New TSA drama: the extra touchy feely pat down

By now, there is probably no way you haven’t heard the furor surrounding TSA right now. It is all over the national and local news, the blogs and message boards, and anywhere else travel is discussed. There are a ton of hilarious Youtube videos out there (my favorite: If you touch my junk I’ll have you arrested). I have gotten emails and comments from readers about it. But for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here is the summary.

Many airports now have full body scanning machines, aka the “strip-search scan” or “nudie-scan”, which they use during the security screening. Not all airports have them, and in the airports that do have them, not all passengers are screened in this way. The passengers that are selected to go through these machines, as opposed to the metal detectors, have the option to refuse. But if you do that, you get the new, “enhanced” pat down–“a hand-sliding pat-down that can include feeling a person’s inner thighs and buttocks,” according to MSNBC.

I have gone through the nudie-scopes, but have not had the pleasure of the enhanced pat down. This new procedure was implemented in October, but I didn’t realize how invasive it is until last week. Honestly, at first I thought everyone was freaking out about nothing. Until I read the news reports. The new style of pat down calls for agents to use the front or back of their hands and fingers to touch and press chest and groin areas of passengers, including the inside of a passenger’s legs to the thighs. And if you’re wearing a skirt or dress that won’t allow for full access, you could be asked to remove it in a private area for screening. Geez.

The email I got yesterday from a reader asks for my thoughts.

What your opinions of the new TSA policies? I am a bit put off by both the idea of the “strip-search” machine, and the “enhanced” pat downs. Have you experienced either?

My main concern with the two comes from being separated from my belongings, namely, my wallet. Have you any suggestions on how to keep my belongings completely safe? They say never to allow your items out of sight, but you know that doesn’t always work out. This whole fear of having my belongings lost or stolen is making me never want to fly again.

This is a two part question, and both parts are very valid. I am actually going to take the second part first. If you go through the full body scanner, you are only separated visually from your belongings for about thirty seconds. This is probably the same thirty seconds that your stuff is going through the scanner. Once you are through the machine, you are typically in a roped in area for a minute or so until the TSA agent lets you past. In all of the airports I have seen, you have visual contact with your stuff from this point on. So honestly, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I also wouldn’t travel with incredibly valuable objects if you can avoid it, but I travel with my laptop and wallet every week and I have never had anything happen.

As far as the beginning of your email, I have a lot of thoughts and opinions. First of all, because I travel for work, I basically have no choice but to go through the full body scanner. Do I want to? No. Does it make me feel a little self conscious to know that someone is looking at an image of me? Yes. Am I going to pitch a fit about it? No, because my goal while traveling is to be as efficient as possible. When you spend as much time as I do in airports, you want to streamline the whole process in any way you can.

If I didn’t have to travel as part of my job, the whole situation would make me think twice about flying. Absolutely. But in the end, if I want to go on vacation, see my sisters, or do something else fun, a little discomfort is worth it to me. I do think these full body, open hand pat downs are extreme, and very likely unnecessary. If I had children, I would definitely be concerned, as they are not exempt from the screening.

For the people who are trying to boycott them, or participate in National Opt-Out Day tomorrow, I totally get it. Maybe it will catch someone’s attention and get some changes made. I’m not traveling for Thanksgiving, but next week I am going to Pensacola, and they do have the full body scanners there. I will be very interested in seeing how people are reacting to the whole situation.

And for another perspective, check out this post from our friend Flying With Fish about how this new policy is breaking down morale for TSA agents.

Readers, what do you think? Is it a violation of civil rights, or just a nuisance? The TSA keeps quoting studies that show that 80% of Americans are okay with enhanced screening techniques. Is that your experience?


  1. Of course it’s a violation of civil rights. I will opt for the pat down and pass gas in the TSA agent’s face.

  2. > If I had children, I would definitely be concerned, as they are not exempt from the screening.

    Actually, kids under-12 are exempt from the patdowns, even if their parents opt them out of the nekkid scan.

  3. I think the extra security procedures are unnecessary. I agree with the metal detectors, but the enhanced security procedures are based on the premise that a terrorist is already in the U.S. If so, why would he (transporting a bomb) bother to go on an airplane with the probability of being detected, as opposed to seeking out a soft target (shopping mall, rail terminal, athletic event, etc.)?

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