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Refuse an airport groping, pay $11,000?

What's the potential cost to you if you decide not to fly or refuse to comply with new airport security measures?

By Karen Datko Nov 22, 2010 6:27PM

For many Americans, trips home for Thanksgiving will be their first experience with what critics are calling the new "legal gropings" at airport security checkpoints. And some travelers will be tempted to refuse and simply walk away.


Well, good luck with that. The TSA says you can't just leave. Once you've begun an airport security screening, you're obligated to go through with it -- or you could face a fine of up to $11,000.


At the airport, you could be randomly selected for a full-body scan -- an electronic strip search, as it were. If you decline, get ready for the "enhanced pat-down," which includes touching of the breasts and groin.

Some travelers have declined both the body scans and the pat-downs, including software programmer John Tyner, who famously warned a Transportation Security Administration officer not to touch his "junk" during an encounter that Tyner recorded at the San Diego airport. Tyner was threatened with a five-figure fine, but TSA Director John Pistole has said it's unlikely the agency will follow through with it. Post continues after video.

Irate travelers are organizing a National Opt Out Day on Nov. 24, when millions of travelers will pack airports to fly home for Thanksgiving. Organizers (you can find them at and We Won't Fly) are urging people to not fly or to refuse a full-body scan if they're selected for one -- meaning that each will have to be patted down, potentially causing delays in airports across the nation.


What price should you expect to pay if you choose not to fly or otherwise express your indignation?


If you don't fly after buying a ticket: The price of Tyner's nonrefundable ticket was returned to him, but you can't always count on that. If your ticket is nonrefundable -- and most are -- prepare to pay a fee of up to $150 (more for international flights) to change your travel plans. It's best to let the airline know in advance. Some will zero out your ticket's worth if you don't contact them before the flight departs.


If your ticket is the refundable kind -- who can afford that? -- you may have to pay a cancellation fee. For specifics, read your airline's contract of carriage, and see this helpful post by travel expert Christopher Elliott.


If you refuse the scan: There's no cost to you, other than your precious time (spent with the groping hands of the TSA) and the goodwill of unsympathetic fellow passengers. Carl Unger of Smarter Travel, who supports Opt Out Day, wrote, "Chaos makes great news, sure, and news makes great exposure for a cause such as this, but I wonder if throwing a wrench into people's holiday travels is the best way to win hearts and minds."


If you refuse both the scan and the pat-down, and leave the checkpoint: Much has been made of the $10,000 civil fine Tyner claimed he was threatened with. An $11,000 fine is the maximum possible penalty. However, according to the TSA (.pdf file), the recommended range of fines for "interference with screening" is $500 to $1,500 if it's "non-physical" and $1,500 to $5,000 if physical contact is involved. Criminal prosecution is not recommended in either case.


Also, in recent testimony to Congress, Pistole said it was "unlikely anyone would be fined for questioning the screening procedures," Elliott wrote.


What if we all decided to drive, take the bus or train, or stay home to avoid these new security measures? Airlines always hurt when people don't fly. CNN reported:

A 2008 survey found that air travelers "avoided" 41 million trips because they believed the air travel system was either "broken" or in need of "moderate correction," the U.S. Travel Association said. The decisions cost airlines $9.4 billion, the survey said.

It's not known how big or successful the opt-out protest will be. However, according to The Washington Post, a recent CBS poll "found that 81% of those surveyed did not object to the screenings." Also, only 386 scanners total are in place in 68 U.S. airports, although that number continues to grow. I flew to Los Angeles and back two weeks ago and didn't encounter one.


What is all the fuss about? Despite what you might have heard, both types of full-body scanners used by TSA can produce images that leave little to the imagination. It's the full Monty, folks. In some official photos we've seen, only the face is blurred.


It's supposed to make us feel better that the TSA officer inspecting the images is in another room -- so if he or she chortles or leers, we won't know. The machines can also store images, although TSA officials claim that capability hasn't been activated.


The pat-down is also invasive -- a thorough touching that, as Tyner and others have said, would amount to sexual assault if it were done by anyone else.


TSA under pressure has modified some of its rules: Children 12 and under whose parents refuse to have them scanned will be subjected to a less-intrusive pat-down, and pilots will be exempt from the security measures starting next year.


Meanwhile, two members of Congress have asked the TSA to rethink the pat-downs before the Thanksgiving travel rush is under way. On Monday, Pistole said in an interview on "Today," "We're going to look at how can we do the most effective screening in the least invasive way knowing that there's always a trade-off between security and privacy."

Are there alternatives to protect us from terrorists? Plenty have been suggested, as described in another Unger post. There's also this one from Eric Torbenson at the Airline Biz blog: We all pay a fee to be on a "Fly List."

… everybody submits to a fairly rigorous background check and if you pass it you get a biometric ID and maybe a card …. At the airport, everybody gets carry-on scanned and walks through a metal detector, but if you're on the Fly List and can positively identify yourself, you're in. That's it. No pat-down. No body scan. You don't even have to check the ID and boarding pass if that info is linked to the system.

Is a protest warranted, or should travelers submit graciously in the name of enhanced security? Do these types of security checks seem appropriate or are they overkill?


More from MSN Money:

Nov 23, 2010 10:03AM
I am completely shocked how easy your willing to give up your freedom and liberties and be a coward.  I am a soldier serving a third tour in Iraq on behalf of the American People even though I had second degree burns to my face and was shot at and blown up and am so lucky to talk about it and walk up on a bomb last tour.  I continue to do it because I love my country and I swore to defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic and this is a serious violation of our rights.  Americans need to stand up and fight this severe injustice.  I refuse to have my daughters fondled.  If I did it it I would be in jail faster than you can blink but its okay for a stranger to do it to my children?  Absolutely not.  They are young women and don't deserve it.  I am all for the safety of the American people and there are better ways for this to be done and I know how to search a person without touching their genitals.  Not to mention they continue to use the underwear bomber as a reason but he didn't board a plane in the US.  The problem seems to be other places.  Get it together America and stop being cowards and giving in to terroristic rhetoric or threats.  Dwight Eisenhower said it best.  If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking ... is freedom.
Nov 23, 2010 8:57AM
"Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither" Benjamin Franklin
Nov 23, 2010 7:19AM

I don't disagree with providing certain security measures but I think it could be handled differently. Why the need for a body scan - why not use a machine that automatically detonates an explosive device should you have one on you. Of course themachine would have to be bulletproof/bomb proof - but at least that person would'nt be on the plane!

Seriously though - what happens when terrorists start putting things in the inner cavities - what do you do then?

Notice that the people that are trying to blow up planes aren't coming from the US - they are coming from other countries. I don't disagree with certain types of profiling either. For example, if a passenger purchases a one way ticket, with cash, and has no luggage, that would set off a red flag for me!

This is all so touchy - but I think there just has to be abetter way of handling security - this isn't it.

Nov 23, 2010 8:53AM

My husband is the only one I let see me naked, and he is the only one to "feel up" on those areas.  Sadly this takes away my ability to fly.  They aren't going to stop terrorists if they want to take a bomb on a plane. They will find a way to do that.

Just how many explosives have they found so far anyway????  I bet the only bomb they have come across is an F bomb.

Nov 23, 2010 12:57AM
My blood is boiling just reading. HOW, HOW, HOW can they charge us between $500 - 11,000 for REFUSING a pat down?! It is not as though we do not know we cannot fly, but then our right to say NO is being taken AWAY?!!! I know I come across as outraged and I am. I am mad as hell, that in a country that brags about it's democracy we are witnessing the opposite of that. How DARE the government take away a citizens right to say no, how DARE they. THAT is the most horrible part about this. Yes, the body scans and pat downs are invasive, uncomfortable, and humiliating - they are bad enough - but taking away our rights to say no? What the hell is going on in this country???!!
Nov 23, 2010 2:08PM

Here's MY problem with the whole thing, people should have the RIGHT to refuse pat downs AND screenings and be allowed to leave the airport without getting fined.  No one has broken ANY laws if they don't fly!!!

Where does the TSA get off fining someone because they don't want to be groped or leered at?!!!

Personally, I'd rather go through the screening machine than have someone touch me.....tho I'd prefer to do neither if at all possible. But they have NO right to fine someone for changing their mind to fly and leave the airport.

Nov 23, 2010 10:02AM
Seriously some of the people in this country really are idiots. "oh we have to have these measures for safety, cause god forbid some jackass has a bomb strapped to his ****!!"  Would you let police frisk and search you in the name of "fighting the war on drugs" , which contributes millions of dollars to terrorism every year...yes including funding those plane bombs,without probably cause? I doubt it. We won't let Cops skirt around the constitution, and they're trained and qualified for their positions and are more likely to run into terriosts than any TSA agent every will. So will someone please tell me why in the hell we are letting TSA ignore the constitution? Why is it okay for them and Obama to trample constitutional rights in the name of "protecting you from terrorism", but not okay for the FBI, Local law enforcement or former President George Bush?
Nov 23, 2010 8:53AM

For years we have tried to teach our children the difference between "good" touch and "bad" touch.  How are we to explain to them that when we fly some stranger could touch their private parts but this is ok.  Talk about mixed signals.

I bet the president would not allow his girls to be touched in such a manner. Oh I forgot.  What's good for all does not apply to him.  As for my family, we will not be boarding any airlines.  Better to enjoy a road side trip the way we used to

and have a good time with family.

Nov 22, 2010 8:45PM
"The pat-down is also invasive -- a thorough touching that, as Tyner and others have said, would amount to sexual assault if it were done by anyone else."
If these TSA employees were actually doctors, nurses or any other well trained people, I maybe would not mind. However: They are clerks and other untrained people 'groping' those who may have no other choice than to fly, and I object strongly to being groped!!! What about those who actually HAVE been sexually assaulted? if they have problems with the scans, that no matter what others say, in my opinion are NOT safe, and also show every detail of their sexual organs, their only other alternative is to be sexually assaulted again?!?!? THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY! Some would say then don't fly, but sometimes that is the only option. I also object to the fines if I were to choose not to fly if I was forced to a pat down. As long as my baggage is removed, I should be able to choose NOT to fly and NOT to be assaulted by being groped and should not have to pay a fine to do either!
Nov 23, 2010 12:48PM


Nov 23, 2010 12:35PM
When liberty is compromised for the sake of safety, society is neither free nor safe.
Nov 23, 2010 10:17AM
Why are people so willing to give up their liberty for a dubious concept of safety? Since you can be fined by the Neo-Gestapo if you refuse to be felt up by them, this molestation is not voluntary. They should get the name of their molester and swear out a complaint with the proper local authority. Yeah, I know, the rent-a-cops were just following orders, but the best way to combat them is to charge the perpetrators criminally. Remember,these guys are feeling around kid's crotches, too. They need to be stopped and sensible (profiling) procedures need to implemented.
Nov 23, 2010 10:08AM

Give me one example where the TSA has found anything?

If someone can steal my personal possions out of my bag when its checked, what's not to say they could also put a bomb in my bag?

9/11 there were no bombs used only the plane. 
We have been given only lip service of why this is the answer. The pentagon study found that we should use dogs for this. Why aren't we using dogs?

Nov 23, 2010 8:27AM
Enough already, I fly to make a living and not anymore.  I think I will go on welfare.  The airlines are the ones that will be suffering.  I recently flew overseas and their searches were much more invasive.  I though of some of the countries I visited, it would be stricter than TSA, but it was not.  Also you should see a huge line of applicants to the TSA including all perverts and child molesters.  What a dream job for them.  TSA even admits, they do not do such a through back ground search on new applicants.
Nov 23, 2010 8:22AM
What if someone sticks explosives up their ^%$#@?  A full pat-down won't find that.  So what's next??  Strip search?  Where does it end?  No rights whatsoever, that's how.
Nov 22, 2010 11:36PM
Don't fly, unless it is absolutely necessary, Funeral, Business, emergency family related. Period, in about 4 weeks the squeaky wheel that gets the grease will be screeching so loud that the  TSA will be the last thing on the everybody's  mind.
Nov 23, 2010 3:02PM
Try looking for bad guys instead of "things".  The 50 year old lady from Chicago is not going to hi-jack a plane.  Haven't heard of a little kid or middle aged frequent flyer blowing up airplanes yet.  We know what to look for, but are afraid we might insult someone, so we have to be PC and check everyone.  Government gone bad....again.....
Nov 23, 2010 9:29AM

i would fully agree that this is good if it weren't for a few things-first, if a person in a burqa refuses to be pat down by a tsa agent or a body scan, under the regulations to be ridiculously politically correct, the person in the burqa gets to pat themselves down. Secondly, the pat downs are idiotically politically correct-they are patting down old ladies, seriously ill cancer patients and children. If I recall, the 9-11 terrorists and the attempted bombers had one major thing in common-they were young male islamic extremists. If they are hauling away and harassing a guy with a bladder basg while totally ignoring the wild eyed swarthy guy, then why are we doing this farce anyway? And even if there are five hijackers, they still can only pull one or two-the laws are still in place as far as I know that you can't pull more than one or two from a flight legally before you are fined for some silly anti-discrimination violation. What irks me most is the same twits who think we need to sit here and take it screamed holy terror when Bush wanted to listen on cell phone calls of suspected terrorists or screen library check outs. Hypocrites.

Nov 23, 2010 9:17AM

Don't pay the fine, just drive. Airlines wont be long before they support you after big lost of money. Is freedom just a souvenir? .

Nov 23, 2010 6:08AM
You were warned a long long time ago, you sheep didn't head the warning. "Give up your rights for a sense of safety or security, and you'll wake up vary soon with no rights at all" American's have little back bone left, they haven't realized how much you've lost through the years. Just sit back and think for a minute, your told what you can say, when you can say it, where you can go, where you can't, where you can live, where your kids can go to school and so on and so on. Look at what you vote in office to run the country and make the laws only you have to live by. I can just see the Senate and Congress going through pat downs and full body screening. You had better wake up before the last nail is driven in, pat down for you and your children today, been over and spread'em tomorrow.The choice is ours, "United we stand"
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