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Traveling Turkeys

If everything goes perfectly, today will bring bedlam at the nation’s airports as millions of Americans journey to gather with loved ones for Thanksgiving.

If things don’t go perfectly, a lot of people are going to be very sad. So what can we say about a few individuals who think it would be a great idea to try to foul (or fowl) things up?

I avoid name-calling in this column. There is far too much of that in our civic discourse already. But, honestly, who — apart from a turkey — doesn’t love Thanksgiving? Who would want to deliberately disrupt the travel plans of innocent strangers, who may be trying to meet a new niece or nephew, or visit a parent whose health is failing, or celebrate a safe return from a dangerous tour of duty?

I can only refer to the Thanksgiving-travel targeters as, well, turkeys.

I am speaking of the small but loud group of self-appointed activists who have ginned up this month’s controversy over airport security screening. Some of these turkeys have called upon travelers to slow down the lines today at airport checkpoints by opting out of electronic scans and demanding manual pat-downs. For good measure, they are urged to do it again on Sunday, when most passengers will be trying to return home.

Give the Transportation Security Administration credit for not caving to the bird-brains. Even in a congressional hearing last week (part of the lame-duck Congress, which helps keep our avian metaphor aloft), TSA officials said they understood the privacy concerns of the traveling public, but had no plans to change their procedures in any way that would compromise security.

This was exactly the right answer.

Regular readers know that I travel a lot. We have offices in three cities and clients spread from Maine to California to Brazil. I regularly visit them, and I have personal connections to Vermont, Chicago, New York and Florida.

I fly because I have to, not usually because I want to. I don’t love airports or crowds or most airline companies. I find nothing endearing about the airport security experience. Given a choice, I’ll drive, even if a trip takes twice as long.

But the TSA staff are just trying to do a job, and that job is to keep all of us safe. I could scarcely believe my eyes as I watched broadcast news reports in which talking turkeys argued that, because no commercial airliner has been brought down by a terrorist since 9/11, the current security methods are excessive.

The fact is that we have been lucky. At least one miscreant managed to sneak explosives onto an aircraft in his underpants. What other proof do we need that we must concern ourselves with the baggage people carry in their intimate apparel?

One turkey, who obviously was looking to pick a fight, recorded his own confrontation with screeners in San Diego, promising an arrest for sexual assault “if you touch my junk.” This was after the same turkey declined the anonymous touchless electronic scan that has been described, with some exaggeration, as a virtual strip search. (The scans are viewed by a technician off-site, not someone who can see the passenger being scanned. No recordings of the images are supposed to be kept.)

I’ve been through these scanners. The process is slow and annoying, requiring me to remove my overstuffed wallet from my pants and hold my hands on top of my head. I am confident that nobody is the slightest bit interested in my “junk,” other than the sort that I might put in my wallet or my briefcase (which, with its collection of wires and power adapters, is frequently hand-searched).

I have experienced the more intrusive pat-downs that are drawing so much attention. It did not bother me. It was obvious that I was not being touched for the screener’s gratification or my own.

I am free to drive myself wherever I want to go if I prefer not to be screened this way. But I have no right to endanger someone else’s wife or daughter by boarding an aircraft after I have declined to be screened as thoroughly as necessary to assure the TSA that I mean no harm.

I have seen enough TSA screeners to know that most work diligently to get us all on our way. They don’t make a lot of money, and they all live with a certain amount of dread that, somehow, someone bad will slip through their line. Yet a surprising number manage to be kind and even humorous when the situation permits. We ought to cut them a break.

Not all TSA screeners are lovable, of course. Not all are even good at their job. Certainly, they aren’t attorneys, and they cannot be expected to debate the constitutional underpinnings of privacy law, especially when they are trying to screen an airport full of anxious travelers. There are going to be occasions when screeners are needlessly aggressive or rude. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also inevitable. That doesn’t mean we should hamstring the screeners.

I don’t think many turkeys will show up at the airports today. To get to the screening line, a turkey would have to present a ticket — and most ticket-holders just want to get to their destinations as planned.

Also, airports these days have a pretty hefty police presence. I trust that law enforcement will be prepared to quickly remove from the lines any disruptive travelers. I suggest they be placed in a room and detained for processing as soon as tonight’s last flight has departed. And, for those who demand hand-screening and decline scanning, let’s have a separate line that does not delay the majority who are willing to be electronically scanned.

That way, most of us can safely get where we need to go, and the only turkeys we will spend time with will be the ones on our tables tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

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