Pilots Might Soon Get A Pass On Stricter Security Measures

As we wrote last week, two of the nation’s largest airline pilots unions had recently told their members to refuse full-body scanners at airport security, arguing that pilots have already undergone rigorous background checks before getting their jobs. Now the head of the TSA says their could soon be a rule change that would treat pilots differently than passengers.

Appearing on Good Morning America earlier today, TSA chief John Pistole said, “We’ve had a number of very good discussions with pilots and hope to be announcing something very soon in terms of a good way forward for the pilots for that very reason, using a risk-based intelligence driven process.”

As was pointed out by GMA host George Stephanopolous, if the pilot of a 747 wants to destroy the plane, they don’t need to carry explosive devices onto the flight.

While the aforementioned pilots unions had told their members to opt for pat downs rather than the full-body scanners, many pilots — just like many passengers — have complained about the invasive nature of the TSA’s recently “enhanced” hands-on searches.

Last month, an ExpressJet pilot refused to submit to either the scanner or the pat-down and was refused entry at the airport.

As for why the TSA has ramped up the number of full-body scanners and instituted the new pat-down procedures, Pistole told GMA that previous undercover tests by the TSA and other agencies showed that the existing system was too easy to beat. “We have not been thorough enough,” he said. “We’re doing all this for the traveling public.”


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  1. Ouze says:

    Yay, go pilots! Way to look out for… yourselves. To hell with the public or anyone else.

    • msbask says:

      What did you expect? The pilots unions are responsible for this. They represent pilots, not everyone else. It’s not their job to change procedure for everyone, just their members.

      • George4478 says:

        Exactly. When the pilot’s union starts representing housewives in Topeka, then I’ll expect some changes for the housewives in Topeka. Until then, I expect the pilot’s union to deal with pilots.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Alternatively, if the vast majority of pilots and stewards/esses agreed that these are not the right way to go for all citizens, then they could use their influence to effect changes for all of us, that we might not otherwise be able to do effectively for ourselves.

          And if they did I would have the most profound respect for them.

          • Kitten Mittens says:

            +1. They could have brought major attention to this issue from the perspective of a group that relies on the “safety” to earn a living. Not to mention that the fewer people fly, the fewer pilots are needed. The union has a vested interest in this.

          • minjche says:

            Sadly, it seems, you’ll just have to stand up for yourself and do your own work to effect change.

            The nerve of those pilots! Making me take on personal responsibility! I should sue someone.

            • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

              One person is less effective than an entire workforce. A union is easier to organize than the general populace. Not to mention the sudden efforts of a union can be the rallying cry for the rest of us. I didn’t say they had a mandate to do this, I merely offered a different perspective.

              These are obvious things that anyone can realize by using that old brain of yours.

              • minjche says:

                You’re correct that all of those points are painfully obvious, which makes me wonder why you felt the need to point them out, other than maybe to pretend like you had some shred of an insight coming out of that old brain of yours.

                As for how much one person can change on their own, yeah probably nothing. But the idea is that someone needs to start the ball rolling. With respect to the Civil Rights movement, Rosa Parks and MLK Jr. were both “one” person each, but their individual actions created a following that sparked others to join in.

                With respect to today’s TSA dispute, I’m sure it was just a few folks (perhaps even one) who started this:


                So my point remains: If you want to see change, do something about it. That’s better than waiting on some group (a group with the explicit purpose of representing themselves, I might add, and may or may not in fact agree with passengers being screened using AIT or enhanced pat-downs) to do it for you.

                • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

                  Maybe I misunderstood – it sounded like you were responding to me. Sounds like now you were responding to us all.

                  I really do wish Americans were are protest-happy as European nations. Because then we voice ourselves clearly. As it stands we have such a laissez-faire attitude and assuming someone else will figure it out for us. I personally will refuse a backscatter device. That’s probably the best I can do as an individual.

                  • minjche says:

                    I rarely ever fly (I enjoy long car rides), but when I do, I’ll also opt-out of the scanner, assuming there isn’t a change of policy by then.

                    • RvLeshrac says:

                      Just an FYI, the only people who are in any position to have these policies changed? Airlines, and airline employees.

      • FoxCMK says:

        I just want an “Everyone Else” union so we actually have effective representation.

        Oh, you mean it’s called the House of Representatives? Fat lot of good that’s done us.

    • Chaosium says:

      “Yay, go pilots! Way to look out for… yourselves. To hell with the public or anyone else. “

      Let me know when you start paying dues, doof.

  2. Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

    This is telling. If only 5 percent of the air travelers on any given day opted for a patdown instead of the scanners, the security checkpoint would be brought to its knees. I think this is Pistole’s way of avoiding having the security process crippled. Just speculation, mind you.

    • DanRydell says:

      Your flaw is in assuming that the people at the security checkpoint care if you get to your flight on time or care about the length of the line.

      • Xenotype51 says:

        They would if it takes more than 4 hours (the maximum amount of time you can check in before a flight when checking luggage).

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          Couldn’t they just change the maximum time for check in?

          • AnthonyC says:

            If the line gets long enough that the TSA can’t process 1 day’s worth of flights in one day, then planes will start leaving partly empty, and *THAT* is an effective means of protest.

  3. dush says:

    Pilots specifically want their passengers screened but don’t want to be screened themselves.
    How about all the rest of us who have gone through rigorous back ground checks for our employment? Do we all get a pass too?

    • hymie! says:

      That depends. Can you crash an airplane by yourself with your bare hands?

      • outlulz says:

        I’m so strong that if I push on the floor the airplane will start descending.

      • doctor.mike says:

        Of course a pilot can do it with his bare hands: Push forward on the yoke or sidestick, and the plane dives, breakups up in flight from overspeed, or a controlled dive into a specific location. He can also pull pack on the throttles and the plane has no more thrust. Look up “egyptair 990” or “gimli glider” for more details.

    • DanRydell says:

      The difference between you and them is that they can destroy the plane much more easily than you can without smuggling anything on board.

      There are two guys in the cockpit though, and the second guy is the last line of defense. I do think pilots need to be screened thoroughly enough to give that second guy a chance.

    • Miz_Ivy says:

      Yes, you get a pass too. You get to go to your job every day without having to be exposed or fondled.

  4. crazedhare says:

    I understand there are certain facts that uniquely affect the cost/benefit analysis of the scans for pilots, for example frequency of exposure and rigor of background checks. But on the other hand, here we have TSA moving toward admitting that the pat-downs are inappropriate for children, the scans may be inappropriate for pilots…as we add to the segments of society for whom it is admitted that these procedures are over-broad or dangerous, I see that as undermining the evidence that supports a suggestion that there are significant segments of the population for whom the procedures are safe and appropriate.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      The machines and enhanced patdowns are only appropriate for people of Middle Eastern descent. I think that’s what you’re hinting at. First pilots are exempt, then children, then citizens, then citizens of countries with good relations with the U.S., then citizens of countries with no history of violence against the U.S., then no recent violence against the U.S.

      And the rest get whatever we can throw at them.

      • crazedhare says:

        For someone’s whose name blasts people about reading, I am consistently stunned by your lack of reading comprehension.

        I am hinting at the fact that I don’t think the scans are appropriate for anyone because they fail a nuanced cost-benefit analysis.

        But thanks for the drive-by accusation. You are rapidly devolving into someone who I am going to start flagging as a troll.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          You words were vague, and that’s how I interpretted it. My apologies if you were misunderstood.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          If you’re like to explain yourself instead of getting defensive, I’d love to hear it. I thought I was actually supporting your argument, but apparently you took offense.

          (fyi, trolls comment and leave. The rest of us follow through)

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        I should have added the /snark tag, as I don’t actually believe this.

  5. Kahless says:

    There is a difference, first off pilots are exposed to a lot more radiation in their lifetimes than the average american, same goes for the flight crew. So backscatter scanners adding the equivalent of 2 min of flight time every time the pass through ends up adding up a lot more than the average traveler. Even f the scanning method is millimeter waved based there can still be a danger. Also as stated if a pilot wants to bring the place down he really does not need a gun, knife or bomb take EgyptAir Flight 990 as an example of what a determined pilot can do.

    I am basically done since i know logical reason with be ignored in favor of some talking point you heard that will just be repeated without fact to back it up

    • Brunette Bookworm says:

      That’s what I was thinking. I’m fine with the pilots not going through it. One, they can do a lot more to the plane even if they pass the checkpoint. Two, if they get scanned everytime they go to work that’s WAY more exposure than the average flyer and I can see how it could be a concern.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I’m guessing the concern is that a pilot may not take down his plane but might smuggle contraband into the secure area and pass it off to somebody who may take down another plane.

  6. Buckus says:

    “We’re doing all this to line former TSA Secretary Chertoff’s pockets.”

    There, fixed it for ya.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Dammit, you beat me to it…

    • grumpskeez says:

      That’s what this amounts to. The ‘enhanced’ grope downs are just a punitive response for the negative support of Chertoff’s profits.

  7. CrazyMann says:

    I have a simpler solution – Require all air travelers to remove all clothing and place them in a gray tray. No pat downs or scanners would be needed.

    • Ouze says:

      Yes, since we started doing that in prisons, we’ve completely eliminated drugs and weapons from them.

    • Buckus says:

      That won’t be enough. Soon after that is implemented, body cavity searches will become mandatory.

      “Remember, do not eat for 24 hours prior to your flight..”

    • Southern says:

      Just show up for your flight in a thong and a pair of flipflops, and you’re good to go.

      Just put your clothing in your carryon (which goes through the x-ray machine), then change into them after the security checkpoint.

      Just hope no one steals your carryon. ;-)

      I swear, if I had a need to fly this holiday season, I would seriously contemplate doing this.

    • Rachacha says:

      Naah, that woudld not work, cause then mothers would want to breast feed their children while going through airport security. It is bad enough that they do it in Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds.

      (Of course I jest)

  8. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    They need to just hurry up and develop the security scanners used in Total Recall. There would be no privacy concerns since they just show skeletons and weapons.

    • Buckus says:

      You kid now…but technologically, that’s not exactly impossible. It just requires a crapload of x-ray radiation.

  9. duncanblackthorne says:

    “Now the head of the TSA says there could soon be a rule change that would treat pilots differently than passengers.”


  10. Lomic says:

    “Now the head of the TSA says their could soon be a rule change that would treat pilots differently than passengers.”

    I’m surprised I’m the first one pointing out the “their”/”there” problem with this sentence. C’mon, Consumerist! :p

  11. p0rkmaster says:

    %s/TSA says their could/TSA says there could/g

    their != there

  12. the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

    Maybe the old system was too easy to beat because the TSAs hiring standards are too low and many are just there to collect a paycheck?

  13. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    Here, let me fix that for you….

    “Pistole told GMA that previous undercover tests by the TSA and other agencies showed that the existing system was not costing enough and did not put on enough of a show. ‘We have not made this expensive enough,’ he said. ‘We’re doing all this for the Chertoff Group and RapiScan.'”

  14. leprechaunshawn says:

    Why do pilots even need to go through a security checkpoint?


    If a pilot wanted to use a plane as a weapon he certainly isn’t going to smuggle explosives in his underwear. He’s just gonna sucker punch the other guy in the cockpit to knock him out and fly the plane into whatever he wants.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      WELL YOU ARE FORGETTING THAT THE 9/11 HIJACKERS WERE JET PILOTS!!!! If anybody needs to be scanned, it is the PILOTS!!!


      “Yes, Johnny, that was sarcasm”

  15. airtraveler says:

    Does anyone know if people who work at stores and restaurants (not to mention baggage handlers and other airport employees) go through the full panoply of security procedures. I

    • humphrmi says:

      I worked at airports pre-9/11 and anyone who had an airport or airline ID badge bypassed security. Not sure how it is today, probably tougher. Baggage handlers, mechanics, and other “ramp” employees would be particularly dangerous if engaged by a terrorist to smuggle items to the secure zone. Pilots, not so much (at least that we can control) – as others have said, any pilot can use the plane that they are controlling as a weapon without smuggling anything onboard.

      But there are too many attack vectors to cover. For instance, there are areas of most airports where it would be trivially easy to leave a bag of something on the ground, and after an employee has cleared security, he or she could go retrieve the object, and viola – it’s now in a secured area, unscreened.

  16. psm321 says:

    Divide and conquer

    • banndndc says:

      exactly. it’s just a very political pr move. getting pushback on a policy? exempt those whose criticisms resonate the most. on the plus side for congress, exempting pilots will allow them to exempt themselves.

      this is why these policies must apply to everyone equally. unless the pain is felt by policymakers and especially interested populations there is never an incentive to change/fix/adjust the policy.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Agreed. I would support a requirement that Congress endure every law they enact, and that they specifically cannot, by law, be exempted. Pat downs, private health care, etc.

        Sadly, it would require an act of Congress to enact that law. Surprised?

  17. valued_customer says:

    You know, I was hoping that having pilots complain loudly about this would hit the airlines close enough to home to start realizing that this bullshit is not good for their business, let alone other reasons I don’t care to list.
    But if their most valuable employees get their way, we the public lose an important group of advocates for more sensible security, so in a way I hope they don’t.

  18. Mecharine says:

    TSA sounds like an abusive boyfriend.

    “I only punched you because I love you!”

  19. UberGeek says:

    Let me get this straight, you get in line and they may direct you to a metal detector or a backscatter/millimeter wave scanner. Either way, you may still be subjected to an “enhanced pat down”. Since I’m ALWAYS chosen for extra screening, I can assume I’ll get the pat down anyway.

    So after the pat down where some TSA dude gets his jollies from me, do I at least get to smoke a cigarette and cuddle a little?

  20. balthisar says:

    I don’t even know why pilots have to go through the public security checkpoints. Virtually every other enterprise has public and private entrances. Why not airports?

    • EllenRose says:

      Because the only way onto the flight deck is the same one the passengers use? And they aren’t about to build secret passages just for the pilots.

    • Inglix_the_Mad says:

      Part of it is the way airports are built, especially the larger ones. You’d have way too many checkpoints to guard.

      Even as a private pilot, I have a badge for when I’m walking around the section of the airport I’m allowed in (the General Aviation part by my plane hangar) and I stay the fark away from the blue demarc line. That blue line separates passenger jets from regular commercial (think UPS) and GA. The only people allowed to cross it are fuel trucks, security, and ATP (Air Transport Pilot) taxiing planes to / from the terminal. An ATP cannot cross the that line unauthorized anymore than I can. Let’s say they have their own plane, they have to exit through the terminal and snag a lift to the GA section to get to it.

      One student pilot did a wing over / wheel on the line violation at our airport. He didn’t get in trouble directly, just politely asked by Tower, TSA, and his instructor to pay more attention to the line or next time he would be.

  21. Inglix_the_Mad says:

    Wait, so since I have my Private Pilot certficate I can get a pass? I went through the same background checks these guys did. With the upcoming FAA rule change my certificates will even have my picture on them!

    Do I have to wait for my Commercial Certificate to be completed for this to kick in otherwise?

  22. rlkelley says:

    From what I hear the background check any Federal employee or contractor goes through is equal to that which the pilots receive. Any of us with the correct background checks should be able to be treated differently, and everyone should have the option of getting said background check as a airport convenience feature.

  23. BigHeadEd says:

    Isn’t there a pistol in the cockpit as part of the upgraded onboard security? Seems pretty stupid to scan someone on the ground that has access to a loaded gun in the air.

  24. Macgyver says:

    And how easy is it to buy a pilots uniform?

    The TSA should use a Body Orifice Security Scanner, but they should make one where it can also detect explosives. This way you won’t need a body scanner, or a pat down. But people are probably going to complain about that too.

    • kingofmars says:

      Pilot uniforms are not hard to buy, but airport security IDs that they have to show are a little more difficult. And as far as the BOSS system you refered to, it only detects metals, not explosives.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      DOGS can detect explosives. They’re the best at it. Drugs, too. Much cheaper than a big machine.

  25. sumocat says:

    If we can trust a pilot not to crash a plane on purpose, I think we can trust them not to smuggle a bomb on board.

  26. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    You can have my nail clippers when you pry them from my cold, dead hand.®


  27. skingly says:

    Saw this on a Gawker comment & had to share it here.

    What Canada thinks of the new security procedures