CHICAGO -- If you could put three faces on the emerging public reaction to new government procedures for screening airline passengers, they'd be anger, resignation and confusion.
Next week, Thanksgiving travelers who haven't flown recently will for the first time encounter full-body scans and "enhanced pat-downs." If it seems intrusive to these occasional passengers, they can join a frustrated and sometimes outraged crowd of travelers who aren't necessarily feeling more secure than before.
Growing numbers of frequent flyers are protesting loudly, challenging the propriety and the outright effectiveness of the Transportation Security Administration's latest security precautions.
The TSA officers who are required to run their hands over the genitals of same-gender passengers to look for hidden objects say they aren't thrilled by the new rules either.
The TSA officers "have to deal with nasty comments all day long," said Steven Frischling, an aviation blogger who covers TSA and security issues. "These people don't like being called 'dirty,' or 'disgusting' or 'Nazis.' "
Combine the intrusive searches with holiday stress, baggage fees and the large numbers of infrequent fliers this time of year and the result could be a toxic stew, travel analysts warned.
"People are showing up and they're stressed, they're paying more for their seats," said travel writer Joe Brancatelli. "I could see where this really gets ugly."
Ed Hummel, for instance, fumed all the way from Philadelphia to O'Hare International Airport on Monday. The Philadelphia resident, who travels 40 weeks a year as a baking instructor, had been patted down by TSA officials like never before, in a procedure he called "very intrusive" and "humiliating."
"They were up and down my leg, my groin, my crotch," he said after landing in Chicago. "In front of everyone. No closed doors."
"I'm very angry," said Hummel, 59, who planned to file a complaint against the TSA. "I thought we lived in the U.S. It's a police state now."
At some security checkpoints, traditional metal detectors are rapidly being replaced by full-body scanners.
Passengers who opt out of the controversial new security checks can expect to be patted down across every inch of their bodies, under new screening methods the TSA rolled out over the last month.
Even the TSA's menu of holiday foods that are approved for carry-on travel has changed. Cakes and pies are OK to carry on flights; gravy, cheese dips and other dense edibles that detection devices might flag as explosive materials are banned as carry-ons. (A list is available at tsa.gov.)
Body scanners are becoming the primary screening method at airports, replacing decades-old walk-through magnatometers that detect guns and other metal objects, but not explosives.
At the checkpoint, a screener motions a passenger to step into shoeprints in the unenclosed body-scanner and to hold their arms over their head. The image, which looks similar to an X-ray and is blurred to hide facial features, is viewed by a different TSA screener in an enclosed room. The image is immediately erased and cannot be retrieved, TSA says.
In most cases, the procedure lasts 30 seconds or less and the traveler continues on. However, if a potential foreign object is spotted on the person's body, additional screening is required, including a hands-on pat-down.
The TSA says pat-downs are done as a last resort, in cases where travelers decline full-body screening, or to resolve alarms that go off when someone walks through a metal detector. "Only a small percentage of passengers need a pat-down," said TSA spokesman Jim Fotenos.
Children under age 12 are not subject to the enhanced pat-downs, according to the TSA, and anyone else who is eligible does have the right to request that the procedure be conducted in a private room and in the presence of a travel companion.
Harry Donaghy, a traveler at O'Hare on Monday, said his knee replacement always sets off airport scanners. So he wasn't surprised when he was pulled out of the line at Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport. In the past, the TSA officer might have used a metal-detector wand to scan Donaghy's body. This time, he used his hands.
"It was more than patted down," Donaghy, 79, of Las Vegas, said while waiting for his flight home Monday at O'Hare. "They grope-search you. It seems excessive."
And for some travelers, a pat-down can be especially disturbing.
"Look, there's millions of people, kids as well as adults, who were molested," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. "This more aggressive pat-down, it just brings it all back to them."
Despite the outcry, many travelers are willing to give up a little privacy and convenience in exchange for better security, especially in the wake of bombs disguised as printer ink cartridges that terrorists in Yemen shipped aboard jets in a thwarted attack last month, and an "underwear bomber" who came close to blowing up a plane near Detroit last Christmas.
"We ask the American people to play an important part of our layered defense," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote in Monday's USA Today. "We ask for cooperation, patience and a commitment to vigilance in the face of a determined enemy."
Airport officials say passengers generally accept the hassles as necessary.
"I'm a little concerned how negative some of the rhetoric is right now. The vast majority of flyers I speak to are grateful for the security," said Jim Crites, vice president of operations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
But public patience is growing thin. Lines at security checkpoints are longer even before the holidays, much of it the result of passengers taking everything with them on the plane to avoid paying new fees to check luggage. The increase in carry-on items creates headaches for TSA screeners.
One sign of a rising, orchestrated tide of complaints is "National Opt Out Day." Consumer advocates opposed to full-body scanning have designated Thanksgiving eve, one of the busiest travel days of the year, as a day to boycott flying or, if they do travel by air, to decline the body scanning. "Jam TSA checkpoints by opting out until they remove the porno-scanners," urges the website http://wewontfly.com.
Travel could be disrupted if thousands of people request the pat-downs, stretching TSA staff thin. "People are going to opt out," said Mitchell, of the Business Travel Coalition. "If they do so in large numbers, flights are going to be stuck at the gates."
The new measures go so far beyond what travelers are used to, civil liberties groups said, that they have prompted a flood of queries to groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead said the procedures violate the Fourth Amendment, which guards against strip searching or frisking people unless there is a reasonable suspicion that they are engaged in criminal activity.
Legal scholars say there are two questions that likely must be answered: Do people have a constitutional right to fly, and when they do, is there a reasonable expectation of privacy? The answer to both, they said, is no.
"Most courts would say you consent to the conditions of flying, and if you don't want to go through security, don't fly," said Ronald Allen, a professor at Northwestern University Law School. "These are safety measures that are being used to grant access to this good."
Allen said the Fourth Amendment focuses on reasonableness.
"You have to compare the intrusiveness of the process with the risk you are trying to deal with," Allen said. "In this context, the risks are quite real and serious. There are people who still would like to blow up airplanes."
Leading the outcry are airline pilots and flight attendants, who've been advised by their unions to avoid the scans over concerns about daily doses of radiation. United Airlines' Captain Garry Kravit says he even cuts down on dental X-rays out of concern for the level of radiation he faces in the cockpit at high altitudes.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Kravit, vice chairman of United's pilots union. "If we refuse, we are then subjected to intensively intrusive body searches -- and that is just before we get on an airplane to fly 350 people from Chicago to Hong Kong."
Physicists and medical experts have questioned the safety surrounding the X-ray body scans. In an April 2010 letter to Dr. John Holdren, assistant to President Barack Obama for science and technology, faculty members from the University of California at San Francisco noted that even though the scanners use a relatively low beam, "the dose to the skin may be dangerously high."
But scientific research doesn't support this claim, responded John McCrohan of the Food and Drug Administration and Karen Shelton Waters, TSA's chief administrative officer, in an Oct. 12 letter made public by the White House. They determined that the dose to skin for a screening is at least 89,000 times lower than the annual limit.
People who are troubled by the full-body imaging yet don't want to face a pat-down are better off staying home this Thanksgiving -- or flying out of an airport where the new scanners haven't been installed, said aviation blogger Frischling.
"If you're going to make your stand against the TSA, don't do it there in the airport," he added, noting that security officers threatened to fine a San Diego man who declined both screening methods.
Chicago Tribune reporter Dahleen Glanton contributed to this report.