“Because of your attitude, you have earned a trip into our body scanner!”

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By Christopher Elliott

Whenever I hear from someone like Angela Wright, I can almost predict the TSA’s knee-jerk response to her complaint. It’ll say that’s not how it operates. And that it’ll “look into” her complaint.

But let’s listen to her anyway, because as this week’s events suggest, the TSA’s boilerplate answer may not be entirely accurate.

Troubling encounter at TSA

Wright was flying through Seattle last week. (I get a lot of complaints about TSA’s Seattle screeners. Last year, one reader even claimed someone had blacklisted agents from his restaurant.) As she got in line, an agent yelled at her to move to a different line.

I placed my carry-on on the table and pulled out a bin and then she came up next to me and said loudly, “Take your liquids out of your bag!”

I said I don’t have any liquids.

She said, “Of course you do. TAKE THEM OUT NOW!”

I said I do not have any liquids.

Then she said, “TAKE OFF YOUR BELT NOW!”

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I said it won’t set off the detector. I always wear this particular belt when I travel.

She said “TAKE IT OFF NOW!”

Then she said, “Because of your attitude you have earned a trip into our body scanner! Now move over there and follow the instructions of the agent!”

Wright obediently stepped into the scanner. As soon as she was done, another agent patted her down again. Hard. I received poor treatment from the TSA.

She used her two fingers banging them all over my body like she was punishing me for something. Then the other agent said, “NOW MOVE ALONG!”

Wright travels all over the world, but she’s never experienced a once-over like this.

“These agents were so rude and had such a bad attitude that I wanted to complain to someone right then and there,” she says.

Questioning TSA practices

So why didn’t she complain? Because she saw what happens when you do.

They already had a 60-something year old man pulled to the side with three cops and three or four TSA agents.

Apparently he had said he did not want to go through the scanner and he wanted a pat-down instead and they told him NO SCANNER NO FLY, PERIOD!

Really? No scan, no fly? Punishing people with the body scan and pat-down?

“TSA is nothing but a bunch of rude power hungry people who I doubt are really trying to protect us from anything,” says Wright.

I’m not going to bother asking TSA about this because I know what they’ll say. They’ll say the scanner is completely optional and that it does not “punish” passengers by scanning them or patting them down.

But is the TSA telling the truth?

It has long contended, for example, that the machines are safe and that travelers have embraced them as necessary to their protection. But a new cache of documents released this week shows passenger are deeply unhappy about the scanners, and have said so to the TSA.

According to EPIC, which published the documents on its site, passengers are “angry and frustrated” about TSA screening procedures.

Travelers expressed concern about radiation risks to children, the elderly, and those with special needs. Other travelers wrote the fact that the machines could capture naked images as unacceptable.

One traveler said, “using [the full body scanners] is an extreme invasion of privacy.”

Criticism mounts

The scanners were also the focus of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week in which Vermont’s Patrick Leahy criticized the agency for showing an “almost arrogant disregard” for air travelers subjected to intrusive screening procedures.

“When we hear, whether it’s Mr. Pistole or others talk about it, there’s almost this arrogant disregard for real Americans who have to put up with this baloney,” he said.

And what does the TSA have to say about all this?

Today, the agency is busy patting itself on the back for finding more guns and being praised by an obsequious mainstream media.

But it’s missing the problem. There is growing evidence that the American public is wary of the TSA and its alleged police-state tactics. As the agency celebrates its 10th anniversary on Nov. 19, perhaps it should reflect on that unfortunate truth: many passengers no longer support it. (Do you know how to handle the TSA when you travel?)

Look, anyone can set up a checkpoint in a public place and force people to be scanned and patted down. We could find cash, guns, drugs and maybe a land mine or two (as agents did this week).

But have we prevented an act of terrorism — or just terrorized law-abiding citizens who are trying to get somewhere?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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