TSA Watch: What getting your “freak on” really means for air travelers

Almost everyone who heard about the “get your freak on, girl” incident had a good laugh about it.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the condensed version: When a TSA screener found an adult toy in attorney Jill Filipovic’s baggage last week, he left her a note encouraging her to “get your freak on, girl.”

The TSA initially disputed her claim, but after an investigation, it tracked down the employee and fired him. In a prepared statement, the agency called the screener’s actions “highly inappropriate and unprofessional.”

And that’s where the story would end — if that were all. We would obediently go back to reading TSA’s dry accounts of all the handguns it confiscated last week, dismissing the Filipovic story as random news of the odd.

Except that it isn’t.

The TSA, turns out, has a thing for adult toys.

Consider what happened last year to Ann Lombardi, who was flagged by the TSA when the adult toy she was packing began to buzz.

“When the male TSA agent pulled out the unwrapped device, it was in full view of a bunch of travelers, including a man of the cloth.”

She added, “Just when I was recovering from total embarrassment and as I sat engrossed in my magazine at the gate area, two young guys next to me jokingly asked: ‘Hey, aren’t you that woman who just got buzzed at security?'”

And then there’s the story of Renee Koutsouradis, who was returning from a vacation in Las Vegas in 2002 when her newly purchased vibrator made a racket in her checked luggage.

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She was reportedly made to go out to the tarmac, in full view of other passengers, and hold up the adult toy while airline personnel laughed hysterically and made comments such as, “Doesn’t your husband satisfy you?”

Here’s the lawsuit she filed against Delta Air Lines. (And in fairness, TSA didn’t have its fingerprints all over this one, primarily because it was still a fledgling agency at the time. I can only imagine how it might have humiliated her if it were in charge.)

An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle (warning: adult content) further connects the dots, suggesting the TSA has all the sensibilities of a teenager, when it comes to sex.

Sex toys scanned by X-ray machines get removed from bags for examination. Metal detectors pick up piercings in private areas, and their owners are subjected to extended searches.

And if your gender does not appear to match the gender identity on your driver’s license or passport, you may be in for a long delay — or worse.

I have to admit, when I hear about Filipovic’s note, I did what she did — I laughed.

But then I thought about it, and I realized this was no laughing matter.

The TSA has the power to put us in a scanner and view our naked bodies in high resolution. (True story: A colleague who was seven months pregnant claims she went through an airport scanner recently. When she was done, the TSA agent congratulated her on having a girl.)

They see everything.

The TSA also has the power to put its hands all over you, and although most pat-downs are done by the book, some go terribly wrong, according to passengers. People’s genitals are touched, often with great force.

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So a note to “get your freak on, girl” is not funny. It reflects an attitude that may be pervasive at the airport among TSA agents, ramp workers and airline employees.

While the baggage handers can do little more than snicker at the contents of your luggage and mock you, the TSA agents have the authority to inflict real and lasting damage on you by acting on their fetishes.

Are all TSA agents perverts? No, of course not.

But the fact that one agent thought it might be appropriate to ask a passenger to get her freak on — well, that may say more about how the agency feels about itself than I’d care to contemplate.

(Photo: MHJ ohnston/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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