Last week, I wrote about the safety of the full body imaging scanners at Logan airport that use X-rays to peer through our clothes; just a few hours later, I was faced with the prospect of going through this scanning device, called a backscatter machine, on my way home to Maryland.
I was in a security line at the gate and watched half a dozen folks in front of me head briskly through the standard metal detectors. Home free, I thought, until the security guard motioned for me to head through the backscatter device.
After a moment's hesitation, I chose the fully body pat down. Radiation health experts I previously interviewed told me they didn't trust the machines enough to go through them repeatedly in their frequent travels. And I knew I'd be commuting frequently between my home outside Washington, DC and Boston over the next several months. I figured the pat down would be a painless way to avoid any extra radiation exposure, no matter how small.
While I didn't have a pat-down horror story like the breast cancer survivor forced to show her prosthetic breast, I can tell you that the whole experience was downright embarrassing.
Clearly, the Transportation Security Administration doesn't really want us to opt for the pat-down given that they set up a system where an agent screams "opt out!" whenever someone chooses a pat down. Yes, everyone around me suddenly turned to stare at the renegade bucking the trend -- probably trying to figure out why anyone would be nuts enough to choose to be groped.
Even Hillary Clinton admitted she'd avoid a TSA pat-down if she could, calling it an "offensive" security measure.
"I'm concerned about the radiation dose," I tell the sweet TSA agent who's about to feel me up. She looks as nervous as I feel as she tells me she has no idea about how the machines work. She's more concerned about following protocol, dutifully applying a new pair of rubber gloves so she won't spread any diseases and staring at the ceiling as she tries to remember all the questions she's supposed to ask.
Do you wear any prosthetic devices? Have any metal inside you? Any medical devices attached to your body?
I think of that poor bladder cancer patient whose colostomy bag was burst at a different airport by an overly aggressive pat-down as I answer no to all her questions. I also try not to feel like a criminal as I keep my arms in the air for a full two minutes (not an easy feat) as she runs her hands up and down the inside of my legs and brushes her hands -- palm-side out as if that's supposed to be less invasive -- over my breasts.
The worst, though, was the hands inside the waist-band of my pants. Clearly, this is excessive, I think, despite the fact that I know this poor TSA agent is doing her best to follow protocol.
"Please keep your arms up," she pleads with me repeatedly as I begin to let my arms droop, "I don't want to get in trouble with my bosses."
Do you have any experience with airport pat downs? Let me know your stories.
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