CHICAGO — As if air travel over the Thanksgiving holiday isn't harried enough, it could be even worse this year: Airports could see even more disruptions because of an Internet-fueled boycott of full-body scans.
Even if only a small percentage of passengers participate, experts say it could mean longer lines.
The protest, National Opt-Out Day, is scheduled for Wednesday to coincide with the busiest travel day of the year.
"Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it takes to cause huge delays," said Paul Ruden, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents, which has warned its more than 8,000 members about delays resulting from the body-scanner boycott.
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Body scans take as little as 10 seconds, but the Transportation Security Administration requires people who decline the process to submit to a full pat-down, which takes longer. Some fear that could cause a cascade of delays at dozens of major airports, including those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.
"I don't think it would take that much on the busiest day of the year to slow things down," said Gerry Berry, a Florida-based airport security expert. "If I was an airport guy, a screener, a traveler — I'd be concerned."
Not all airports have the machines, which resemble large refrigerators. And not all travelers are selected for scans. Berry estimated that up to 20 percent of holiday fliers will be asked to use the full-body machines.
The full-body scanners show a traveler's physical contours on a computer in a private room removed from security checkpoints. Critics say they amount to virtual strip searches.
Pat-downs often take up to four minutes, according to the TSA's website, though that could be longer if someone requests it be done in a room out of public view or if an ill-at-ease traveler asks for a full explanation of the procedure beforehand.
Factoring in those time estimates, it would take a total of around 15 minutes to put 100 people through a body scan — but at least 6 hours to pat down the same number of travelers.
The TSA's Chicago spokesman, Jim Fotenos, would not disclose how many travelers are normally selected for scans. He said only "a relatively small percentage" normally need pat-downs.
Fotenos declined to say if the agency was taking precautionary steps ahead of the protest, saying only that passengers can make their experience better "by coming prepared and arriving early."