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Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 09:01 PM

Sea-Tac Airport stuck with older body scanners | Travel Wise

By Carol Pucci
Special to The Seattle Times

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been removing controversial “backscatter’’ body scanners from some of the nation’s largest airports, but it appears Sea-Tac will be stuck for a while with what looks like obsolete equipment.

The machines, purchased two years ago from Rapiscan Systems, use X-rays to detect explosives or other weapons hidden beneath clothes.

Replacing them in many U.S. airports are millimeter-wave machines made by L-3 Communications that don’t emit X-rays and feature privacy software that produces a generic rather than real nude image of passengers’ bodies.

“At this time, there are no plans to swap out the backscatter scanners at Sea-Tac,” said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.

The TSA cited efficiencies as the reasons for switching to the millimeter-wave scanners, but passenger-rights groups believe public concerns about radiation, privacy and reliability influenced the decision.

The agency said it wanted to reallocate the backscatter machines to smaller, less busy airports, then retrofit those machines with new generic image software. But now comes news that 90 of the scanners that were removed will be warehoused until a glitch with Rapiscan’s privacy software is resolved.

Bottom line: Sea-Tac and a few other bigger airports that have the backscatter machines are in a holding pattern.

TSA faces a congressional deadline to install the new privacy software on all body scanners by June 1, according to the watchdog website ProPublica. My guess is that if Rapiscan can’t meet the deadline, TSA will stop using the scanners.

In the meantime, if you’re concerned about either safety or privacy, exercise your right to opt out of a body scan, and submit instead to a physical pat-down and walk through one of the old metal detectors still in place at Sea-Tac and other airports.

Alaska/Emirates miles

Members of Alaska Airlines’ mileage-award program have been waiting months for word on when they can start using their Alaska miles to book award travel on Emirates airline.

Now it looks like they’ll have to wait a little longer.

Alaska began its mileage partnership in March when Emirates began nonstop service between Seattle and Dubai.

Since then, Alaska frequent fliers have been able to earn miles when flying on Emirates but not redeem them for award travel.

“We were anticipating that award travel on Emirates would be available by the end of the year, but that is going to slide into (early) 2013,’’ said Alaska spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey.

Let’s hope so, given the buildup the two airlines gave the partnership when they announced it last January and Alaska’s promise of double miles on some flights.

Lindsey said the delay is due to “connectivity details still being worked through.”

“We know our members are awaiting this, and we’re assuring them it’s coming very soon.’’

Rate your flight

How happy were you with a recent flight? Share your experience with others at routehappy.com, a new website that lets travelers weigh in with ratings and reviews in much the way TripAdvisor does with hotels.

Those who sign on as members type in their flight details, then leave comments. The goal is to come up with an overall “Happiness score’’ for specific routes, airlines and airports.

The site is still in beta testing, so time will tell how useful it might be.

A search for flights between Seattle and San Francisco brought up reviews for routes flown by Virgin America, Alaska and United, with “happiness’’ scores (ranked from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best) ranging from 9.1 (Virgin) to 6.6 (United).

Carol Pucci is a Seattle freelance writer. Contact her at travel@carolpucci.com. Web/blog: www.travel.carolpucci.com.


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