TSA Madness: Media Hype vs. Reality

I have been watching the press coverage about the body scanners and the pat downs. I am not a fan of either though I would opt out of the body scan only because they do put out X-ray radiation and until I see an independent medical review (not one done by a government agency), I refuse to do it. Also, what good is a body scanner if you still have to empty your pockets, take off your belt and shoes and stand there for 10 seconds with your hands above your head like you are a hostage? If I could just leave everything on and walk through a body scanner, I’d probably do it just for the convenience. I am waiting for something like the “X-ray wall” from the movie Total Recall:

All that aside, the press is hyping this thing way too much. The press leaves out two facts in their quest for ratings:

1. You will only face the scanner if you set off the metal detector or you are “randomly selected.” The random selection is rare and you can reduce your chances of being selected by following my tips below:

2. There are very few body scanners deployed in airports and reports from Thanksgiving travelers indicate many of the scanners are not in use.

I used to be what the airlines call a VFF, very frequent flier; think George Clooney in Up in the Air. I flew American Airlines so much that they upgraded me to First Class 95% of the time. While I miss those perks, I’d rather be home with my family now. At least I hit 2 million miles with American which gave me lifetime Platinum status, so I can always use the first class check in and security lines and am exempt from all the stupid fees, etc.

I used to go through airport security at least twice a week and I have my system down. Follow these tips and you will pretty much never face a body scan or a TSA grope:

1. Pack appropriately: Before you go to the airport, make sure your carry on is free from any prohibited items. Make sure all your liquids are packed into a quart-size ziplock bag. Place the ziplock in an outer pocket in your carry on for easy access at the TSA checkpoint.

2. Dress appropriately:

  • Wear comfortable clothing that does not have a ton of pockets and is not baggy (I wore baggy cargo shorts once and got immediately selected for a pat-down).
  • Make sure the clothing does not have metal in it. Metal pants-fly zippers are OK, but that’s it.
  • Don’t wear any jewelry. Flying is not glamorous any more anyway.
  • Wear shoes that can be slipped on and off easily

3. At the airport:

  • No matter how grumpy the TSA folks may be, be nice to them. Ask the guy checking your ID how he is doing, etc. Remember most of these TSA agents are normal humans and respond to kindness. They are not used to people being nice to them and it goes a long way.
  • Be prepared once you get to the x-ray line. Here is my method:
    • After the ID check, I remove my belt, watch, jacket while waiting in line for the x-ray
    • Once at the x-ray, I grab 2 bins. My belt, jacket, watch, ziplock bag with liquids, and contents of my pockets go into one bin.
    • My laptop goes into its own dedicated bin. This is important and most TSA agents will give you grief if you don’t. I recently got one of those TSA-approved laptop bags, so I don’t have to take out my laptop anymore.
    • DO NOT put your shoes in a bin, put them directly on the belt. I am seeing the TSA enforce this more often lately.
  • Once you head to the metal detector, make eye contact with the TSA agent on the other side of the metal detector and wait for him/her to wave you through. You do not want to piss the metal detector agent off; he is the one who decides whether or not you get sent to the body scanner.

I agree with the TSA’s mission but not with their methods. Many of the TSA agents my not agree with their employer’s rules, but they are just trying to make a living.  I hate the TSA as much as the next guy but being an asshole, not following the rules or using the TSA experience to mount some sort of political protest will not do any good for you or soceity. If the TSA mistreats you, get their names, file a complaint and write your congressman. The moral to the story, follow the rules and be nice and your TSA experience will be smooth. Safe travels.

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One Response to “TSA Madness: Media Hype vs. Reality”

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