Utahns don Speedos, parkas for hectic holiday travel

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 24 2010 9:40 p.m. MST

Liz Sweeney of Salt Lake City is reunited with her husband, Russell, at Salt Lake City International Airport on November 24, 2010.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — From a dude in a Speedo at the airport to mom, dad and all the kids bundled in parkas crammed into the family van, Thanksgiving travel in frigid Utah moved into high gear with few hang-ups.

Transportation Security Administration officials were worried that people opting out full body scanners at the Salt Lake International Airport on Wednesday would create long lines for travelers. Earlier this week, TSA urged passengers to comply with searches and checks to reduce the possibility of delays.

But aside from the seasonal crunch, air travelers didn't experience severe slowdowns despite the efforts of several protestors. Lines moved at an average pace, according to TSA.

One man wearing a Speedo, a beanie and a scarf posted himself outside the terminal in freezing temperatures with a sign likening the TSA to Nazis: "We're just doing our jobs."

"I don't know why anyone would put themselves through that over at the airport, but it's not a security issue as far as we are concerned," said TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird. "He's not inside the checkpoint, not going through security screening, and we would never ask anyone to do anything of the sort."

A college student Wednesday posted on the Internet a video of himself stripping down to a swimsuit at the airport in protest of security patdowns. In bold marker on his back were the words, "Screw Big Sis." After successfully passing through the checkpoint, he said on the video he was making a political statement.

TSA says people can make statements if they choose as long as their actions don't pose a security threat.

Security consultant and former Federal Emergency Management Administration official Tom Panuzio said it's not in anyone's best interest to throw a wrench into airport security systems. Patdowns are not nearly as effective as full body scanners, he said, adding the body searches increase pressure on TSA workers.

"When someone opts out, it puts TSA under a very different scenario," he said. Not only do patdowns take more resources, he said, they stall already crowded lines. "It's dangerous because by slowing the line down, you don't know who's slipping through."

Panuzio, founder of Salt Lake-based Global Security Capital Group, said a powerful plastic explosive called pentaerythritol tetranitrate or PETN favored by terrorists could go undetected in a patdown that isn't thorough. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, used PETN, and it was apparently in the HP cartridges sent by a Yemeni terrorist in cargo planes recently.

"It's a definite threat," he said.

The full body scanner, Panuzio said, is the best option for finding dangerous chemicals, gels and explosives.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, an outspoken critic of the body scanning machines, agrees the threat is real, but says there is a better way to find those things.

"I think if you would move to a profiling model, profiling not based on ethnicity or religion but based on behavior, followed by having people go through a metal detector then a bomb-sniffing dog, you'll be more effective, less invasive, and you'll actually save a lot of money," he said.

People who opted for ground transportation didn't have to worry about body searches and body scanners. They had to navigate icy roads in the morning, but saw clearing by afternoon.

"Things are beautiful right now," said Rolayne Fairclough, spokeswoman for AAA of Utah. Snow and ice may have dissuaded some people from driving out of town, but she said AAA still expects "pretty good numbers" on the roads. Early this week, AAA forecast a nearly 11 percent increase in residents driving 50 miles or more over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The roads were less chaotic in Utah on Wednesday than on Tuesday when an arctic snowstorm swept through the state, causing 118 traffic collisions and 119 vehicles to slide off the road, police said.

National Weather Service snow totals showed that it wasn't the quantity of snow that made for treacherous driving. Most cities received less than 6 inches in the previous 24 hours. Instead, the danger largely came from high winds blowing snow at night that made driving difficult.

"A lot of people heeded the message, stayed off the road and cut down on a lot of problems," Utah Highway Patrol trooper Todd Johnson said. "The crash figures — they're not as high as I expected them to be."

Contributing: Anne Forester, John Hollenhorst, Associated Press

e-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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