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Originally published Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 7:00 PM

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Say goodbye to some Sea-Tac scanners

Sea-Tac is replacing the much criticized “backscatter” scanners.

Special to The Seattle Times

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The controversial “backscatter’’ full-body scanners installed at Sea-Tac Airport nearly 2½ years ago will be gone by June 1, if not sooner.

A recent staff report to members of the Seattle Port Commission indicated the Transportation Security Administration would begin replacing the Rapiscan scanners on April 4. That date now appears to be up in the air, although a TSA spokeswoman said the scanners would be replaced in time to meet a June 1 federally mandated deadline.

“Their schedule remains fluid as they are making these changes at airports around the country,” said Sea-Tac Airport spokesman Perry Cooper.

Passenger-rights groups have been pushing the TSA to replace the scanners with less invasive and safer millimeter-wave machines made by L-3 Communications.

Unlike the backscatter machines which use X-ray beams (that give off low levels of ionizing radiation) to scan underneath clothing, the millimeter-wave machines use radio-frequency waves. They also feature privacy software that produces a generic rather than real nude image of passengers’ bodies.

No word yet on how many of the new scanners Sea-Tac will get to replace the 14 backscatter scanners currently in use at security checkpoints.

The TSA announced earlier that it would remove the scanners from U.S. airports in the face of the June deadline from Congress for modifying the nude-imaging pictures.

The decision eliminates most concerns about privacy and safety, but not the hassle factor. Passengers must still remove everything from their pockets, including nonmetallic items such as handkerchiefs and wallets.

Alaska mileage partnership on ice

What put the chill on Alaska Airlines’ mileage-partnership agreement with Icelandair scheduled to end June 1?

Speculation on the flight blogBoardingArea.com is that the decision likely had to do with bad blood over an Icelandair promotion last August that allowed passengers to buy miles at a discount and redeem them for expensive flights on Alaska to Hawaii or Mexico.

“You could straight up buy miles and redeem them on Alaska for first class to Hawaii for about $350,” the blog reported. “It was cheap to buy miles in part because of weakness in their country’s currency. And if that wasn’t enough they were even running a buy-miles bonus.”

Hundreds of bookings resulted before Icelandair quietly withdrew the deal, then backed off on allowing customers to use its miles, called Saga points, to redeem any award travel on Alaska.

Icelandair regrouped and in January again began allowing customers to use its miles for award travel on Alaska, but at much higher prices.

Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey discounted the idea that the promotion had any influence.

“We made this decision purely based on what the partnership added to our program,” she said in a recent email.

Icelandair was one of Alaska’s smallest partnerships. Few customers earned or redeemed miles on the airline, she said, and Alaska’s other partners (American, Delta, British Airways, Air France and KLM) serve the same markets.

Whatever the cause, it’s too bad this partnership is ending because it was the only useful way for people in the Northwest to make use of miles flown on Icelandair. The airline has no partnerships with other U.S. airlines.

Flying the Dreamliner

How confident would you feel about flying on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner once its battery problem has been resolved and it’s been returned to the skies?

Seattleite David Rowell, publisher of the Travel Insider (thetravelinsider.info) blog and newsletter, posed that question to his followers.

Thirty-two percent who responded said they would refuse to fly on the plane for at least the next year or two. Another 35 percent said they would prefer to avoid the 787.

Surprising, because, as Rowell points out, his subscribers know their planes. Sixty-three percent are elite-level frequent fliers.

“Their opinion” says Rowell, “counts for a lot more than that of a typical ‘man in the street.’ ”

Carol Pucci is a Seattle freelance writer. Contact her at travel@carolpucci.com. Blog: travel.carolpucci.com. Twitter: @carolpucci.

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. The column covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. It runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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