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Unions tell pilots to avoid body scanners at airports

TSA officers demonstrate the full-body scanner at John F. Kennedy International Airport.Pilot unions at two of the nation's largest airlines are advising their members not to submit to body scanners at airport security checkpoints as tension grows over what they see as intrusive or risky checks.

Unions representing pilots at American Airlines and US Airways have advised their more than 14,000 members to avoid the scanners, which peer beneath clothing, and instead get a pat down from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers.

That has created additional problems as some pilots have complained that the hand searches, which were altered by TSA starting Nov. 1, are invasive. One US Airways pilot said he felt as though he had been "sexually molested" by the pat down, said Mike Cleary, president of the US Airline Pilots Association.

"Our members are just absolutely outraged," Cleary said.

David Bates, president of American's Allied Pilots Association, said the TSA hand search is "a demeaning experience," but he also is urging his members to avoid the scanners. The unions have told members to ask that the pat downs be done in private.

The unions argue that the machines are "intrusive" and that they could emit dangerous radiation. A recent Food and Drug Administration review found that the radiation level was so low — some machines emit no radiation — that it posed no health threat.

The nation's largest pilot's union, the Air Line Pilots Association, is working with the TSA to find alternative screening methods but has not told members to avoid the scanners, President John Prater said.

The controversy is the latest flare-up in a long battle by pilots to streamline or eliminate the screening they receive. They argue that if they receive background checks, they should be able to enter the airport without undergoing security checks.

The TSA has tested such a program, but it is currently not funded. Prater says he is calling on airline CEOs and the government to pay for it.

Not all security experts support giving pilots or other airline employees special dispensation at security checkpoints.

The TSA issued a statement saying its security measures must consider "our enemy is creative and willing to go to great lengths to evade detection." TSA Administrator John Pistole has been reviewing security policies since taking office recently and is discussing alternatives with pilots, the statement said.

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