New body scanners to change check-in at Savannah airport

astice@islandpacket.comApril 4, 2012 

New body scanners unveiled Wednesday at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport will change the way passengers go through security before boarding flights, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

The scanners use imaging technology to search passengers for explosives and other contraband.

Early versions drew howls of criticism for being too intrusive, as they effectively produced a digital image of a person's naked body. Upgraded machines like the ones just installed in Savannah use a generic silhouette instead, and passengers can see the image along with security screeners.

TSA spokesman Mike McCarthy said the main difference for passengers is that they will now have to empty everything from their pockets, not just metallic items.

"Car keys, boarding passes, tissues -- this technology detects both metallic and non-metallic items without any physical contact with the passenger," McCarthy said. "It really reduces the need for pat-downs because screeners will know if something is on your left leg or in your pocket."

The scanners should be a relief for passengers with metallic joints or hip replacements who previously set off alarms at walk-through metal detectors, McCarthy said.

In all, about 165 airports nationwide are using the new body scanners. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was among the first to install the machines.

For Port Royal resident Cecile Banner, who complained to the TSA about a "traumatizing" pat-down she received at the Savannah airport in November 2010, the machines are a welcome change.

Banner, 76, said a trip through the imaging machine would have been much better than the examination she received while traveling to her husband's funeral in Virginia. Agents touched her breasts and groin, she said, and now she avoids flying.

"I'm glad they put the scanner in," she said.

For passengers who don't want to go through the imaging machines, pat-downs will still be an option, the TSA says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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