During a recent trip to San Francisco, I was unprepared to be somewhat molested by airport security.
The day started like many others planned for travel. I went over my checklist of things I needed ad nauseum, grabbed a cup of coffee for the road, and retrieved directions to the airport from my phone.
Upon arrival, I checked my bag, made sure I had my license, credit card, cash, and phone and headed to the security line where they made sure that the name on my ID matched the one on my boarding pass. I then proceeded through the security check shindig of removing everything from my pockets and leaving liquids, electronics, sweaters, shoes, and jewelry in the gray TSA bins at the beginning of the line.
But then, I was unexpectedly introduced to the airport’s new body scanner instead of the conventional metal detector that only requires a swift walk-through.
Intimidated at first, I hesitated when the security guard directed me into the transparent tube and instructed me to place my feet on the pair of yellow footprints painted on the base. I was really excited to see how this contraption would work. Besides, what did I have to worry about? I removed everything that could have potentially set off any alarms or buzzers.
For a brief second, an object inside the tube spun around me as I stood with my hands in the air. Quick, painless; no problem… Wrong.
As I vacated the tube, a security guard stopped me and directed me to another pair of yellow feet painted on the ground. Without hesitation, she asked “Excuse me miss… Do you mind if I touch you there,” pointing to my chest and buttocks. “It’ll only be the back of my hand,” she said – as if that bit of detail made the encounter less embarrassing and uncomfortable.
“Um, no,” I nervously replied, fearing that I would have been carted off by a band of badges into a back room where all my dignity would literally be stripped from me if I didn’t comply.
As the security guard passed over the areas that had been flagged by the body scanner, she had an epiphany regarding what caused the system to panic. “You seem to have too much bling on your shirt,” pointing to the sequins and beaded gems on my wardrobe. “Now you know what shirts are not airport appropriate.” My apologies for ignoring the serious threat Bedazzled gems and glitter posed to national security.
After passing over the areas of alarm with the back of her hand (and making me feel just a bit violated), she then directed me to an area where the back of my hands were swabbed with a cloth that was placed into a chemical detection system, which tests for any dangerous or suspicious chemicals that I may or may not have tampered with before checking into the airport.
Is it me, or is airport security getting a bit dramatic? I do appreciate the steps taken by airports to ensure the safety of their passengers, but hand swabs? Pretty soon passengers will be asked if they mind getting their cheeks swabbed for DNA, or if they can take a few minutes to step to the side and offer a urine sample.
I felt more unsafe during my return trip when the plane was delayed because both pilots spent a long amount of time inspecting one of the wings. A maintenance man even joined the pilots to check over their concerns while my fellow passengers and I anxiously stared out the window wondering what could be the problem. We never were informed of the issue; just herded on to the plane as quickly as possible so passengers could still make their connecting flights; expected to put our complete trust into the captain who gave the green light.
Like I’ve mentioned before, I appreciate the precautions that help ensure the safety of the passengers, but I am starting to wonder how much longer we’ll allow these technological advancements to blur the line between acceptable risk prevention and an intolerable invasion of privacy.
And yes, Ms. TSA, I do mind if you touch me there.
Has a TSA rubbed you the wrong way? Is airport security becoming too invasive? Post your thoughts and comments below or send them firstname.lastname@example.org.