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Security Theater

Last night, I had my first confrontation with the full-body scanner employed by the TSA in the "interest" of aviation security. My palms began to sweat and my heart raced as I rehearsed the scene where I tell the officer I am opting out. It's a scene I've gone through numerous times as I've flown since the new procedures were implemented, but it was finally time to perform the act.

I took off my shoes, put my things on the belt and tried not to hyperventilate. I reached the front of the line and the grey haired gentleman directing people into the machine. "I am opting out of going through the machine" I said, and managed to do so without letting on that my heart was attempting to breach my chest wall. He was surprisingly nonplussed, and flatly told me that it wasn't an x-ray machine and that I would have a pat down by a female agent instead. I originally heard him as saying I *wouldn't* get a female agent for my pat down so I asked him to repeat himself before agreeing and stepping to the side.

I stood in my socks by a TSA officer who called for a "female assist" (quickly follwed by a "male assist" as Gregg opted out behind me). I waited there for a female officer who directed me over and told me to "stay there" while she changed her gloves. I was feeling much less freaked out by this point, since no was seems liked they were going to give me shit for opting out. The officer came back with fresh gloves and explained what she was going to do, asked if I had any areas of my body that were particularly sensitive to touch and whether I would like a private screening. I declined a private screening and told her that I didn't have any particularly sensitive areas on my body. She explained that for "sensitive" areas (which she never defined but I came to understand as my butt and my breasts) she would use the back of her hand, and on all other areas she would use her full hand, palm down. She explained that she would put one hand on the outside of my hip while sliding the other up the inside of my leg until she met resistance. I nodded along. She asked if I had any internal or external "devices" and I said no.

I was instructed to stand facing back towards the scanner and the rest of the security line and put my arms out, palms up. She felt down my arms, down my back and sides, informed me she was reaching a "sensitive area" and used the back of her hand to feel down my butt. She informed me that she would put her hand on my hip and feel the inside of my leg until she met resistance, which she did from behind on both legs, then felt down the back of my legs. She instructed me to lift my shirt to expose my waistband of my pants and informed me she would feel inside, which she did. The procedure was repeated on my front side, with the exception of my arms, which were already completely patted down. When she got to my chest, she informed me she would use the back of her hand, which she did, and she felt down the top of each of my breasts, and around the outside and underneath. As she felt down the front of my legs, she asked what was in my pocket. I reached in, and said "nothing" then reached into the other pocket which had a receipt in it.

Once the pat down was completed, she instructed me to stay where I was while she swabbed her gloves (I don't remember her explaining why for, but I'm guessing it was to test for trace explosives and the like). She swabbed and stuck the paper in a machine about five feet away, waited for a second and the results came back negative. She told me to have a nice night and I wished her the same.

My stuff was at the end of the belt waiting for me and I gathered it up and went on my way. Thankfully the line wasn't crazy busy, so it was left unmolested (I had a glass thing in my carry on that might have gotten broken if someone wasn't careful).

So that was that. All in all, it was a totally fine experience for me. Everyone was nice enough. I did not feel like the pat down was invasive. It was certainly more thorough than the pat down I had gotten pre-enhancement but it didn't get as up in my business as I was expecting. I'm not sure if that's because the pat down technique varies from officer to officer or if I'm just more comfortable with being touched in a situation like that. It did take a lot longer than going through the scanner would have, but not excessively so and I felt like the officer was pretty efficient.

Of course, my experience was greatly informed by the fact that I am a white person, a cis-person, a non-disabled person and a person that doesn't need to wear a medical device or prosthesis. Take that as you will, and opt-out if you feel comfortable doing so.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 20th, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting your experience. I went through the machine once within the first week or two of them being implemented and though I did inquire if I had the right to opt out, I was too freaked out to do so. After reading more, I have seriously considered opting out in the future and hearing your first-hand account makes me feel a little less nervous about it.
Mar. 20th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! I had only heard horror stories and would have felt a lot less nervous if I'd heard anything about what the typical, non-problematic experience was like. Glad to help and I hope that if you do opt out in the future that it's not too stressful!
Apr. 12th, 2011 10:07 pm (UTC)
found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

Apr. 15th, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
Hmm, that?s some cool information. I would search on Google to find other relevant articles. Actually, I came across your blog on Google Blog Search. I?m going to add your RSS feed to my reader. Continue posting please!

Nov. 4th, 2011 04:27 am (UTC)
I hope you will keep updating your content constantly as you have one dedicated reader here.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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