Orlando's theme parks can't afford for parents to decide not to fly
By Robert NilesThe Orlando theme parks go together with the airline industry like a hot day and a frozen Butterbeer. Airlines flies millions of visitors into Central Florida each year, delivering a huge percentage of the visitors to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld. As the heart of the travel business, a healthy airline industry helps ensure a healthy theme park industry.
Published: November 15, 2010 at 10:45 AM
So anything that threatens people's willingness to fly endangers the Orlando parks. That's why I'm watching closing the growing outrage over the U.S. federal government's new screening procedures for airline passengers.
My kids find it hard to believe, but not all that long ago it was possible to fly anonymously. When I was in college, I flew from Indianapolis to Orlando using my friend's father's ticket. No one checked any identification. We had paper tickets, and if you presented the ticket, you got to fly. The only time you saw anyone checking travelers' ID was in the movies when the bad German or Soviet border guard was trying to catch the hero (who, inevitably, was traveling with fake papers.)
Obviously, that's changed in today's environment. Not only do you have to show ID to get on a plane today, but under this year's new security procedures, the name on your ID must match exactly the name on your flight reservation. I can't recall ever being able to get on a plane without going through a metal detector, but for the past several years you've had to take off your shoes to be X-rayed before boarding and can't carry onto the plane more than a tiny amount of liquid from outside the secure area, either.
But that's not been enough, in the view of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. Starting last month, the TSA mandated the use of new high-resolution "backscatter" imaging machines at all major U.S. airports for randomly selected passengers. You can refuse to go through the machines (which produce what looks like a naked image of your body), but if you do, you will be subject to a new, much more invasive pat-down, which travelers and security experts have compared to the pat-downs that new prisoners are subject to when they are checked into jail.
The new pat-down procedures don't stop with an agent feeling your arms and legs, as before. They also require TSA personnel to place their hands inside your waistband and also to touch your groin area, to check for hidden contraband.
What's driving some parents over the edge is that fact that children are also subject to the new screenings. Obviously, many parents object to having to choose between a TSA agent taking what amounts to a naked picture of their child or having the agent placing his or her hands on what most kids have been taught are their "private areas" that no stranger ever is allowed to touch.
Complains are pouring in (link displays TSA scanner images that may be NSFW), and some parents have declared that they won't fly again until the new procedures are rescinded.
Airlines aren't happy with the new procedures, and pilot and flight attendants (who are also subject to the screening) are livid. They're concerned about the health effects of the cumulative doses of radiation that they'd be exposed to going through the new screening machines on a daily basis. And they're not thrilled with the alternative of being felt up by TSA personnel daily, either.
So what will happen? As I see it, travelers have three choices:
1. You can accept the new procedures, and keep flying.
2. You can reject the procedures, and stop flying.
3. You can protest the decision to take this approach toward security, and call or e-mail your elected representatives to demand that they rewrite the law to order the TSA to change its screening tactics - if not for adult passengers at least toward children. (Of course, if change doesn't happen, then you're left deciding between choices 1 and 2.)
That decision is your call, of course, but I know that they theme park industry is really hoping that their fans who live outside a reasonable driving distance of their favorite theme parks don't choose option 2. Disney, Universal and SeaWorld can't afford for the nation's parents to decide that, in order to protect their children from what would otherwise be called abuse, they won't be flying anymore. Which is why I wouldn't be surprised to the see the industry's lobbyists start contacting those elected representatives, too.
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