All that said, nude-o-scope is still stupid and we could certainly get more security bang for the buck (or just not spend the bucks at all) than we’re going to get from spending on nude-o-vision. If TSA hadn’t started using the scanners as primary screening on a large scale at pretty much the same time as they introduced the enhanced pat-down (the “freedom grope”), this probably wouldn’t be an issue, concerned pilots could simply opt-out and take the patdown, just as they’ve done if they were required to submit to secondary screening under the old security protocol.

    Interesting factoid I saw today: while millimeter wave is not inherently carcinogenic like x-rays, there are some researchers who believe it could still increase cancer risk, tumour growth rates, and be damaging to DNA. That said, they do seem to be less risky (again, risk being relatively tiny) than backscatter, which makes me wonder why TSA didn’t just go with MW instead of using both.

  11. @Craig, @Sean, I don’t disagree that there is some nonzero chance that a pilot could act badly or that somebody could imitate a pilot. Let’s tackle that problem right after the TSA is actually able to spot bombs, guns, etc. going through their machines and get their employees to stop stealing from our luggage. The false democracy of treating everybody badly is just part of the theater aspect of all this and takes the TSA’s eyes off the ball so that they can’t take a hard look at likely bad people and likely bad things. They are too busy making your grandma get out of her wheelchair that they don’t notice the guy carrying the bugs bunny bomb with the lit fuse through their metal detector.

    Now you got me started, I’m going to have to go drink another beer.

  12. @David,

    I agree that inspecting pilots should be way down on the list. I’d much rather they start with the hundred of airport workers who don’t have to go through any kind of screening…

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