/> a mother's heart » Blog Archive » the tsa & me

So there has been a ton of griping, cursing, and complaining about air travel and the TSA.  The searches have gotten more aggressive, people have been groped, bags have been unceremoniously dumped/rifled/groped,TSA and the electric toothbrushphoto © 2009 Adria Richards | more info (via: Wylio)

and then there’s the new(er) “back-scatter” x-ray technology, which photographs one naked, as it were.  It’s supposed to be “flawless” and increase our sense of security when travelling.

I’ve been in the discontented crowd for a while – the back-scatter technology is untested and sold to the TSA by the former head of the TSA, who now works for the company that produces the device.  Yeah, because that’s what we need to feel secure – equipment purchased from your former boss who now has a vested financial interest in what he’s selling.  😛

Regardless, I knew when I was getting all exercised about the backscatter and TSA that we had at least two air-trips planned this year.  And we just had one of them.

I didn’t give much thought to backscatter because I’d read that the Phoenix airport only has it in one terminal – and Southwest flies out of a different terminal.  Admittedly, that information was old, but I never considered checking to see if it had changed.

It had.

When I was packing my suitcase (even though we love Southwest and our bags fly free, Mark and I fly carry-on-only when possible – it’s just less hassle when we get off the plane), I felt led to put all of my incidentals in clear ziploc bags.  I normally don’t and put my make-up in a bag, my hair things in another pocket of a bag, etc., but this time was different.  I didn’t understand it, but I also didn’t argue with the urge.  So I had about 6 quart-sized plastic bags filled with medicine/herbs, my (powdered) Bare Escentual make-up, my hair accoutrements, and my one (permissible) bag of liquids that was stuffed in the front pocket for ease of removal.

I also poured candles for friends of ours in Texas and wrapped them in plastic bags so if the glass broke, it wouldn’t get on my clothes.  And yes, I checked to see if candles were restricted.  They’re not.

So fast forward to being in the airport at 515a, taking off our shoes, putting everything in bins, etc., and I’m directed towards a weird-looking metal detector… oh, crap.  I realize it’s a backscatter as I’m standing there.  I hate this, but it’s too late to opt out, so I suck it up. And as I’m waiting for my bag to go through, I realize it’s not.  What is going on?

They pulled my bag out of queue and said they had to ‘check it.’  Great.  We have a few extra minutes until we’re supposed to board and I don’t want to make a scene, so the guy checks it.  He starts pulling things out – first thing, the candles. The actual candles didn’t trigger anything, but the *outside* of the glass holding the candles did.  He said something about having to check everything and that sometimes, hand lotion triggers the sensor.  REALLY?

I freaking live in Arizona.  If I don’t use lotion, I am scaly like a reptile.  I moisturize everything – internally with coconut oil and water, externally with lotions.  I’m so completely hosed – I use lotion every. single. day, usually more than once a day.

He called over a female TSA agent to pat me down.  I received the infamous “grope” of the Federal Government.  In all fairness, the lady was nice, gentle, and tried to ease my fears.  But the irony is this:  I went through the back-scatter already.  And now, a “pat down” is supposed to make me (and other passengers on my flight) MORE SAFE?

Think about that for a second.  The NAKED SCANNER that picks up EVERYTHING, including what I might have otherwise tucked in my hair (where she started patting), is NOT EFFICIENT ENOUGH to protect us and then requires a MANUAL PAT DOWN.  Do you see the inconsistencies here?  It would be one thing to pat-down after a regular metal detector scan, but the very machines that are supposed to increase our security are then followed by a manual pat-down. It’s clear to me that our “added security” isn’t doing a darned thing – and that using critical thinking skills isn’t welcomed by the Feds.

After that humiliating pat-down (trying not to notice other passengers staring as they walked through security), it wasn’t done.  They had to x-ray my shoes AGAIN – I’d already done it once.  So I’m standing, shoeless, with my arms sticking out awkwardly in a public place, being groped by an older woman, who was (at least) kind.

Needless to say, after dismantling my entire suitcase, underwear included, they found nothing.  It was “probably hand lotion,” and as the agent dumped everything in my suitcase, I told him (somewhat coldly at this point – I was quite unhappy) that it wouldn’t fit – the bags of makeup, etc., needed to go in the front of the bag.  He read me the riot act about having “too many bags of liquids” (I only had ONE) and that “most agents wouldn’t let you take all of this stuff.”  It was all I could do to bite my tongue – although I’ve got red hair, I keep my temper in check most of the time.  I was very close to exploding at that point and struggled not to burst in to tears and yell at him right there.  I was already tired, nervous about traveling, and did I mention it was 550a on a Thursday?

We finally got my bag back and walked away – and I started sobbing.  We walked to our gate and I’m crying as Mark had his arm around me, trying to comfort me.  I have never been so humiliated, ever.  I felt as though every eye in the place was on me; as though I’d tried to commit a crime.  I’ve never even had a speeding ticket, for crying out loud!

Do me a favour – go look at the “About Me” tab at the top of the page.  I’ll wait for you to come back.  Okay, so you saw my photo.  Do I look threatening?  I’m as polite and kind as possible to everyone around me, even early in the morning.  I don’t want to be the cause of someone else’s bad day, and I think it’s easier to be kind than to be mean.  Do I look like a risk to flight security?  And if you know hand lotion triggers the “super-sensitive scanners,” wouldn’t it make sense to exclude hand lotion from the search criteria?  Or have dogs that sniff bags and can tell the difference between, I dunno, C-4 explosive and Bath & Body Works True Blue Spa lotion?

I don’t believe this “added security” is what it claims to be. Critical thinking says that if a naked scanner is followed by a manual pat-down, the naked scanner was a waste of money. The horror stories of others with regard to callous, abusive TSA agents are not mine, thank God, but I was never a risk to anyone.

I still have to fly in June – because driving to Michigan would take 8 days of travel, there and back.  It was too hard on us last year, and a 4 hour flight is still preferred to 4 days in the car.  I might not have all the answers, but I do know that we are no safer now that my hand lotion triggered the alarm than we were before.

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  • http://www.cybercletch.com Pat Williams

    Ugh You’re right about the scanner and then the pat down – makes no sense. Sorry it was so awful for you! Maybe if you looked less nice they “wouldn’t dare”! 😉
    Pat Williams recently posted..Surviving Your Serengeti is a Handbook for Surviving in our Economy

  • Lynn N.

    I’m sorry that you were treated so poorly by TSA, and you’re absolutely correct about the scanners. They have absolutely NOTHING to do with any real security, and everything to do with the formation and expansion of the coming police state.

    I know that statement probably makes me sound like an alarmist, or conspiracy theorist, but the opposite is true. TSA/DHS has made the announcement, themselves, that these machines will be deployed to ALL sporting events, ALL mass gatherings and large social events, ALL forms of public transit and travel, the highways, shopping malls and even public schools. If they have their way, we soon won’t be permitted to leave our homes without first having an x-ray or full-body frisking, and our children will have the same treatment to go to class.

    Anyone opposed to these extremely invasive measures is invited to come and join us at Boycott Flying on Facebook …..

  • http://www.wewontfly.com Jeff


    I am sorry to hear about your experience. Many of us (www.wewontfly.com is good background) are actively working to fight the illegal and unconstitutional infringement on your rights, the rights of our children, and of all US citizens.

    As someone who can’t avoid flying (I have cut out all leisure airplane travel) because of business, I make it a point to scan security well ahead of time for metal detectors, so they can’t do a strip search. It is really surprising that they grope people down after the strip search scanner, so clearly there is something wrong with their effectiveness.

    Frankly, the scanners are optional but the grope down never is. So, what happens is if they see something strange on the scanner – they grope people down anyway.

    I can’t think of anything more unAmerican than the TSA. I can also share with you and others that there have been ZERO airline passenger bombings for US-originated flights in the last FORTY NINE years. See http://www.planecrashinfo.com to look up the 1962 dynamite bombing. So, unless the TSA starts resurrecting people, there is no real way to improve security risk.

    Thanks for listening and hope you can avoid unpleasant TSA experiences in the future.


  • Greg

    Hi Sue, I did as your post asks and hit the “about me” tab. No you don’t look threatening to me. Please don’t let them make you feel like you have committed a crime, rest assured it is TSA that committed a crime against you. The US Supreme Court allows the airport security system to exist under a flawed ruling that allows “administrative searches”. I’m sure that the naked scanners and the sexual assault “pat downs” go far beyond what the supreme court was thinking when they made the original ruling. If you ever have a bit of time, do me a favor and look up the “Writ of Assistance” from 1760’s Colonial America. It was a “general warrant” (another way of saying administrative search) that allowed the Crown’s minions to do unwarranted, unreasonable searches whenever they felt like it. After the Revolution, John Adams said this about watching James Otis speak out about this form of general warrant; ““…Then and there, the child Independence was born,…” So the type of assault that happened to you at the hands of TSA, is the type of assault that helped to bring about the first American Revolution. You have a right to be upset.

  • http://www.mamasheartblog.com sue

    Lynn, Jeff, & Greg,

    thank you for your thoughts and the links. I will research them and read more – and Greg, I will definitely look up “Writ of Assistance.” I’ll probably include it in a future history lesson in our homeschooling curriculum! :)

    I hate that this experience had such a lasting impact on me, but I am grateful that it wasn’t as bad as what some have experienced.


  • Lindypop22

    When I was 16 or so I was going on a cruise with my 62 year old mother and my 83 year old great aunt when we got to airport security I was hurried through but they decided my 62 year old mother and my 83 year old aunt Pat looked like some shady charecters at the Detroit metro so they made them remove their shoes the officer took a screwdriver and ripped part of the bottom of my mothers shoe making sure there was no bomb concealed within her comfy cuddler kmart shoes, and the dumped both my mother and aunt pats bags and completely removed the sole of my aunts right foot. They then let my mom through to put her bag back together and decided my aunt pat just looked to shady for words and needed a pat down they poked at my poor aunt for a good 10 minutes found nothing then decided since i was with those teo short old white ladys I more than likely was hiding a bomb in my vans, The officer started to take a screw driver to my shoes and I threw the biggest fit you have ever see, Those shoes were less than a month old and I had recieved them for my birthday. He made a hole in my new shoes that had just been through the xray scanner and I lost it. So I ended up speaking to the head of security while my mother was telling me to just let it go. I demanded reimbursment for my new shoes and for my mother and aunts shoes, The officer tried to weasel out of it saying its to keep us all safe but the airport ended up reimburing us for the shoes, I just hope they got rid of that monkey they gave a screwdriver to and told to check shoes. We were finally able to go I got enough money to buy 1 of the 2 shoes the idiot ruined, and as we were moving on the officer stopped my mother one more time and found a lighter in her purse with her pack of winstons he told her she should only carry matches but didn’t confiscate it and we left to board the plane. So Old ladys with sandals and a teenage girl HUGE THREAT!! Lighters that I know for a fact can be exploded ah no big deal. Security at an airport is a joke, The worst part of it was my poor aunt both her knees are bad and they had her doing quite dance for them.