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Some Americans shrug off federal travel warnings, survey says

About 14% say State Department travel warnings would have no effect on their plans; 18% say they'd change plans completely. Also: How should the TSA treat children? And would you fly with Snooki?

May 16, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

In April alone, the U.S. State Department issued nine travel warnings, cautioning Americans about the risk of being victims of violence while traveling in places like Iraq, Syria and Mexico.

In the case of Syria, the federal agency urged all American citizens on April 25 to leave the country as quickly as possible because of the violent clashes between government forces and anti-government demonstrators.

But it seems few Americans completely change their travel plans in response to such warnings, according to a new online poll conducted by the Minneapolis-based travel company Travel Leaders.

Of the 1,000 Americans surveyed, 14% said a travel warning from the State Department would have no effect on their plans, and about 20% said a warning would have very little effect. The poll was conducted March 10 through April 10.

Only 18% of those surveyed said they would completely alter their travel plans in response to such warnings. The remaining 47% said the warnings would have some effect but not enough to make them cancel travel plans altogether.

The survey results also suggested that satisfaction over security measures at airports has declined.

Of those questioned, 72% said they had no concerns about the use of full-body scanners that can look through clothing to spot hidden weapons and other contraband. In a similar survey conducted last year, about 82% said they had no concerns about the use of the scanners.

Among travelers who said they worry about the scanners, the top three reasons were fears that radiation could pose health risks; privacy issues; and security delays.

• How should the TSA treat children?

A video that has been watched nearly 2 million times on YouTube shows a Transportation Security Administration officer in New Orleans conducting a pat-down search of a 6-year-old girl.

Now a photo distributed through Twitter, showing TSA agents in Kansas City International Airport searching an infant, has become fodder for television news shows and blogs.

Among other critics, the American Civil Liberties Union says the hands-on searches of children are outrageous — not because of the age of the subjects, but because the airport security measures do not target passengers based on reasonable suspicion.

"We should have a better standard for everyone," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel to the ACLU.

The TSA has taken so much criticism over the two incidents that the agency addressed the searches on its website last week. In the case of the infant at the Kansas City airport, the agency said, the baby's stroller triggered an explosives screening alarm.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said security measures regarding children had not changed recently. Airline passengers of every age undergo similar scrutiny before boarding a plane, he said.

"We've always put children through the screening process," he said.

If airport security measures were lowered for children, terrorists would exploit that gap, Melendez said.

He noted that, for example, a 12-year-old suicide bomber killed several people in Afghanistan this month, and in 2003 TSA agents found a loaded gun hidden inside the teddy bear of a 10-year-old boy boarding a plane at Orlando International Airport.

"We have to be vigilant against every element of the population," Melendez said.

• And in fantasy-vacation news …

Besides having to undergo an extensive airport security search, many passengers fear having to share an armrest on a long flight with an obnoxious, pain-in-the-neck passenger.

Like Snooki, perhaps?

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, the big-haired party girl from the MTV reality show "Jersey Shore," got the highest number of votes among Facebook fans of the travel website Expedia for being America's least-desired celebrity travel companion. She got nearly 28% of the votes in a poll that asked visitors to the website to choose among several controversial celebrities.

Snooki edged out volatile actor Charlie Sheen (26% of the votes) and actor Gary Busey (19%). Actress and jewelry aficionado Lindsay Lohan came in fourth with 15% of the votes.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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