My wife Jan and I live, most of the time, 600 miles apart. That means we're on airplanes. A lot. And on her last trip up here from the Bay Area, she got "the treatment" from TSA, thanks to the never-ending parnoia about terrorism that has dehumanized air transport. What follows is her account. As the bumper sticker says: if you're not angry, you're not paying attention...
I travel through airports regularly and I know the drill. I’d spent Tuesday afternoon reading about all the pissed-off travelers who’d run afoul of the TSA’s new hands-on security techniques that let them see through your clothing with full-body x-ray technology and grope you through your clothes if anything unexplained shows up on the image. I’d read the latest frequent flier advice to seek out the security lines with the old-fashioned metal detectors and avoid the newfangled porn-producing equipment. TSA was saying that if you take everything out of your pockets and behave yourself on your way through, there should be no need to check out your naked self or cop a feel.
So I was feeling confident as I arrived at Oakland International Airport early Tuesday evening and the Thanksgiving crowds hadn’t yet showed up. I looked for the line free of the blue-hued high-tech imaging panels, but noticed they were set up at every station.
I’d taken off my jacket and shoes, put them in a bin, double-checked my pockets and put my laptop in its own bin. As I walked up to the metal detector a female TSA agent asked pleasantly enough whether I’d emptied my pockets and I confirmed I had. Then she diverted me toward the blue x-ray scanners. I asked why, since I hadn’t done anything wrong and there was nothing high-risk about me. She told me again and I asked again. We went through this several times; at some point she said they were having everyone do it, which was an obvious lie. She said that if I didn’t go through the scanner I’d have to be patted down. I finally acquiesced under protest, was led into the scanner and asked to raise my hands above my head, as everyone in the security line, and all the TSA administrators clearly monitoring the new procedures, gawked at me.
After several seconds I was allowed to leave the device, and another TSA agent told me I had to go through a physical check of my chest. Increasingly angered by this further humiliation, I went through another fruitless argument with the TSA agent, asking why I needed to be patted down when there was nothing in my pockets. She said that the agent in an office who monitored the naked pictures of the passengers had alerted her that there was something in my chest area that had to be checked. Yes, obviously, I said…I was wearing a metal pendant. She confirmed that was likely what had shown up. Why do I have to go through a pat-down, then? No good answer. I asked repeatedly and with increasing pique, why didn’t the first agent just tell me to take off my jewelry, which was in clear sight, when she asked if I’d taken everything out of my pockets? Clearly I had been chosen from the throngs to help TSA practice their procedures, and it didn’t matter what I said or did.
I was putting up enough of a fuss that this agent asked for a supervisor to come over. She asked if I wanted to have my pat-down in private and I said yes. They started walking me to a private room when I stopped them and asked about my laptop, backpack and roller bag, which were sitting at the end of the conveyor. The supervisor picked up my things and they walked me into the room. I protested the whole way. “You’re making this so much more difficult than it has to be. I obviously have a necklace on. You could have told me to take it off and I wouldn’t have had to go through this.”
In the room the TSA agent quickly pressed her gloved hands against the tops of my breasts and between them. Then I was done. At that point I realized that my backpack had not been retrieved but had been sitting unattended all this time with my wallet, cell phone and other belongings in it.
I asked the supervisor for her name and who I could complain to. She gave me her first name and a blue “customer response” card to fill out.
I walked away completely angered, and for what? I travel all the time, I’m completely versed in the procedures, there was no reason to have a TSA agent in a room examine my naked image, nor for another TSA agent to touch my breasts. If the point is to make me feel safer, they’ve failed miserably. Instead they made me feel powerless, embarrassed and enraged. I walked into the airport sympathetic to TSA and the job these low-paid, poorly trained individuals have to do, and perfectly willing to make their jobs easier. I walked out a permanent, and vocal, critic of the whole damn thing.