TSA tales: Is that a salami in your purse or are you just happy to see me?

I can’t tell you the motivation but how cool is this Audi banana squid?? Credit.

It’s 6:09 a.m. and I’m in line at airport security. The queue is progressing briskly but I hear newbies wonder aloud if they will “make it through” before their flight. I smile benevolently, ensuring them that the process at this regional airport is quite quick. I pass the ID checker, collect my grey bins, doff my shoes and shuffle through the x-ray machine. Same old, same old. Until the baggage scanner lady removes my purse from the conveyor belt, “asking” with raised eyebrows if the bag is mine as she puts it through the xray a second time.

I watch her scrutinize the image on her computer screen. I’m guessing it’s my hand lotion or toothpaste or lipstick that’s given her pause. (For once, I’ve remembered to remove my mace!) After a moment, she inquires sheepishly, “Is that… is that a… salami?”

I laugh, “A banana.” Breakfast of champions, you know.

She laughs saying, “I just had to know.”

I walk away wondering why she didn’t open the bag and inspect herself. It’s not until I’m on the plane awhile later that I realize what she thought the mysterious cylindrical item in my purse was… ha!

***

After my first “enhanced pat-down,” I described it as
being “Molested in the Name of National Security.” Photo credit.

Twelve hours and two states later, I’m in a practically deserted security area 800 miles to the south. Blue shirts outnumber travelers five to one. After repeating the grey bin, shoes-off performance all by myself–I’m telling you, it was deserted!–the babyfaced agent blocking the regular x-ray machine directs me to the nearest naked, er, backscatter scanner. In the firm voice I’ve been practicing, I say, “I’d like to opt out.”

Babyface rolls her eyes.

“Female assist!”

“She opts out?”

“Female assist!!”

“It’s a female? I thought you said male.”

“Yeah, it’s a female.”

Yeah, It’s a Female.

Soon, latex covered fingers grope my body pressing firmer than my first two experiences with the “enhanced” pat-down. I’m not exactly upset but interested in the fervor with which this young woman searches me. She describes and follows protocol to a T, acting as if touching the breasts of a stranger is all in a day’s work, no big deal. For her it is, I suppose. I learn she conducts a disproportionate share of pat-downs compared to her colleagues as there are far fewer female agents at this airport. Well, It’s A Female sure appreciates you being here. 

It still boggles me that invasive searches are an accepted part of the travel terrain. I know some aren’t bothered. I know some feel like anything in the name of “security” is a good thing. I know some think that I overreact or that my opting-out* is silly. I know some who recognize there is no real choice in the matter, so why waste energy fighting it?

I’d just like for everyone to know why they make the choices they do. Do you walk through the backscatter scanner because you truly don’t care? Because you’re running late and it’s the quickest way to your gate? Because the person in front of you did it? Because you don’t know what all the fuss it about? Because the government agents tell you to? Because you don’t want to get in trouble otherwise? Because you think it’s an effective tool against terrorism? Because it’s been “proven” safe? Because you’d rather face radiation than molestation? I wonder.

Thoughts?

xoxo,
shawna

* I also know that many people don’t have backscatter scanners in their home airports so have yet to face them.

Other TSA tales:
– Molested in the name of national security
– Life in the Sky: Hiding from TSA, watching grumpy passengers, and keeping perspective 
– A smiley mugg

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