Lubed, but still not ready
Airport full-body scans and pat-downs amount to legalized sexual harassment
By Jennifer Hadley 11/18/2010
I rarely write about air travel in this column, because, frankly, I don’t fly all that often. Although I am terrified of flying, I will still take to the scary skies from time to time, if it’s for a good reason. So I took off from Burbank last week, sedative free. I’ve traded in the pre-flight sedatives for a glass of wine before my flights, regardless of how early in the day I depart. But I don’t drink until I’m safely through security and waiting at a bar near my gate. However, this may have to change due to new TSA security screening methods. I may very well have to start chugging booze before I even get to the airport in order to endure the humiliation of new screening procedures.
Thanks to that jerk who tried to hide a bomb in his underwear last Christmas on a flight to Detroit, everyone boarding a plane these days may be gifted with having an essentially nude photo taken of them by the TSA. At 65 airports, full-body scanning machines (totaling 152 millimeter wave unit scanners and 189 Backscatter scanners) are now being used. And the total number of these machines using advanced imaging technology is expected to grow to more than 1,000 by the end of next year.
I won’t get into all of the specifics, but in short, here is how they work. You stand in a booth, your body is scanned and an image of your naked body is viewed on a computer by a TSA employee working in a remote area of the airport. Therefore, according to the TSA, you shouldn’t be shy because the employee looking at you naked can’t see your face. Moreover, the public shouldn’t be concerned about privacy since the TSA is adamant that the images cannot be stored or saved or printed. This is confounding to me since I did a quick search and found dozens of images online immediately.
It should be noted, though, that having your body photographed for a stranger to view is optional. But the alternative isn’t much more appealing. Should you refuse to submit to a full- body scan (maybe because of the radiation you’re being exposed to, or because you’re pregnant, or because you don’t love strangers seeing you in your birthday suit), there is another equally dehumanizing procedure you can opt for. This is referred to as the pat-down. And boy has the pat-down come a long way.
In days of yore, a pat-down required the agent frisking you to use the back of their hands and to avoid sensitive areas of the body. Not so anymore, travelers. Agents can cop a feel on any area of your body they wish, and there is nothing you can do about it. It’s legal sexual harassment.
I’m not a particularly shy person, but I’m also not clamoring to let a woman I don’t know grope me. Moreover, in my 33 years I’ve also managed to avoid having strangers photograph me naked. But it seems that despite my best attempts to avoid these less than pleasant experiences, I no longer have any rights to my own privacy. So if I’m going to be subjected to these intrusive measures, I figure I won’t mind as much if I’ve had a glass or three of wine prior, so you know, I’m all relaxed.
Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of people who can’t or won’t be able to loosen up a bit before they are man-handled. This includes — oh, right off the top of my, head — pilots. So it’s no surprise to me that the US Airline Pilots Association, which represents 5,000 US Airways pilots, and the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 11,000 American Airlines pilots, are up in arms over the new screening procedures. Granted, their point of contention has more to do with the potential radiation risks caused by advanced imaging technology, but they still don’t like these new procedures any more than I do.
So to the pilots, and to other non-drinkers, you have my empathy, because I know the only way I’ll be able to tolerate these intrusive tactics is if I’m half-crocked before having to endure them.
Contact Jennifer Hadley at firstname.lastname@example.org.