ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts' refusal of an airport full-body scan has drawn an outpouring of support among pilots. But it's a step Roberts has considered since July, when he railed against the Department of Homeland Security's "tyranny."
ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts got into a standoff with security at Memphis airport on Friday when he refused to be screened using either the full-body scanners being rolled out at U.S. airports by the Transportation Security Administration or a frisking by TSA agents.
Roberts' stance has touched a nerve among other pilots - people used to being trusted with the safety of ferrying thousands of people. One Southwest Airlines captain urged his colleagues to take action as well:
Everybody else...don't let Michael stand alone on this. This affects all of us. On the one hand, it's ridiculous. What would I even DO with a weapon if I managed to get one on the plane? I already HAVE the plane?...And on the other hand, it's not only a violation of our rights, it's a big potential health risk. Seriously, do you want to go through an X-Ray machine three or four days a week for the next twenty odd years? Yeah, THAT's perfectly safe....
Until last Tuesday, I had never heard of a pilot being asked to go through the full body scanner. Then I was. I refused, and they were grumpy about it, but I just went through the metal detector, and that was it. Next day, Michael has this happen. How many days before the rules change, and we no longer have an option? How many months before they demand something more onerous...and all the abused hookers just go along with it? Where do you draw the line. I say here.
But Roberts' decision wasn't a spur of the moment call. Back in July, Roberts was already exercised over the prospect of not just scanning, but patdowns for pilots, telling members of a pilot's forum that "not only will I not hesitate to delay a flight, I may end up walking away from the job and air travel altogether if necessary." He also said "you'd have to have your head buried completely in the sand to believe that the Dept. of Homeland Security really gives two shiits (sic) about preventing terrorism."
I cannot consent to nor accept unwelcome physical contact any more than having images of my naked body being viewed by government personnel as a routine part of my daily commute to work. If I'm not under arrest or a suspect in some known threat to air transportation security, the feds have no grounds to invade my privacy and personal space in this way. It is an outrage beyond any measure of reason, an assault on liberty, a gross overreaching of the state, and a very significant step on the road back to the sort of tyranny many of our forbears and the founders of this society fought and often died to escape and abolish.
In August, after the Transportation Security Administration announced expanded security for pilots, Roberts wrote a letter to his bosses, which he attempted to get other pilots to sign as well. He also wrote to the Memphis Commercial Appeal last month, raising the "virtual strip search" term and questioning the qualifications of TSA agents:
Federal airport security guards are often unskilled, entry-level responders to help-wanted ads affixed to pizza boxes. Perhaps novice agents lack the perspective to grasp the full implications of their work. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. But please don't show them your naked body. Don't let these strangers put their hands on you or your children. Their abuse protects no one.
So far, there's no update on Roberts' status with ExpressJet.