Opt Out of National Opt Out Day

There’s a movement afoot to protest the TSA’s deployment of its new see-through-clothing scanners by having everyone “opt out” of the scanning process on November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the heaviest travel days of the year.

While I sympathize with the ostensible motivation behind the idea (millions of innocent airline passengers are being massively inconvenienced and having their rights trampled by the TSA for not much an increase, if any, in our overall flight safety — from a certain point of view, having so many people suffer through this procedure means the terrorists have won!), I can’t agree with the plan.

For one thing, you’re not likely to find a lot of support for the idea of asking people to protest by delaying their own travel, particularly on a day that’s difficult enough and already prone to delays, and even more especially when their primary concern at that moment will be simply getting home for the holidays. So the protest itself will be relatively weak, because relatively few will join in, compared to the underlying number of people who would be far more willing to participate in the protest if it were called for a more favorable date.

For another, you’re asking people to protest by disrupting other people’s travel, people who may not think the TSA is infringing on their rights. It’s the same when protesters march in the streets and block some traffic. But within the airline system, it’s different. Delays at one airport not only cascade throughout the entire system, they multiply from early hours to later ones until the whole nation is gridlocked. That’s not going to win the protest a lot of friends. In fact, it could even backfire and cause millions of passengers to dislike the protesters and feel a surprising sympathy for the TSA and its employees, who may well come up looking like the victims here, rather than what they actually are: the perpetrators of massive rights violations on millions of law-abiding, patriotic men, women, and children.

It’s just not a smart way to get what we all want, which is an end to “Security Theater” at airports and a redirection of the TSA’s massive budget toward more sensible approaches and methods that will actually make us safer. (You doubt that it’s Security Theater? Then please explain the point of subjecting every passenger to the TSA’s public humiliations while millions of tons of cargo flying on the very same planes gets no screenings at all?)

Here’s a better idea: On November 24th, everyone traveling by air (and interested others) who feels the TSA is overstepping its bounds and not doing the best possible job of keeping America safe should protest by:

a) Wearing a simple, paper sign saying: “Protest the TSA: Opt Out Of Intrusive Screenings On December 10, 2010”, and/or
b) leafletting the passengers around you by handing out the same words on small pieces of paper.

This kind of protest does several things:

1) It calls attention to the same problem, on the same day, as the poorly conceived “Opt Out Day” planned for November 24th
2) It creates no travel delays and engenders no sympathy for the TSA
3) It gives people who are of a mind to protest a couple of weeks to get ready to participate
4) It causes disruptions to TSA procedures and resulting delays to airline flights on a normal flying day, a day that practically every flyer can hear about and prepare for in advance, a day when relatively few flyers are focused primarily on getting home for the holidays.

Are you ready to protest the TSA? Which of these protests are you more likely to join? If you’ve got an even better plan, let’s hear it.

Joe Smith is a professional writer with a lot of opinions about what's going on in America and the world today. Read other articles by Joe.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. ProfessorQ1235 said on November 16th, 2010 at 7:37am #

    This is exactly right- inconveniencing other passengers is not an optimal strategy. Increasing visibility of distress and discomfort with the new technology, however is. In airport security, the airlines are the primary players with access to the levers of power at the TSA and Congress. Opting-out of flights like the gentleman who had the encounter over at SAN sends a much stronger signal and would produce a better result faster- without inconveniencing other travelers unnecessarily.


    Of course, if I were flying next Wednesday, I might would certainly opt-out. I don’t like the new technology and would prefer to make snide comments to the person who is groping me. But that’s just a personal preference.

  2. j30 said on November 16th, 2010 at 9:57am #

    nah, standing up for your rights often entails inconveniencing yourself.

    the better plan is to Opt Out on National Opt Out Day. See WeWon’tFly.com

  3. hayate said on November 16th, 2010 at 1:07pm #

    I have to agree with J30.

    This article does not make much sense to me. How does people refusing to fly on opt out day inconvenience people like blocking traffic on a highway? How does it cause delays. Those opting out simply wont be at the airports and flying. This will hurt airliner profits, though. Perhaps it’s the airliners this joe [cough] smith doesn’t want to see inconvenienced? It looks like the author is using strawman arguments, and nonsensical ones at that, to prevent change taking place, cause face it, holding up a sigh or passing out a flyer wont change anything.

    Finding an alternate method of travel or delaying one’s travel plans, when practical, will definitely change things, though.

  4. marklar said on November 16th, 2010 at 2:46pm #

    Making a protest action less inconvenient to yourself and others just makes it inconsequential as well. The days of holding signs and chanting need to end. Effective protest must be felt in dollar and cents and a good deal of inconvenience at the least.

  5. smith756joe20 said on November 17th, 2010 at 5:45pm #

    Yes, many people will opt out of flying and won’t show up at the airport. That’s what I do.

    But if you have to fly, or really want to fly on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, then I think it makes more sense to plan a protest for another day and simply leaflet or carry a sign.

    I disagree with marklar about inconvenience. Inconvenience and protests are separate, sometimes but not always related to each other.

    Protesting is about gaining attention: in the media, via the Internet, directly face to face, or whatever. Inconveniencing others is one way to do that, but it risks pissing them off more than gaining their support. Creating a major protest (two, actually: one on the day people leaflet at the airport, and a second protest on the day large numbers of people actually fly and opt out of the scanning) doesn’t require inconveniencing others.

    Think about it: the TSA inconveniences millions of flyers every day and that’s not intended or perceived as a protest of anything.

  6. hayate said on November 17th, 2010 at 8:08pm #


    Any protest is viable. You do what you can do. Berating others’ protests is divisive, though.

    Don’t do it.