Is It Worse To Be ‘Groped By Unknown People’ Or Have ‘Someone See You Naked’?

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Study by Lab42 reveals TSA’s new enhanced pat downs pressure travelers to accept backscatter X-rays.

I don't like being touched so I endure the potential health hazards of the X-Ray machine over being felt up.

Lab42, an innovative market research start-up, published results today of a study revealing travelers’ sentiments regarding new TSA security guidelines.

With the peak travel season now underway, Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new security guidelines have recently become a subject of controversy. In many airports across the country, travelers must be screened by either a Backscatter X-Ray machine or an enhanced pat down. The Backscatter X-ray machine is capable of producing high quality images of travelers’ nude bodies, and has even been labeled a “virtual strip search” by the ACLU. Instead of undergoing a Backscatter X-Ray, travelers may opt for an enhanced pat down, which involves a fairly invasive frisking of all areas of travelers’ bodies by a TSA agent of the same gender.

Lab42 studied the overall sentiments of air travelers who have flown at least once in the past six months, and was able to identify generational differences in attitudes toward TSA screening procedures. Participants in the study were 18 – 65 years old and were familiar with the Backscatter X-Ray and Enhanced pat downs.

Nearly 65% of respondents indicated a favorable response to the new screenings. Participants aged 18 – 24 indicated the lowest favorability to TSA procedures, but 60% still responded favorably. 12.5% of respondents were worried about the health hazards of the Backscatter X-Ray Machine. Only 8% of total respondents claimed that they were completely comfortable with the Backscatter X-Ray machines, with only 2.6% of participants aged 55 to 64 indicating complete comfort.

When asked whether they would prefer the Backscatter X-Ray or enhanced pat down, 72% of respondents claimed they would prefer the X-Ray. Participants aged 55 to 64 most preferred the X-Ray, with 79% choosing it over the enhanced pat down, and participants aged 25 to 34 indicated the least preference for the X-Ray over the pat down, with 67% choosing X-Ray.

When asked why they would choose the Backscatter X-Ray over the enhanced pat down, the majority of respondents stated that the X-Ray was quicker and less invasive than the pat down. Respondents who chose the pat down claimed that the X-Ray was unsafe and they were uncomfortable with “someone seeing them naked”.

Travelers shared the following sentiments regarding their preferences with Lab42:

  • “Because [the X-Ray] is quicker.”
  • “I'm more comfortable with the pat down than with the idea of someone gawking at the image produced by the Backscatter X-Ray.”
  • “I don't want to be groped by unknown people. It's technically sexual assault anyway, I'd rather be beamed than molested.”    
  • “Because at least I can see the pervert who is feeling me up, as opposed to them ogling me in another room.”
  • “It's easier. I don't like being touched so I endure the potential health hazards of the X-Ray machine over being felt up.”    
  • “[I prefer the pat down,] because radiation builds up in your body over time and the more exposure the more chance of cancer and other health issues.”
  • “All I have to do is stand there and no one touches me. it is also faster, so i can get through easier.”    
  • “I am not comfortable with someone seeing me nude, and I do not feel the x-rays are safe.”

Although it seems as though travelers are not happy about the new security screenings, 62% of respondents will not change their flying habits, and only 33% of respondents claim they will fly less now than they did previously (with 5% claiming they will stop flying entirely).

About Lab42
Lab42 is a new kind of market research firm that is breaking the mold in market research. It is a full service research solution that leverages a variety of social networks to reach targeted markets and obtain fresh responses to important questions that need to be answered.

Lab42, a Sandbox Industries company based in Chicago, was born to fulfill its own needs. Sandbox needed a quick and easy way to test new business concepts, and through this process, Lab42 emerged.

For more information on Lab42 visit:

About The Survey
This survey was conducted online via social networks from November 16th to 20th, 2010 among 400 adults ages 18 – 34 and 45 - 64 who have flown at least one time in the past 6 months. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, please contact Jonathan Pirc.

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Laura Rokita
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