US tourism gets a pat-down
Ten years after 9/11, America finally seems to be getting the message that its over-zealous airport security is a major turn-off for tourists.
Fed up with manhandling,, the controversial use of full-body scanners and backbreaking queues, more and more travellers are opting to avoid the country and the tourist industry is feeling the heat.
Plans are afoot to streamline security procedures at airports and cruise terminals to allow for faster entry for low-risk travellers. There are also moves to introduce a trusted traveller programme for international arrivals, which would cut queue times and make the screening process more efficient.
This would mean that travellers would voluntarily provide background information in advance so they are screened more rapidly, a system which is currently in place for frequent fliers on domestic services.
The proposed measures follow a series of recent incidents which, combined with the widespread use of full-body scanners, are believed to be discouraging Irish travellers from visiting the US.
Last month, Yukari Mihamae, a 61-year-old American businesswoman, acquired hero status after she was arrested for allegedly touching the breast of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer at Phoenix's Sky Harbour airport.
She said the incident was intended to show what it is like to be at the receiving end of such treatment. Mihamae said she was fed up with being manhandled by airport security staff, and has since won the backing of thousands of other travellers.
The page 'Acquit Yukari Mihamae' on the social networking site Facebook has attracted 5,000 members, with Mihamae described by users as "courageous" and "a freedom fighter".
The TSA has been criticised in recent months for the invasive nature of its screening techniques, which include a pat-down of the groin, breasts and buttocks.
Other TSA actions to have been criticised include the frisking of babies and young children and the forcible removal of prosthetic limbs.
In May, US immigration officials came under fire after around 2,000 largely elderly cruise passengers on the ship P&O Arcadia endured a nine-hour security check in Los Angeles.
Each passenger underwent fingerprinting, retina scans and questioning -- despite having already completed US immigration forms -- and were forced to queue on the quayside without water, food or access to lavatories.
Several holidaymakers collapsed in the heat and a scheduled stop at the island of Roatan had to be cancelled. One passenger, 77-year-old Howard Freeman, described the incident as "inhumane and degrading" and said he would not be returning to the US.
In a statement, P&O said the incident in Los Angeles was an "isolated" one -- although Mr Freeman said security checks at the previous port of call, San Francisco, had taken nearly six hours.
Kate Burgess-Craddy, chairman of the Visit USA Association, admitted that a negative perception of US immigration officials was created after security checks were tightened following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The TSA has also begun testing an upgrade to the full-body scanner which will see naked images of travellers replaced with a computer-generated silhouette.