Air travel gets a lot more modest
Full-body scanners will be replaced with 700mm wave body scanners, which produce a generic outline with potentially dangerous objects highlighted. (Getty Images)
Air travel is about to get a lot more modest.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the US governmental agency responsible for travel security, is scrapping its controversial full-body scanners, which show near-naked images of passengers to TSA agents.
Following public complaints and a congressional mandate, the TSA announced on 17 January that it will pull its last 174 full-body scanners from 30 US airports by 1 June. Airports in Phoenix, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Fort Lauderdale are among those that currently use the scanner.
The decision came after Rapiscan, the company that makes the body scanners, said it could not meet a congressional-ordered deadline to install privacy software on the machines. The full-body scanners will be replaced with 700mm wave body scanners, which use radio waves rather than the more harmful X-rays, and are already in use in 170 airports around the US. Rather than depicting a near-naked image of flyers who pass through, millimetre wave scanners produce a generic cartoon-like outline with potentially dangerous objects highlighted. (Travellers can always opt out of either scan and request a full-body pat-down instead)
For privacy advocates who have protested the scanners since they came into wide use following the failed 2009 Christmas Day bombing by the “underwear bomber”, the decision marks a major advance.
“This solves our most significant concern [about full-body scanners]”, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group, told the Wall Street Journal. "Not having TSA agents sitting in darkened rooms looking at naked pictures of people getting on a plane is a good outcome."
Along with full-body scanners, modern-day air travellers are already used to other security measures that impede speed and efficiency, such as the removal of shoes, laptops and liquids at security checkpoints. And with an estimated 1.3 billion people flying out of US airports each year by 2032, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration, that adds up to a lot of airport congestion.
But according to air and security experts, the checkpoint of the future could be a lot faster, easier and less stressful, thanks to advanced technology that will streamline the process.
The International Air Transport Association, a worldwide travel industry group, is working on measures that will allow passengers to get their boarding passes using fingerprint or retinal scans and then pass through the checkpoint. The proposals are still in early phases, with details to emerge as supporting technology is developed.
"The goal of the checkpoint of the future is to make security even better than it is today but to remove those hassles and to make it streamlined and a better experience for the passenger,” Perry Flint, the Association’s spokesman, told CNN.
This just might the waning of an aggravating and inefficient era in air travel and the beginning of a faster, easier one.