It’s surprising that the use of full body scanners and imaging technology for airport security has gained the level of attention that it has. So it made me wonder: are business travelers really concerned about their privacy from an image taken at a screening checkpoint or do they have more pressing airport challenges?

Backscatter technology produces an image that resembles a chalk etching.

There was a USA Today/Gallop poll (January 5-6, 2010) that revealed as many as 20% of travelers indicated they disapproved of full body scanner images. Travelers were asked if they would feel uncomfortable if their image were being viewed by a federal screener – in a separate, private room. But the scan is optional; those who don’t want a scan may opt for an equivalent screening that includes a pat-down. Talk about privacy…

Sometimes public opinion polls may be defined too narrowly, created too hastily or given too much importance.

It may be nice to understand how business travelers and others feel about the screening in the context of a full range of services received at the airport. Most of us don’t need survey results to know the top priorites.

I remember a trip sometime after the 9-11 attacks when traveling with a colleague of mine. She had just purchased a bottle of water for the flight at an airport newsstand that was located prior to airport security screening. Bottles of water weren’t yet banned, but the security agents required her to open and drink from the bottle or throw it away. Today, of course, that bottle would be tossed into an overflowing trash bin of other personal items not allowed past the screening.

After the attempted bombing of a 2009 Christmas flight between Amsterdam and Detroit, MI, heightened security measures were implemented and international passengers going to the U.S. experienced departure delays by as much as four hours.

One business traveler flagged to me that she experienced a three-hour departure delay for a flight from Madrid to Chicago because of this process. For business travelers, it created a sense of increased concerns about when they would arrive in the states, and some were concerned about their connecting flights.

While most of the specifics about the worst of the delays after Christmas are not available, many improvements have been made, says Steve Lott, spokesperson for the International Air Transportation Association. The industry worked hard to minimize the hassle factor related to security procedures.

“We still see minor delays in some European and Canadian airports, but the situation is much improved. In some cases, the boarding process for US-bound flights start earlier than usual to accommodate security checks near the gate,” Lott adds.

So maybe the message is, get to the airport early, and let’s pay attention to the best way security requirements may work best with how the airports can execute their capabilities.

Originally Published January 20, 2010