The Insider: Read this before your next TSA screening

Editor’s Note: This is part three of the Insider series on managing the TSA when you travel. Here’s part one and part two. As always, please send me any suggestions on topics or content I may have overlooked.

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Want to get through the TSA screening process as quickly and painlessly as possible? Sure you do.

How do I prepare for screening?
There are tried and true ways to make your screening experience a smoother one.

• Pack light. The more you have to screen, the longer it takes. Bring a small carry-on bag if possible.

• Leave the hiking boots at home. Taking your shoes on and off can slow down the process. Wear shoes you can slip out of — and back into — quickly.

• Demagnetize. You’ve been through the magnetometer before, so you should know what sets it off. Don’t wear anything that might make it beep (if you do, you’ll have to undergo a dreaded secondary screening). Pay attention to belt buckles and jewelry, which tends to make the machine scream.

• No jacket required. If you can avoid wearing a jacket, do it. Jackets have to be removed, and that’s another step that slows the process down.

• Don’t forget to breathe. The screening area is the most stressful part of the airport. Slow down, take deep breaths and don’t let them see you sweat. No, seriously. If you look nervous, you could get a secondary screening.

How do the experts do it?

Card-carrying frequent fliers are members of Pre-Check or have access to the special first-class lines, so they move through the system much faster than us ordinary mortals. But even when their preferred lines aren’t available, they know how to get around the masses.

• Look for the line without the scanner. Those lines tend to move faster, because the body scanner adds anywhere between 30 seconds to a minute of screening time. And you can choose the line you stand in most of the time, at least in my experience. Check the TSA Status site to find the exact locations of the scanners. It’s a good idea to stay as far away from them as possible, as I’ll explain in a minute.

• Follow the suits. Business travelers can sniff out the shortest lines. Follow the passengers in the blue blazers, and you’re practically guaranteed a quicker screening.

• Shoes first. You’ll want to remove your shoes first and put them on the conveyor belt before the rest of your luggage. Why? Because after you pass through the magnetometer, it’s the first thing you’ll be looking for, and the first thing you should do — put your shoes back on. If you reverse the process, it’s less efficient.

• Buy a decent carry-on bag. Get something that’s easy to open and if you’re traveling with electronics, make sure there’s a TSA-approved laptop case (that way, you won’t have to take your laptop out of your bag, which can also cause delays). You’ll also look like you know what you’re doing, which counts for something.

• Double-check your bag before you leave home. Make sure you didn’t pack any knives, firearms or other prohibited items. They may be discovered by the TSA screeners, which is your best-case scenario. Trust me, the last thing you want is to find the loaded revolver you accidentally packed when you’re already on a plane. That could lead to a series of unfortunate misunderstandings and a very serious delay.

Do my liquids and gels really need to go in a plastic bag on the conveyor belt?
Enforcement of the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule is erratic and unpredictable. Some agents let anything through; others will reportedly confiscate all of your cosmetics if they are not properly stored in a ziplock bag. Your best bet is to comply with this rule even if you find it absurd. (Chances are, the agents enforcing it think the rule absurd, too.)

What if I disagree with all this security theater?
It’s a free country, at least the last time I checked. You may express your opinions to the TSA agents you meet at the airport. You may criticize the liquids and gel rule, the scans, the searches, the shoe removal, and anything else you see. However, you should be advised that TSA agents are known to give vocal critics a punitive secondary screening (I’ve experienced this myself) or to slow the screening process to the point where you could miss your flight. My advice? Wait until you’re past the checkpoint to speak your mind.

Should I opt out of the full body scanner?
If you’re unfortunate enough to get into a line with a working scanner, you’ll be asked to walk through it. The process is pretty straightforward: You step into the scanner, empty your pockets, hold your hands above your head, and the machine does the rest. You won’t feel anything. If you refuse, you’ll be subjected to a secondary screening and a pat-down. Even if you agree to use the scanner, you may still be subjected to a pat-down if something suspicious — agents refer to it as an “anomaly” — is detected during the scan.

Passengers object to the scanners for two main reason. First, the scanners can look through your clothes, allowing a screener to see you au naturel. And second, they worry about being exposed to harmful radiation from the scanners.

The best decision is to avoid having to make it in the first place. Find a scanner-less line, and you’ll be able to get through the screening area if your luggage passes the X-ray inspection and you make it through the magnetometer.

TIP: Which line is least likely to end up in a scanner? The family line. Despite its insistence that the scanners are safe for passengers of all ages, TSA is reluctant to scan kids and pregnant women. Because no one wants to be stuck behind a family, those lines often are shorter, too.

Who should get scanned?
Whether you allow yourself to be scanned or not is entirely your decision. I’ve been covering the TSA since its inception, and have seen screening technology come and go. I can’t recommend the current scanners to anyone.

Who should not get scanned?
You should definitely avoid a scanner if you are pregnant or might be pregnant. Parents, keep your kids away from the scanners. If you’ve already been exposed to a lot of radiation or are being medically treated with radiation, you might want to steer clear of the machines, too. If you do not want a TSA screener to see images of your unclothed body, don’t go. Some machines do have privacy software that is said to make you look like a stick figure on the scan, but I’ve also heard reports of the scanners generating detailed and explicit images of passengers.

How do I say “no” to a scan?
Politely tell your screener that you would prefer not to go through the scanner. The agent will probably do one of two things: 1) try to convince you the scanner is 100 percent safe or tell you that a scan is required (neither is true); or 2) manually search your person, which is called a pat-down, or ask for a screener of the same gender to pat you down. By the way, if a screener insists you use the scanner, calmly say, “I would like to opt out, please.” You have the right to refuse the scan, and this puts the agent on notice that you are aware of your rights. Try to be as polite and non-confrontational as possible if it gets to this stage.

How do you survive a pat-down with your dignity intact?
Personally, I believe no one should have to choose between being scanned and patted down, and I’m strongly opposed to this method of screening. And while a vast majority of pat-downs are conducted without incident, some go terribly wrong. Too many. These strategies can help you get through this unfortunate procedure:

• Introduce yourself. Say, “Hi, my name is … what’s your name?” No, you’re not asking the screener on a date. You want to get the agent’s name and you want to establish that you are a person, not a suspect. Important: Take a mental note of the agent’s name. You may need it later.

• Always ask to have the pat-down done in a public place. The opportunity for mischief is far higher behind closed doors.

• Mention any medical condition you might have, no matter how small. If you’re just getting over a cold or you have a sore knee, bring it up. Some pat-downs can be forceful to the point of hurting. Telling the agent you have sensitivities will probably make him or her tread carefully.

• You have the right to ask the agent to change gloves.

• Talk your way through it. This is not something to be endured in silence. Give the agent constant feedback, and if the pat-down gets too rough, use phrases like, “I really have to go to the bathroom,” or “Easy there, that’s an old baseball injury” to nudge the officer into backing off. The procedure should take no longer than 30 seconds.

• If you’re uncomfortable, say something immediately. TSA agents are trained to tell you where they are about to touch you. They should not touch your genital area or conduct a cavity search. If an agent is prodding you in a private area, take a step back, say that you are uncomfortable with the procedure, and politely but firmly ask for a supervisor.

TIP: Avoid short skirts and don’t forget to wear underwear when you’re flying. Many pat-downs end badly when a passenger isn’t fully covered, and an agent frisks the wrong place. And gentlemen, I’m talking to you, too. Leave those kilts at home!

I’ll have more on the TSA grievance process tomorrow.

(Photo: to m focus/Flickr)

61 thoughts on “The Insider: Read this before your next TSA screening

  1. Be warned that some agents like to try and “convince” you to use the scanner. My GF has been experiencing that a lot lately b/c despite being a frequent flier, as a single traveler, she tends to get picked on. (Perhaps it has to do with being a petite female, too? Perhaps she looks easily approachable, IDK)

    Anyway, since she’s expecting, she refuses the scanners. Whenever one of the agents tells her “it’s safe” she replies with, “And what medical school did you graduate from?”

    1. As the TSA screener at LAX leered at Donna D’Erico, “Because you caught my eye.” 

      The TSA is giving a bunch of men the power to select which women and teenage girls go through a machine that exposes the womens’ naked bodies to the screener’s male buddies.  Now, think about that for one second and tell me a power like that has never been abused.  Yup, it’s exploitative and there’s no two ways about it.

      1. Uh, yeah, right.  I guess I should be flattered because last time I was asked to go through one at LAX, it was a female TSA agent.  Then again, she could have just been asking me because it was my turn next.

        1. It must be nice to be male and not have to grow up with near-constant sexual harassment from age 11 to age 40+.   It probably changes one’s whole perspective on the world not to have had creepy guys grabbing you, yelling filthy words at you, hurting you, and making you fear for your life as you learn what your relationship is with the rest of the world.  Welcome to mine.  Exploitation is what I see.  Your mileage obviously varies, but what a priveleged life you’ve had not to see people demanding pictures of your naked body as exploitative.

          1. You’re right – different perspective.  I think most people are like me.  They don’t care – they’re too busy worried about their own lives (kids college tuition, planning next vacation, stuff backed up at work, car needs servicing, and oh that party we gotta go to this weekend.)  People are focused on their own lives, not the lives of strangers.  They just don’t care that much — they’ve got their own things to worry about and YOU just aren’t one of them. 

            You may believe everyone is focused on you — but they’re not.  They’re focused on their own lives

          2. People’s self-centered attitudes are exactly the problem that got us TSA in the first place.  “Keep me safe.”  “Don’t let the terrorists get me.”  “Government-sanctioned sexual assault is okay as long as it’s not happening to me.”

            Though it’s unfortunate that it has to come to this, these people generally change their tune on TSA real quick once they’re the subject of a gropedown or the victim of a TSA clerk flexing their “authority”.  Sommer, Lisa, Chris, the other anti-TSA people posting here and I may be among the earliest opponents of TSA but we’re far from the only ones and TSA is destroying public respect for itself, one grope at a time.

            Male or female, young or old, short or tall, heavy or thin, government abuse is still government abuse and the particulars never, ever excuse it.  As a male, caucasian, middle-class, average-height, average-weight traveler, I’m just as enraged and offended at TSA misconduct (where “misconduct” is defined roughly as “every damn thing they do at the checkpoint nowadays”) as Sommer, Raven, Raven’s girlfriend, Lisa, and everyone else who sees TSA for the authoritarian, bureaucratic waste of tax money that it is.  I know you were being sarcastic about your flattery comment but the mere fact that TSA overreach isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal to a lot of civic-minded, politically-active people.

          3. No one needs to care about Sommer – she’s doing just fine on her own.  

            However, everyone needs to care about the subject matter that she talks about.  Do you have female children?  Are you aware that 1 out of 4 females in the country face some kind of sexual harassment during their life time?  If you’re not aware of those stats, it’s high time that you learned a thing or two because the chances are very good that it has happened or will happen to someone you know and love.

          4. Thank you Drontil!  Yes, I am doing fine but it’s nice to hear a voice of support. 

            As for the stats: I think it’s 25% of U.S. women have been raped in their lifetime.  Almost unbelievably, the number of American women who have been sexually harassed is 90%.  And the TSA is working hard to increase that number…

          5. While I in no way minimize the outcome of sexual assault, the 25% number is completely unsupported. According to RAINN (a reputable source) about 200,000 women per year are victims of sexual assault. Not all are rapes, but even if they were, over a 70 year period (an average lifespan) that would be 14,000,000 women, or about 9% of the US population. Which is 14,000,000 too many, but not nearly 25%.

          6. Okay, I’m not sure where my recalled stats came from.

            I can offer at least this link substantiating that street harassment is a nearly universal experience for women:

            Carol Brooks Gardner interviewed 293 women in
            Indianapolis, Indiana, over several years in the late 1980s and early
            1990s. The women were from every race, age, class, and sexual
            orientation category of the general population in Indiana and the
            United States. Gardner found that every single woman (100 percent)
            could cite several examples of being harassed by unknown men in public
            and all but nine of the women classified those experiences as

            This is the history behind why many women feel harassed by a request to step inside a machine that reveals what they look like without clothing.

        2. While perhaps my opinions aren’t as strong as Sommer’s, I’m going to concur.

          I won’t bore you with the list of uninvited gropes, cat calls, and flat out sexual harassement I’ve dealt with since I hit 16.  All I will say is it gets wearying after the first decade and I’m in my 40’s now.

          I don’t know that TSA picks women for the naked aspect, per se, but I do think they may pick them because they feel women are less likely to resist.  And in recent months, I’ve seen more men than women at the positions in front of the scanners/metal detectors. (I think they try and position female TSO’s for gender-appropriate pat-downs behind them these days.)  So there could be a gender bias going on – whether it’s intentional or not or sexual in nature is difficult to say.

          All I know is when I travel with my husband and we can’t avoid checkpoints with AIT, whether he is in front of me or behind me, whether it looks like it should be his “turn” or not based on observation (and I do observe)… I always get picked for AIT and he is sent off to the metal detectors. EVERY time. It does make you wonder on the selection process.

      2. For what it’s worth, the last few times I’ve flown, the TSA screeners were sending everyone through the strip search scanners. The only times that people were not sent to the strip searchers were when the line got too long.

  2. Two things:

    1) I’ve had to throw away cosmetics and perfume before because they weren’t in a 3-1-1 bag.  Perhaps TSA is more lax about this in certain locations, but I wouldn’t recommend packing very expensive makeup and perfume, thinking TSA won’t single them out because they are cosmetics.

    So either get some small jars for your liquid items (to save space in the Ziploc) or see if sample sizes are available if you use higher end makeup.  Also see if small sample sizes are available for your perfume, or get a refillable roller stick so you are traveling with a smaller amount in a slimmer package.

    ETA – Also, whenever I fly, someone is always telling me to take the 3-1-1 bag out and put it on the belt. And there are signs saying the same thing. It hasn’t occurred to me to not take my bag out of my carry-on, because there are so many indicators they still expect me to.

    2) I opt out regularly.  I have found when they try to convince me that I need to go through, I reply “Whenever I go through the scanners, I end up needing a pat-down, so I’m simply trying to speed up the process.” (Which, for me, has been the case the two times I actually went through in the past year.) This seems to make them understand that I know the process.  I don’t know how it works for others, but it has worked for me to get the agents to back down on attempting to force me through.

  3. Good stuff, Chris.

    As a matter of habit, I still take my bag of liquids out of my luggage and put it in a container on the belt. It shouldn’t matter, unless I guess TSA simply prefers an easier time of getting to them if they want a closer inspection, and having the bag sitting separately does just that.

    I also now take off my belt before even getting into the security line. I’ve heard too many stories stories about people being told to take them off, even though the majority never set off the metal detector and TSA has never put them up there with shoes as always-off items.

  4. I use a fanny pack when I fly. Any change, keys, wallet, mp3player and phone go in the pack. Watch and wedding ring too, at least while I’m approaching the checkpoint. Once I get up to the belt, the whole kit goes in a bin with my (slip on) shoes. No fuss, no fumbling. Works well, if you can take the hit to your masculinity. 🙂

  5. “And you can choose the line you stand in most of the time.”

    Eh, no.  Even if you stand in a walk-through metal detector line, you can still be pulled aside and told to go through the scanner.  I was.  So was my husband.

    As for the little bomb-proof plastic baggie so beloved of the tinpot tyrants, back when I flew, I made the mistake only once of taking my baggie out, as requested, and putting it on the conveyor belt.  They threw everything in it away.  (Why? Because they can.)

    Never did that again.  Ever after, I always kept it in my bag.  It never once got noticed.  If it had, I would’ve just feigned ignorance or forgetfulness.

    Let’s face it, they can do what they want, when they want, how they want.

    1. Did they give you an explanation of why they were throwing things away?  Were things over the arbitrary 3 oz limit?  That’s the only reason I’ve ever seen them throw anything away. (Or did you have a cupcake? 😉 )

      And the one time I kept mine in my bag, they made me take it out and had to rerun my bags. 

      1. Chasmosaur, no cupcakes, but they didn’t like one of the makeup tubes in the baggie — the dreaded concealer!  Horrors!  She held it up and said, “this is bigger than 3 oz.”  It wasn’t.  It was less. (A brand new tube of it doesn’t even contain 3 oz.)  But I was trying to make a tight connection, so I said, “just throw it away, please just throw it away.”  She threw the whole baggie away.

        As I said, they can do what they want.

        1. You know, the pat-down stuff depresses me, the liquids thing truly pisses me off.  It’s so damn arbitrary, especially reading the posts here today.

    2. Depends on the airport, I think.  At DFW for example, each checkpoint either has the nude-o-scopes activated and the metal detector blocked off, or vice versa.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen both operating at the same time.  The good thing about DFW is, since they have 2 or 3 checkpoints at each terminal, if the nude-o-scope is in operation at one checkpoint, you can walk down the hall to another to avoid it if the scanners bother you. 

      Your mileage, of course, may vary depending on the airport you’re flying out of.

  6. Being 5 ft 1 I was constantly setting off the scanners in the airport and had to endure further pat down. Which is difficult on me since I’ve had multiple abdominal surgies from my stage 4 endometriosis. If I say please be careful/gentle/cognizant and have a medical note IN MY HAND..they dont care. On our last cruise, since we were onboard for 24 days I felt comfortable chatting with the female security guards . They said because of my height it was probably my bra setting it off and suggest I go bra less or wear a sports bra that had no metal anywhere on it. Sure enough the sports bra worked and I havent set off a scanner since. I do opt for the scanner, because the pat down can and has elevated my pain levels so high that sitting for a flight is excrutiating.

  7. This entire thread is sickening – law abiding Americans must now trade tactics on how best to deal with and/or outsmart illegal and medically harmful equipment placed in our path by our government, as well as the former donut-shop workers who are now somehow in charge of “securing” this nation, as well as controlling the destiny of our business day. Seriously? What a sad sorry shameful UNPRODUCTIVE joke this nation has become. 
     If this was about anything other than pure theatre we’d have trained professionals handling intel and security, not WalMart greeters on furlough.

  8. I opt FOR the scanner whenever possible and found it usually to be faster than waiting for people to take out all the stuff they forgot in their pockets, belt buckles, etc [plus my underwire bras usually set off the x-rays, especially the Nordstrom brand =:-o ]  The amount of energy in the scanner is about the same amount of radiation as a cell phone call as far as I can tell. Totally risk free? probably not but better than the risk of someone blowing up the plane, IMHO.  As for the plastic baggies, I’ve had them catch items as small a 1 oz makeup sample or a tiny tube of lip balm gel that I forgot to put into my baggie, though in the past they HAVE missed 6 boxcutters that one of my husband’s staff members put in his backpack after a tradeshow and he didn’t even know he had until we got home! The best approach is to be cooperative yourself.

    1. Clearly you’ve bought into the TSA’s propaganda about the supposed safety of the scanners.  It’s false.  REAL experts in this technology have made it clear that the safety of these machines is questionable at best.  If you’re willing to risk your health on the unproven claims of an out-of-control government agency staffed with otherwise-unemployable Walmart rejects, go for it.  I’m not.

      As for the risk of being blown up, apparently you’ve also fallen for the TSA’s propaganda that there is any risk.  Your odds of being blown up by a terrorist on a plane is 25 MILLION to one.  That’s less risk than being hit by lightning (1 in 500,000)…or of dying from an earthquake (1 in 131,890) or in a car accident (1 in 6500).  You actually have greater odds of getting cancer from the body-scanners than you do of getting blown up by a terrorist on a plane!

      Personally I’ll take those odds over allowing low-functioning government goons to either irradiate or sexually assault me.

      1. My husband has a Ph.d in engineering.  His expertise happens to be in x-ray technology.  Somehow, he found a copy of the radiation spectrum emitted by the backscatter machines.  He says he is 100% certain the type of radiation he’s seeing is hard x-rays, not soft x-rays.

    2. How could this equipment (even if it did work) possibly prevent mayhem when most cargo goes unscreened, and hundreds of mostly low-wage employees roam freely through all the so-called sterile areas of every airport? Not a single independent security professional on the planet endorses these practices. Rather this charade is always uniformly indicted as a squandering of billions that chases the wrong thing. Read up: 

    3. I hope everyone takes Chris’ advice and opt out of the scanner.  Since I don’t give a toss, I’ll go through the scanner nice and easy whilst everyone else is in the other line.  True story: Once saw a ‘lady of size’ refuse the scanner because she thought it wasn’t safe.  Once past security, she headed straight to Mickey D’s.  Yeah, lady that scanner is gonna hurt you.  Hilarious.

    4. Susakajo, passengers are required to empty their pockets before going through the scanner, so you’re still waiting for them no matter what you choose.  And anything left in a pocket — a tissue, a ponytail holder, a coin — can trigger a grope.

      As for “Totally risk free? probably not but better than the risk of someone blowing up the plane, IMHO,” I repeat the facts:

      No bombs were brought onto planes on 9/11. The planes themselves were commandeered, something that won’t happen again because the cockpit doors have been secured, and because passengers will no longer silently submit (which is more than I can say for TSA apologists).

      The last time a bomb smuggled aboard an airplane in the USA detonated was December 11, 1967. The plane landed safely; no fatalities, no injuries.

      The last time a bomb was smuggled aboard an aircraft in the US from which there were fatalities was May 22, 1962.

      Almost 50 years. And for all that time, until just recently, the TSA reign of molestation and rank stupidity didn’t exist. Gee, how is it possible we all haven’t been blown out of the sky by now? After all, The Terrorists Are Everywhere!

    5. The backscatter machines have been proven to cause the DNA in skin cells to unravel. If you think that sounds safe, you obviously have a much different point of view than anyone in the health field.

  9. Christopher – thank you for your ongoing efforts to help travelers navigate the shark-infested waters of the TSA checkpoints.  Admirable job! 

    Unfortunately, while all of these hints would seem to make sense, things don’t always work like that.  Examples:

    1. Liquids & gels in plastic baggies:  while many have been able to get their cosmetics and toiletries past the checkpoint inside their carry-ons, MANY of us have ended up getting yelled and and verbally abused for NOT putting them in a regulation baggie and placing them on the belt separately.  On the other hand, there are many reports of people having their liquids tossed BECAUSE they’d called attention to them by placing them in the baggie on the conveyor.  I think the general public needs to decide which is the least desirable outcome, and act accordingly:  if they’d be more upset at losing their liquids, leave them hidden in their carry-on; if they’d be more upset at getting yelled at and verbally abused, put them in the regulation-sized baggie on the conveyor.  But be sure to use the RIGHT baggie – if you use the wrong size, you could get yelled at as well (as has been reported numerous times).

    2.  Opting out of the scanner:  there have been reports that saying the words “opt out” when declining the scanner is a red flag for TSOs — they immediately assume you are a problem passenger who hates the TSA, and will treat you abusively.  Instead, some are suggesting you should say “I do not wish to be scanned, and am requesting a pat-down instead.”  This could help avoid the abusive treatment…then again, it might not.

    3.  Surviving a pat-down:  I have learned through direct personal experience that telling a TSO that you have a painful area can cause them to PURPOSELY apply pressure or rubbing on the area, more so than if you didn’t tell them.  This has happened to many travelers, and it happened to me when I flew shortly after back surgery.  The thug who did my pat-down pressed so hard on my recent surgical wounds I cried out in pain, despite my having told her that I’d just had surgery there and to please avoid putting any pressure on it.

    4.  Having pat-downs in public places:  I would change this to read – NEVER EVER EVER allow them to take you to a private room.  Those rooms do not have cameras, so they can do whatever they want to you.  Look what happened to Lenore Zimmerman:  she has made it very clear that they strip-searched her, but the TSA continues to deny it.  Certainly the TSO thugs who did it won’t admit it, and without any witnesses or security footage, there’s no way to prove it.  NEVER EVER go to the private room.  You are asking to be abused.

    5.  Saying something if you are uncomfortable:  I have also learned the hard way that objecting in ANY way, verbally or even just flinching, can subject you to some pretty horrific behavior and possibly even denied boarding.  I was threatened with being kicked out of the airport for the apparently criminal act of flinching when a brutal TSO karate-chopped my crotch – every time I’d flinch she’d jump back, throw her hands up in the air and scream “I CAN’T SCREEN THIS LADY! SHE WON’T LET ME SCREEN HER!” Something similar happened to a close friend of mine who’d recently had abdominal surgery and was very tender in that area…when the TSO rammed her hand into her crotch and she jumped in pain, she too was threatened with being denied boarding for not “cooperating”.  While I find it sickening that I even have to say this, the sad fact is that if you want to make your flight, best to just let them have their way with you.  Yes, this may make you feel as if you are acquiescing to a brutal sexual assault…which, really, you are.  But that’s what it’s come to.  Be prepared to seek therapy if you find that you suffer emotionally from it.  I did.

    Please know that I am not advocating suffering sexual assault in silence. But people need to be aware that speaking up may very well prevent them from taking their flight. I wish more people WOULD speak up…but they need to know the potential consequences of doing so. Some of us are strong enough to fight the fight…but not everyone is. My elderly, disabled mother is simply not in a position to be able to stand up for herself, and she has to get groped every time she flies due to metal parts in her body, so she has learned to just close her eyes and try to imagine that she’s on a beach somewhere as they sexually assault her. Sick, isn’t it?

  10. I could never endure a patdown, never.  I will never allow a stranger to disrespect me and abuse my body that way.

    That said, if you have decided to allow the TSA to pat you down, another tip is to wear a pantsuit or a leotard to prevent the screener from putting his or her hands on your bare skin or down your underwear.  Wear a one-piece outfit with no opening at the waist and you’ll get to skip the degrading hands-down-the-pants.  Also, don’t wear any head covering, don’t put your hair up, don’t use hand lotion, and avoid collars and cuffs.  Any of these things might be a trigger for more mistreatment.

    1. Actually, I’d worry about wearing a one-piece outfit – because an aggressive TSO might insist you strip down.  And there have been plenty of complaints about women wearing skirts or dresses where the pat down goes underneath the skirt onto bare legs or tights/pantyhose.  I think pants are still a good option for keeping their hands on a minimum of bare skin.

      I do get where you’re coming from, but I think the body suit under clothes is probably a better idea to avoid accidental contact with your skin.

      Although interestingly, they’ve forgotten to do the waistband search on me the past few times.  Maybe/Hopefully they’re getting tired of it.  I’m honestly just as icked out with their fingers in my hair and don’t say a peep when they forget to do that.

      Editing to add – I can’t believe we (as in US citizens we, not you and me) have to have this conversation. It’s utterly depressing.

      1. Agreed: absolutely, positively, never wear a skirt to the airport.  TSA insists on putting their filthy hands up your skirt.  I call it sexual assault, they call it patdown, you know, potayto potahto.   I meant a one-piece pantsuit or romper with shorts. 

    2. Too true.  They wear gloves but who knows what kind of diseases TSA clerks carry.

      We really need some legislation enacted to forbid any non-clothing contact during TSA gropedowns.  Granted, it’s better to eliminate the gropedowns or eliminate the entire TSA, but if incrementalism is the only way to fight them then let’s at least get LEOs to supervise all gropings and arrest TSA clerks for touching skin, face, hair, anything but clothing fabric.

  11. Great post, Chris!  While the hints above can definitely reduce your probability of having a TSA screener abuse you, nothing about your screening experience is guaranteed. 

    One tip I’d advise: decide ahead of time how far you’ll let the screeners go.  If the screening becomes abusive, demand to leave the checkpoint. This is usually the only recourse a traveler has.   If Ruth Sherman had refused to take off her pants, the screeners would have thrown her out of the airport.  Instead, Ruth Sherman allowed screeners to bully her into taking off her pants, and now she has to live with those memories forever.  In her situation, I would have said NO.  Unfortunately, in the surprise of being humiliated and harassed, Ms. Sherman might not have had the wherewithal to stand up for herself, which is where being mentally prepared can help.

  12. Is it my imagination or did I read here on this blog a long time ago that we had the right to ask the agent to don new gloves before we received a pat down/grope?  Is this so?

    1. I do it all the time.  If you’re afraid they’ll refuse, just tell them what I do (though sadly, it doesn’t apply anymore):

      I’m going home to help care for my mother who’s on chemo.  Could you please use new gloves since I’m trying to be very careful about not getting sick?

      As my mother used to say, the “C Word” frequently gets you better customer service. If you can manage it, a few tears in your eyes also helps. Kinda cynical, but I’ll take whatever advantage I can get.

    2. I ALWAYS ask for a new pair of gloves.  You don’t know where those gloves have been.  False positives are frequent, and can result in having to undergo a “resolution pat-down” which they can demand be done in a private room, meaning that they can do anything to you with total impunity.

      If I don’t see them putting on the gloves before they touch me, then I make them change them, even if they’ve said that they just did.  Too bad – I didn’t see it.  It’s your right to do this.

      1. Bonus – I’ve heard the gloves aren’t easy to get on or off and can cause dry, cracked, tender skin over time.  I’m happy to always demand new gloves (assuming I fly at all, which I haven’t done since summer 2010) in hopes of subtly torturing TSA clerks by inflicting lizard-skin on them.  They deserve worse but if I can at least do that, then all the better.

        1. For what it’s worth, when the backscatter scanners first came out, I always opted out because I didn’t want the radiation, and the screeners didn’t look any happier about doing the pat-down as I was about receiving one.

          Now, I’m ashamed to admit, I just go through the radiation machines even though I don’t like the idea of extra radiation. I’m just sick of getting sexually-assaulted at the airport.

          1. Yeah.  It’s sort of a Scylla and Charybdis thing – either take a potential dose of radiation and invasion of privacy, or get touched by a potentially lecherous hump in public.

          2. It’s by design: they want everybody go to through the pornoscanners.

            Sexual assault or radiation treatment. What great options, eh?

          3. If you are sick of being abused at airports there is a solution: eliminate all discretionary commercial air travel and let airlines, hotels, rental car companies etc. know exactly why you are no longer a platinum customer. Do the same with friends/relatives, particularly for the pleasure stuff. Tell them why you won’t be attending their wedding, golf outing, ball game whatever. We may be missed – and may feel as though we missed something, but none of it is crucial. Nothing will change unless we act – with our wallets.

          4. Deborah, I have done this.  My last flight was in September 2010.  I love travel more than I can say, and I feel lucky that I’ve done a lot of it, but that part of my life is now over.  For the few business trips I still have to do, I take Amtrak, even though it means train rides of up to 11 hours each way.

            If all the people who can choose not to fly would do so, we could bring the airlines to their knees. Four to six months max.  Then things would change.  Economic boycotts work.  The civil rights movement wouldn’t have succeeded without them.

            Obviously I’m not talking about people who are forced to fly for work or for medical procedures.  They’re between a rock and a hard place and they have my sympathy.  They shouldn’t have to endure the abuse that’s going on.  No one should.

  13. The threshold of the the FBI’s new definition of rape will be met at TSA checkpoints if passengers continue to be karate-chopped in the genital area as has happened to so many at the hands of the TSA.

  14. I’d say wear the kilt… And opt out of being scanned. And when it comes to the pat-down, just pull up the kilt and give them a good look. With everything visible, they have no excuse to assault you, which is what they are doing if they touch you. Who knows, maybe when they file charges against you for exposing yourself, you will get a judge that agrees with you that being sexually assaulted is illegal.

        1. wiseword, this is a problem I’ve heard from a few others as well.  Apparently it only happens when you’re not logged in.  I don’t know why, I know nothing about computers or web sites; but I’ve sent a message to the webmaster.  In the meantime, you can register as a member just like you register at Disqus or anywhere else, then log in, and the problem will be eliminated.  Until we get this fixed, that’s the best I can suggest.

  15. True story – I flew from Mumbai, India to Seattle, via Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago. Went through security at BOM airport with my backpack, which had my camera, a spare battery pack, a battery charge, a cellphone charger, a MP3 player and 3 sets of earphones – the kind airlines hand out on international flights. Also happened to have a travel sized bar of soap, and travel sized toiletries in it.
    The security officer monitoring the X-Ray scanner flagged the backpack, another officer came up, had me identify my bag, courteously asked me to open it, checked the contents by hand, explained to me how it showed up on the X-ray scanner (a bar of soap, a battery pack and a web of cables all bundled together *can* look ominous!) and then let me go, AFTER APOLOGIZING for the inconvenience.

    At Amsterdam airport, had the exact same experience. My backpack was flagged for the exact same reasons, I received the same courteous treatment, and was let go after verification.

    2 days later, I was flying out of SEATAC airport with the exact same backpack, exact same contents, and my travel sized toiletries out in a ZipLoc bag in a tray. The TSA scanner let my backpack through without comment, but was focused on my travel sized deodorant canister, which said 100ml and not ounces, as it was bought outside the US, and argued whether it was within allowed limits.

    That pretty much showed me the value of the security theater, and what the focus of the security inspection was. TSA, already low in my eyes, fell much, much lower.

  16. At least you folks are lucky enough to be allowed to opt out. Over here in the UK, if you’re directed to the scanner, you assume the position or you don’t fly today.

      1. The EU did, but Britain is trying to ride the fence between the EU and ‘independent’ nation; they want all of the benefits (trade agreements, etc) without the downsides (using the euro).

        So, you’d probably need to read up on whether the UK is using the back-scatter machines or not.

      2. The EU indeed banned backscatter scanners, last November:

        Though the UK is a slightly different case:

        Under the new European Commission policy, the U.K. will be allowed to complete a trial of the X-ray scanners but not to deploy them on a permanent basis when the trial ends, said Helen Kearns, spokeswoman for the European transport commissioner, Siim Kallas.

        “These new rules ensure that where this technology is used it will be covered by EU-wide standards on detection capability as well as strict safeguards to protect health and fundamental rights,” Kallas said.

        1. We were actually thinking about going to either Italy or France. We have a small airport near us that does not have scanners yet. But I can’t seem to find out whether Italy or France are using the scanners.

          We have never been to Europe and we’d like to go before the gates are closed forever.

          Does anybody know about scanners in France or Italy?

          1. Daisiemae, Italy doesn’t use them, having called them worthless long ago.  Don’t know about France, but a quick Google search should yield an answer.

            Edited to add: But as indicated above, the EU has banned the backscatter scanners entirely. I don’t know if airports in France are using the MMW scanners. Even if they are, the machines aren’t nearly as prevalent as they are here. Charles de Gaulle installed its first scanner in November 2010 — a MMW scanner — and only for passengers bound for the U.S. Other passengers didn’t have to go through this nonsense.

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