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Frequent Flyers Oppose New Security Measures

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A new USA Today survey finds that “Road Warriors,” as the paper puts it, are more opposed to the TSA’s new screening tactics than infrequent travelers. USA Today’s Gary Stoller writes, “58 percent of 181 Road Warriors who responded to a survey say they disapprove of the thorough pat-downs … [and] about 40 percent disapprove of the full-body machines.”

Stoller described “Road Warriors” as “battle-tested travel veterans who log millions of miles a year on business trips and voluntarily provide information to USA Today.”

Similarly, a separate USA Today/Gallup poll recently found that 57 percent of travelers who fly twice a year or more “were bothered or angry” about the pat downs.

Elsewhere, polling suggests public opinion overall may be changing. The New York Times‘ Nate Silver observed a 17-point drop in approval for the scanners between CBS and ABC News polls taken a mere week apart. A majority still supports the scanners in the more recent ABC poll, but that same survey found a slight majority disapproved of the pat downs, and strongly, at that.

Interestingly, the ABC News poll also backs up USA Today’s research: 58 percent of frequent travelers support the scanners, compared to 70 percent among infrequent travelers; 54 percent of infrequent travelers oppose pat downs, compared to 47 percent of infrequent travelers.

What can we reasonably extrapolate from this data? For starters, the frequent flyer numbers aren’t terribly surprising—the people who encounter these procedures the most will likely develop the strongest opinions. But it’s a troubling fact for the industry to confront. USA Today says its Road Warriors are crucial to the airlines’ bottom lines.  “[Their] repeat business and the high-priced tickets they frequently purchase in premium class or at the last moment are vital to an airline industry rebounding from a recession,” Stoller writes. “Some in the industry are concerned that their dissatisfaction with the screening can affect airlines.”

More broadly, the CBS and ABC polls, while difficult to compare directly, suggest the possibility that public opinion can, and may already be trending toward opposition of the new procedures. “It can sometimes be misleading to compare polls from different companies,” Silver writes, “particularly since they may word their questions somewhat differently. Nevertheless, the new survey implies that public opinion on the machines may be shifting quite rapidly.” If nothing else, it’s something to watch. As people learn about the procedures, and more travelers encounter them firsthand, it would not be surprising at all if opinion shifted.

Readers, how have your opinions about the TSA’s body scanners and pat downs evolved?

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