STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, about 24 million Americans are expected to fly, and will soon have their encounters with new security rules for air passengers.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
At most major U.S. airports, passengers now have to submit to full body scans or an extensive patdown by security screeners. Some people have threatened to protest the new screening machines at airports tomorrow, which is one of the busiest travel days of the year.
INSKEEP: So, we've asked our listeners on Facebook and Twitter to send in their questions about the new rules. And we've posed them to Lee Kair. He's assistant administrator at the Transportation Security Administration, which means he is responsible for security at hundreds of airports nationwide.
We've got a note here from Elizabeth Platt who says, Can you ask them what the general policy is regarding screening people with medically necessary devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers?
Mr. LEE KAIR (Assistant Administrator, Transportation Security Administration): One of the things we like about the new advanced imaging technology is that particularly for passengers who have internal medical implants like replacement hips, knees, things of that nature, it makes their process go much smoother. Many of these people have been having patdowns for many years, because they are not able to clear or walk through a metal detector. And the advanced imaging technology really speeds up the process for them.
INSKEEP: We have another question from Carla Atkinson, who says, What happens if I refuse to have my nine-year-old daughter scanned when we fly in December? Will they really pat down a child?
Mr. KAIR: Everyone who goes through the checkpoint has the option of opting out of our advanced imaging technology. They would be subjected to a patdown. For children, we have a little bit of a different procedure where we use some technology instead of the same way we use the patdown. So it would be a little bit different than it would be on an adult, but they would be subjected to a patdown.
INSKEEP: So the answer is sorry, yes, we've got to do something with this nine-year-old.
Mr. KAIR: Yes.
INSKEEP: Let's move on to some other topics here, at least for a moment, because people have a wide range of questions about security.
Lucia or Lucia Ling asks: I want to bring five to 10 pies as carry-on, can I?
Mr. KAIR: This comes up every year. Pies are allowable to come through the screening checkpoint. The number and size of the pies, that's an airline issue on, you know, how much of their carry-on space they can take with it. But you are allowed to take the pies through the checkpoint. The other things like pudding, some of the cranberry sauces, things like that are not allowable.
INSKEEP: Leif Clarkner(ph) asks: Can I bring frozen meats in a cooler?
Mr. KAIR: We would not have a security concern about a frozen meat. That would be more of an airline determination. But that would not be an issue at our screening checkpoint.
INSKEEP: Just for half a second there I thought I'd stumped you. But I guess I didn't.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Jill Ness asks: Is it okay to bring a small amount of Play-Doh to entertain a preschooler?
Mr. KAIR: Yes, Play-Doh, for entertainment value of the children would be fine.
INSKEEP: I'll tell you I was wondering about that, because my first thought was, doesn't that look and feel like plastic explosive?
Mr. KAIR: Our officers are very well trained on what these things actually look like inside the X-Ray. And when we have concerns about any of these items, we have technology there, and they'll sample it and make sure that it's safe and then let them go on their way.
INSKEEP: We're actually wondering if the TSA rules deliberately changed from airport to airport or time to time, just so that it's a little bit harder for a terrorist to game the rules.
Mr. KAIR: Actually, we really differentiate between unpredictability and random. So the prohibited items list is actually on our Web site. And we want to make sure that our officers know that they should not be doing protocols that are just random.
But what we did do several years ago, was we recognized that we don't want our adversary to be able to exactly predict what the process is, so they can orchestrate and attack around our process. So we have, by design, inserted unpredictability into our processes.
INSKEEP: So if the process changes a couple of times on the same trip, as I go through, you're saying that I can be reassured by that, as opposed to worrying that anybody knows what they're doing or not?
Mr. KAIR: Absolutely. We have baked that into our...
INSKEEP: Into the five to 10 pies.
Mr. KAIR: ...protocols.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KAIR: That's right. We baked it in so that our officers do have random or unpredictable processes, so that people don't know what exactly to expect. But all of these processes are always easy to navigate. And we always communicate with the passengers, so that they could get through the screening checkpoint easily.
INSKEEP: You can imagine that people send any number of snarky or hostile questions. Michael Anthony says: If I opt for the patdown and they are good at it, can I go through again?
Mr. KAIR: No, we only give one screen per passenger.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: ...what is the craziest comment or questions you've heard about these image screeners, since they've made so much news in recent weeks?
Mr. KAIR: There are always, you know, humorous comments sometimes, as you are alluding to there. But I think for the vast majority of the traveling population, they recognize the hard job of our officers.
INSKEEP: Are you sure that you're going to have some protest, 'cause there's at least been talk of that.
Mr. KAIR: There has been some discussion around that. What I can say is that I hope that the people who disagree with our equipment or our process don't try to take this opportunity to disrupt things for people who just want to get to their final destination.
INSKEEP: Lee Kair is the Transportation Security Administration's assistant administrator for Security Operations.
Thanks very much.
Mr. KAIR: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And keep that in mind: You only get one patdown per passenger.
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