Thursday, March 24, 2011

The TSA and Me

I think I might be the person who cares the least about the new airport full body scanners. Well, ok I thought that until I read Samantha Brown’s blog yesterday ( about how, not only is she not complaining about them, but she wants to try them, even asking to be put through it…after already walking through the standard x-ray machine Her view is that these controversial machines are the bane of every traveler’s existence and so how can she live up to her reputation as supreme travel guru while not having had this outrage inducing experience? That’s the very basic gist of it anyway. I only skimmed the first paragraph; I’ll go back and read it more fully later, but since I was already writing this I didn’t want to be accidentally influenced and come across as being a Samantha Brown groupie who thinks exactly like she does or something. I mean, I’d love to be her/have her life…but that’s not the point here.

So yes, I have not been through the full body scanner, which I think is a bit of a waste for the TSA because I just don’t care. And I could never care enough to go through the opt out pat down – I’d rather have people looking at my scans, then actually touching me. I guess listening to the reasons people give, I should care, but I just don’t. Sure it shows the outline your body, but it’s not like it’s a photograph (details: and - actually it kind of just looks like a melting Barbie doll…). And anyway, I’m a lifeguard with an unfortunate history of wardrobe malfunctions. I’ve lived through worse.

Additionally, I feel like with glimpses of 80s fashion making a comeback (oh the horror) people wear enough spandex that we’re not exactly hiding anything anyway. Spandex does not suck your ‘wobbly bits’ in, it just makes it so that everyone can see exactly where they are. And judging by some of the things I’ve seen people wearing, TSA cannot exactly be enjoying this slightly more explicit view. I’m more than happy to just make life as painless as possible for the both of us, with the promise of an exotic location (hopefully) at the other end of my flight.

Of course every time I’ve flown through a full body scan airport, I’ve been moved to a regular x-ray line. Sometimes I’ll start out in the body scan line (I just go for whichever line is the shortest and in general I’m too short to see what’s at the end of it) and twice now I’ve gotten to be the third person in line before an agent runs over and moves me to an x-ray machine. I wonder if it’s because I look so young and they’re worried about people kicking up a fuss about young, pretty (I suggest modestly…) girls being put through the scanner? Or maybe I look like I’ll throw a fit? I hope not. I wouldn’t. But either way, I am currently in the awesome company of Samantha Brown: I have not been through a body scanner…and I’m intrigued.

I guess I’m lucky. Not to jinx anything here, but I’ve had really good experiences with the TSA and have gotten to have some really fun encounters, however brief, with agents over the years (I should also extend this to include whatever is the British equivalent of the TSA). These encounters usually involve them commenting on the ridiculous pieces of clothing I chose to think are appropriate to travel in. It makes my time in line more fun, and I’m hoping it keeps them amused amidst all the cranky people, for at least a few seconds.

There was the time I wore bright pink , palm tree covered socks on the way to spring break. “You just wore those because you knew you were going to have to take your shoes off didn’t you?” asked the agent. “Added bonus,” I replied “I don’t need an excuse to wear THESE socks!”

Another time I was wearing my gold glitter wellies (not to be confused with the time I did an all out sprint through the Heathrow wearing said wellies). “Your wellies! They sparkle!” said the man in bewildered excitement, which was only enhanced when he saw Aheli’s red wellies following close behind on the belt. “Party boots,” I explained “I don’t want to leave Edinburgh so I needed to wear something cheerful.”

And most recently, embracing my inner geeky 12 year old boy, I wore my tshirt proclaiming me “Life of the party since 1985” with a picture of the green mushroom from super mario bros ( . “That is an AWESOME shirt” said the agent, happily as he waved me throw the x-ray machine. Instant bond.

The only slightly awful experience was when after traveling/being stuck in the Charlotte airport for 30 hours, my friends and I got selected for further bag checks after getting through the initial security. But it was really more awful for the agents who made the mistake of selecting us. One opened my bag and had to duck aside as my deodorant launched right at his head, and the other asked my friend to take her belt off, whereupon her pants promptly fell down, leaving the agent standing awkward and uncomfortable. He needed her to put her arms up, but with her arms up she couldn’t hold her pants up, and he didn’t know how to handle that. What, they don’t go over that in training?

I feel like traveling is an inherently weird and potentially awkward situation. You’re shuffled through gates and hallways like gerbils, forced to remove articles of clothing and open personal belongings with strangers packed in around you, and fall asleep in odd locations and positions. I’d argue that I’d feel way more vulnerable with that last one than with full body scans. Sure, look all you want at my distorted digital outline, but please avert your eyes, or give me a quick nudge if I start to sleep talk!

In the end, I’m ok with the full body scans (and public sleeping) because I know they are steps in a process that will get me out and about in the world, and to me that’s worth it. So I put on my funny socks, strategically pack my deodorant, and accept that, if nothing else, I’ll never be short of ridiculous stories.


  1. Ah, to be young and naïve.

    The radiation from airport body scanners are no joke.

    Highly educated men say they increase your risk of cancer. Is that funny?

    Check out two youtube videos:



  2. It's absolutely not funny. However, the actual amounts of radiation and the implications are debatable depending on which highly educated people you listen to. The information varies. Here's a piece from BBC Health, July 2011:

    My strategy so far has been to try and keep up on the latest research and be aware of what's being said about the studies. In reality, travel is something I do frequently and can't see myself stopping, so until definite conclusions are reached about the scanners, I'll just keep on trying to make the flying experience as stress free as possible.