Backscatter scanners out (finally) at Sea-Tac and other U.S. airports

It looks like Sea-Tac and other U.S. airports with controversial “backscatter’’ body scanners at security checkpoints will be replacing them in coming months.

Passenger rights groups have been pushing the Transportation Security Administration to replace the “backscatter’’ scanners with less invasive and presumably safer millimeter-wave machines that don’t emit radiation and feature privacy software that produces a generic rather than real nude image of passengers’ bodies.

Friday, TSA announced it had ended its contract with the company making the backscatter machines in the face of a June deadline from Congress for modifying the realistic imaging.

Local port officials had started to weigh in on the subject, including Seattle Port Commission Vice President John Creighton, as I report on this Sunday's TravelWise column in The Seattle Times

“Fifteen million people a year go thru @SeaTacAirport,” Creighton pointed out in a recent tweet. “It’s time we urge feds to replace scanners at SEA as well.”

Giving into concerns about health and privacy, TSA had already been replacing the backscatter machines at many airports, but not yet at Sea-Tac, the nation’s 16th busiest airport, putting it in company with other, mostly smaller airports where there are 170 X-ray machines (Sea-Tac has 14) in place compared to 655 millimeter wave scanners. See a list here

Creighton hoped to gain the support of fellow port commissioners for an official motion urging the TSA to replace the backscatter scanners, though that looks like a moot point now. Airport officials were already scheduled to meet with TSA on the subject in mid-February.

“I have gotten a number of emails on the body scanner issue over the last couple years and have a personal perspective as well,” Creighton explained in an email. “My mom and sisters refuse to go through the body scanners out of concern regarding long-term health impacts and all opt for pat-down searches.”

“The more people opting for pat-downs, the more the security process is delayed, so I think Sea-Tac would have a reasonable argument that moving onto the new technology now would save costs in the long run,” said Creighton.


Using Alaska miles on Emirates

Members of Alaska Airlines’ mileage-award program can now use their Alaska miles to book award travel on Emirates airline.

Ever since Alaska began its mileage partnership with Emirates last March, Alaska frequent fliers had been able to earn miles when flying on Emirates, but not redeem them for award travel, a major disappointment given the airlines’ buildup of their partnership announced in January, 2012.

That changed as of Jan.16. An award chart published on Alaska’s website says frequent fliers will need to use 85,000 Alaska miles for an Emirates round-trip coach seat between North America and India or the Middle East. That beats mileage requirements for British Airways and Cathay Pacific (100,000 miles) and compares favorably with Delta and Air France/KLM (80,000 miles).

Alaska said it would award mileage plan members extra miles for travel on Emirates between Seattle and Dubai between Feb. 1 and April 30, depending on the fare level (triple miles for first or business-class travel, double miles for economy-flex travel and 2,500 bonus miles each way for economy-saver travel).

Scoring high on walking

Who isn’t interested in driving less and walking more when they visit other cities?

WalkScore, a Seattle-based company with a free iPhone app and website, gives business and leisure travelers a literal leg up when it comes to exploring travel destinations around the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

The site scores the “walkability’’ of cities and specific neighborhoods, with a place for photos and comments by locals who are urged to identify walkability trouble spots as well as favorite cafes, restaurants and parks. For more, click here to my TravelWise column in The Seattle Times. 


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