The TSA defensive dressing-and-packing dance and security-line jig

by Karen Cummings on April 29, 2011

TSA Security by Leocha

Editor’s note: This is part two of Karen’s missive on TSA security. This time we learn how to defensively dress, pack and maneuver through TSA checkpoints. It’s tough when you are considered a terrorist first and an innocent American only after being scanned and frisked. Read part 1 here.

Anyone who has to travel learns live with TSA’s airport security regime. I try my best to comply with all the rules. Oh, I did sneak through a 5-hour energy drink (they are expensive and I didn’t want it to be confiscated) in my purse once by hiding it under my camera – and still not have to go through the scanner.

I now dress defensively – I pick my outfit for my flight by what would be the easiest to practically undress out of so I cannot draw attention to myself and get quickly through the line. Style? Forget it.

I once wore a pair of lace up boots. They looked so chic, but took forever to get on and off. Never again! Same with sandals – no matter how hot it is, no way am I ever walking through the security area in my bare feet. Ick!

Recently, I carefully tied a stylish scarf around my neck. So stupid! Of course, they told me to take it off and I was stymied when I tried to duplicate the delicate knot at the end of the security “dance.”

I avoid cardigan sweaters or any jackets unless I’m willing to reveal what I’m wearing underneath. Learned that when I made the mistake of wearing a revealing camisole under a blazer that I was forced to remove despite my protestations that what I had on underneath was only designed to peak out at the neckline of the jacket. It was not a pretty sight as I felt like I was walking through security in essence in my bra. In fact, I now avoid all layering of clothing – too much hassle of taking them all off and then putting them back on again.

I got a lighter weight computer that’s easy to take out and put back in again. I have all my small shampoos, conditioners, hair spray, mousse, skin moisturizers, contact lens cleaner, contact lens solution, face creams, tooth paste – OK, I have a really hard time fitting all that in one quart plastic bag. Do they have no comprehension of all a woman (at least this woman) needs for her “toilette?” (I almost always check a bag so I can bring all the above mentioned items without the hassle of having to squeeze them into that quart-sized plastic bag.)

I travel often enough that I felt I had thoroughly mastered the TSA’s rules. The packing, unpacking, and packing again. The dressing, undressing, and dressing again. And then they introduced the whole-body scanning machines and/or the “enhanced” patdowns.

The security line jig

Now, when I go through security at the airport, all my senses are on high alert. I watch carefully to see if I can quickly and unobtrusively find the line that they might be directing to the metal detector instead of the scanner.

Unlike the TSA, I profile.

I don’t get behind families as they are often sent through the metal detector so the next person in line gets directed to the scanner. I look quickly to find a young-ish male, hopefully one that’s swarthy or a bit foreign-looking in the hopes that the TSA agent will concentrate on him and wave me through the metal detector. Of course, it’s really frustrating when it happens the other way around and my idea of the one potential terrorist going through security is waved through and I’m directed to the scanner. What’s with that?

I also try to scan the security horizon quickly to see if there are any lines that don’t have a whole-body scanner and I shift into that line no matter how long it is. Of course, this opportunity is quickly evaporating as our broke country has somehow been able to spend millions on these $200,000+ machines this year alone, not to mention the whopping annual budget of the TSA itself. (The hoards of blue-shirted TSA agents at airports these days does appear to be helping to cut down on the nation’s unemployment rate, though.)

Sometimes it all works, making me want to surprise the TSA agent with a big hug as he or she points me to the metal detector instead of the scanner. Often it’s a mission impossible, though, and I – the horrible potential terrorist that I am until proven innocent – am pointed toward the dreaded scanner.

When I refuse, I’m told, definitely derisively, it’s either the scanner or the patdown. They could care less about my 4th amendment rights. Or, if I stamp my feet like a child, which I have done. Or, if I tell them I’m the furthest thing from a terrorist that they’ll ever find. In fact, I’m told to stop complaining or they will fine me. (Makes me wonder about my freedom of speech, too.)

Then I’m subjected to an even more unreasonable search — the enhanced patdown. (And, since enhanced implies “better,” I think they should call it invasive or at least the thorough patdown.

After enduring that experience – and it’s happened at least five times over the past year – I’m left feeling unnecessarily violated no matter how much they explain what they are doing and that they are using the backs of their hands as they go over my breasts or up into my crotch. It always takes me quite a while to recover.

Granted, I could decide not to fly, but that doesn’t seem fair. I could just acquiesce and go through the scanner, but that’s against what I believe is wrong. I really don’t want my rights stripped away – literally, actually – and this is the only way I can stand up and say “no.”

I remain shocked that the American public is going along with this. Honestly, if we were required to go through this indignity by a conquering enemy, we’d fight back. We’d refuse. We’d never let them do this to our children, or our elderly, or our infirmed, let alone ourselves.

I’m encouraging everyone I can reach to please stand up and refuse the whole-body scanners. Stop allowing our government to peer through our clothing, prod and handle us this way. Somehow, I don’t think Washington, Jefferson, Adams or Hancock would have put up with this. Neither should we.

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  • George

    Someone once said: “Scare the American people and they will give up all their rights”. To which I would add: they will submit to anything. There are examples after examples after examples. Depressing.

  • IAn

    I am also truly shocked the public is accepting this. It crossed a line with me and mine, and we’ve decided never to fly again.

    Great article :)

  • dcta

    You know, I travel pretty frequently and I simply don’t get why this is such a big deal to everyone. My husband and i have a pretty good routine down – his wallet, keys, and phone go into my handbag, any coats/sweaters we wore to the airport get put into the carry-on roller bags before we get to Security (fold em up and lay them on top of your other stuff), we get our shoes, laptop/ereader, and my hand bag into the bins. I breeze through either the magnetometer or the scanner – he goes through the scanner as he has a pacemaker and prefers to avoid the pat-down. 10 minutes tops – not counting the lines…. Really, it just has been a non-issue for us. I could not care less about them “looking through my clothing”. I don’t feel invaded in any way.

  • Jim Bee

    Come on quit complaining………… you’re in the land of the Free.
    Where else can you get x-rayed and a full body search? Raped by cloven hands. I bet the pedifiles lined up for jobs when they saw the tsa going for the kids…..I’m not allowed to curse so I must stop.

  • Hapgood

    It might be best to adopt a split personality when it comes to the TSA.
    If you choose to fly, recognize that airports are rights-free zones subject to the inconsistent whims of the TSA’s petty tyrants whose reign is absolute. The more you act like a good little sheep, the easier time you’ll have. Once you’re outside the TSA’s domain, it’s time to shed the sheep’s clothing and be appropriately outraged about an agency of our own government systematically stripping away our rights.

    I have a friend who flies a lot, and is (literally) a veteran of boring meetings in military, government, and corporate bureaucracies. So he has become adept at daydreaming and “zoning out,” paying just enough attention to respond appropriately to commands or questions before dropping back into dream-land. That’s what he does when he enters a TSA checkpoint. The dreamy, beneficent demeanor this creates works wonders with screeners who are accustomed to resentment from too many unappreciative passengers. It also also lets the stress just roll off him like water on a duck’s back. You might call it a form of Zen mindfulness, although he doesn’t believe in that.

    I very strongly doubt I could do anything like that. But if you can, it seems an excellent idea. There’s nothing you can do about the TSA, so the only reasonable approach is to take the “Zen” approach of just accepting it, going with the flow, and not letting any of it bother you. If you don’t have my friend’s talents, I’ve read that one alternative is to focus intently on the destination and what you’ll be doing once you’ve finished this minor annoyance. But that might not work if you’re on your way home from a vacation and face piled-up emergencies at work.

    (By the way, my friend also has a foolproof way of dealing with the discomfort of flying: Once he wedges himself into his middle seat, he falls asleep and usually remains that way until landing. That’s not feasible for most people, and certainly not for me. But he swears by it.)

    When you’re not at the airport, you can activate the other half of your split personality. That’s the part that rightfully resents the arrogant intrusion of the TSA’s security theatre, which the GAO has consistently shown to be ineffective. Complaining does no good in itself, since the TSA won’t listen and doesn’t care. (I even suspect that Mr Pistole and his staff regard all the complaining as a good thing. They clearly believe that effective security NEEDS to make people feel hassled, violated, and possibly humiliated. And an effective security agency SHOULD be hated and feared, at least to some extent. So the complaints are proof that the TSA is doing an excellent job.)

    I think it’s appropriate and even “patriotic” to point out the failings and problems with the TSA. Even those who criticize the TSA want EFFECTIVE security at airports (and elsewhere), and resent the loss of so much money, time, and liberty on something that has been repeatedly found ineffective. It’s particularly important to write letters to our elected officials and let them know that we want effective security rather than security theatre that wastes our time, money, and liberty.

    It seems that Congress are afraid to hold the TSA accountable for effectiveness and cost-effectiveness because they’re terrified of getting branded “soft on terrorism” in their next campaign. But it’s possible that if they get enough complaints from constituents, they’ll decide that the political gain from bringing the TSA under control exceeds the risk of attack ads. It’s probably a long shot, but it’s the only thing we can do about the TSA. It’s still a right we enjoy under the constitution, so we should use it (or lose it).

  • Oregoncarol

    I am surprised by the energy that you put into constantly complaining about all things TSA. Being scanned doesn’t bother me; neither does the TSA pat-down. I do wish fervently that terrorists had never forced us to NEED to do security checks like this, of course. I remember when we only were checked for guns to avoid being hijacked to a foreign country. But life changed when avowed terrorists focussed on our airline system to try to blow up or crash our planes. We need to get the cargo checked–all of it–and we need to be checked as well. It is not beyond imagination that terrorist use children or even older adults to perpetrate explosions or other mayhem. Sad fact of life.

  • Hapgood

    Oregoncarol, the terrorists never “forced us to need to do security checks like this.” Rather, our Leaders decided to force us to submit to them in reaction to the terrorist attacks. And they’ve been reacting ever since.

    The security checks do serve a valid and essential purpose. They reassure us both that the government is doing something about the terrorist threat and that it’s safe to fly. But that useful reassurance does not NEED to extend to continually escalating intrusions and hassles that now include exposure to unknown levels of radiation and/or “intimate” pat downs. It isn’t the terrorists who decided to inflict these things on us, but our own government.

    Similarly, it isn’t the terrorists who decided to create a “security” bureaucracy exempt from the oversight, accountability, privacy, and cost-effectiveness requirements that apply to government agencies. Our own government did that. And our own elected officials are allowing the unaccountable and arrogant TSA bureaucrats to make essential decisions about the balance of security, liberty, and privacy in secret, without regard to efficacy, cost-effectiveness, or adverse effects. And also to give the TSA free rein to do what bureaucracies naturally do in the absence of oversight and constraints– to continually expand their authority and power.

    It’s not the terrorists who are forcing people to decide that flying is no longer worth the hassle or humiliation. It’s our own government, which indeed would prefer that we blame the terrorists for all the intrusive hassles the TSA decides to inflict. It isn’t necessary to react this way, and it may actually be counterproductive and harmful to our security (http://www.schneier.com/essay-121.html). But that’s what they’ve chosen, possibly for reasons unrelated to “security.”

  • Tim

    dcta – make sure the x-rays or millimeter waves used in the nudi-scans will not harm your husband’s pacemaker. I have an insulin pump and the manufacturer recommends not exposing it to x-rays or millimeter waves, so I do not go through the nudiscans. Interestingly, I was only asked once to go through a body scanner; when I explained why I would not, I got to go through the metal detector with only the usual examination.

    Karen – medical liquids, which includes your contact lens solution stuff, is exempt from the 3 oz (well, 100 ml actually), quart-sized bag restrictions. We have had no troubles bringing insulin bottles or 8 oz liquid medicine bottles through in our carry-ons without them being in our quart-sized bags. We just put them in the bins so they can be seen as they go in or out of the x-ray machine.

  • http://[email protected] Puzzled

    @Tim – The TSA is inconsistent in regard to contact lens solution. I travel with the smallest bottles of saline solution that I can obtain and USUALLY have no problem with it.

    However, occasionally the TSA (or security officials in AMS) will decide that it’s NOT a medical liquid (What? Do they think I plan to drink it??) and then it becomes an enormous hassle. I’ve had it tested, handled (which is not cool in my book) and ultimately, had to check it on occasion. I doubt I’m the only to experience this, either.

  • Jeri

    I object to the full body x-rays. Pat downs – shrug. The reason I object to the x-ray machines is not because of what they see, but that I am exposed to a significant dose of ionizing radiation that I don’t need to be exposed to. The dose (strength) of radiation required to expose an adult human to the extent those machines do is significant. In the work place an employee (and/or their employer) can be fined by OSHA for not protecting themselves with appropriate equipment (right down to lead glasses/goggles) during such an exposure.
    As for patdowns – get real folks. Inspectors are not leering at you unless you have the body of a god. I’d rather have someone’s hand on my underwire than glow in the dark post trip.

  • Lee

    Okay,folks. What is your solution? Griping isn’t one.

    I fly a lot. I have a lot of metal in my body, which is incidental, but makes me like whole-body scanners a lot.

    I near so much complaining. What’s the solution for you?

    Ignore all passengers like the old days? El Al FYI, never did.

    Only check scruffy, icky men?

    Only check people who don’t look Caucasian or African American?

    Have no security?

    Yes, I think TSA can go overboard, and they have occasionally with me. Usually, they don’t.

  • tom

    Solution!? … a trifle draconian perhaps, but try banning ALL muslims from the international airways until they force their antedeluvian compatriots to leave us alone. In three months we would see dramatic changes and the morons at TSA would be back in the dole queue

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  • Frank

    Oregoncarol April 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm
    I am surprised by the energy that you put into constantly complaining about all things TSA. Being scanned doesn’t bother me; neither does the TSA pat-down. I do wish fervently that terrorists had never forced us to NEED to do security checks like this, of course. I remember when we only were checked for guns to avoid being hijacked to a foreign country. But life changed when avowed terrorists focussed on our airline system to try to blow up or crash our planes.
    =====================================================

    THANK YOU, Oregoncarol

    …………SHE HAS ISSUES.

  • Frank

    OSAMA’S BODY is apparently in the US. So, we shouldnt expect RETALIATION to our country? transportation system? NYC? Washington?

    Nah, we’ll never have suicide bombers here. Just ask Hapgood.

  • dcta

    Thanks Tim for the hint – it does not affect the pacemaker/defibrillator. I think with the insulin pump, part of the issue is the light plastic tubing while there is none of that in the pacemaker/defibrillator.

  • Hapgood

    Frank, a crowded queue of shoeless terrorist-suspects patiently waiting for the TSA screener to irradiate them and/or grope their genitals would be an ideal place for a suicide bomber to martyr himself in memory of bin Laden. It would be far easier than trying to blow up an airplane. And it would probably inflict more damage than a successful airplane bombing. The deeply embarrassed TSA would be compelled to institute reactive measures that would effectively shut down air travel.

    (That, by the way, is the reason the TSA’s approach is inherently useless. It’s a fancy and increasingly costly lock on the front door of a barn that has plenty of unlocked doors and holes. If we assume for the sake of argument that the screening does effectively protect airplanes from terrorists, the terrorists will merely chose another target. And don’t beat me up for “giving terrorists ideas.” The first time I flew after 9/11 and saw the Disneyland-style switchback queue I was to stand in, my immediate thought was of this tempting target created by TSA screening. It was both obvious and frightening to me, and was probably the first thing that made me doubt the value of the TSA. Any terrorist stupid enough NOT to have thought of it years ago probably deserves to be caught at a TSA checkpoint– assuming the screener notices the contraband and isn’t distracted by an oversized bottle of shampoo.

    The death of bin Laden is both a great political victory for the Obama administration and an embarrassment to the Bush administration. But it won’t make us any safer, nor will it have any effect on the way our leaders wage the Global War on Terror.)

  • AKFlyer

    Has it ever occured to any of the “I don’t get what the big fuss is all about” crowd that maybe the world looks different to the multitudes of people who have, through no fault of their own, been victims of sexual abuse and assault? There are a A LOT of us and we’re not all female, as all too many altar boys can attest. How come most Americans accepted the reality of “shell shock” (now known as PTSD) for returning WWI troops 90 years ago, but can’t understand that rape can be equally, if not more, traumatic? (Especially if the rapist is a faimly member and you were a child when it happened.)

    We don’t criticize a soldier for having a hair-trigger startle response to sudden loud noises, but women and men who have been raped are supposed to just get over it when they are forced to submit to the hands of a complete stranger probing their genitals. News flash: the amygdala is hard-wired to the five senses, bypassing the brain’s frontal lobes. This organ doesn’t stop to ask permission before putting the body into fight or flight mode. It is a scientific fact that our limbic systems remember bad things forever and very few people attain the Zen-like mental state needed to overcome the effects of “kindling,” including the immediate release of substantial quantitites of adrenaline. You presumably would not blame someone with diabetes for the effects of hypo- or hyperglycemia, caused by insulin imbalances, but heaven forbid a fellow traveler be allowed to react to the autonomic release of adrenaline in their bodies.

    I wear appropriate clothing to keep myself warm and comfortable during my long flights in and out of AK, and prefer natural fibers and real shoes because I know they improve my safety in an emergency. Too bad if it takes me longer to disrobe for TSA. But here’s a hint to the women out there: wear a “heavy days” pad through security to help fend off those TSA pat downs, which, in my experience, are now done with the front of the hand, not the back.

  • Hapgood

    AKFlyer, the possible “inappropriate” reaction when a victim of rape or sexual abuse gets patted down occurred to me as soon as I read about the new “enhancement.” It probably didn’t occur to whoever decided that an “intimate pat down” would become a standard security practice at airport checkpoints. If large numbers of people get routinely patted down, they’re bound to run into abuse victims who might not be able to retain the proper demeanor when the screener’s hand examines the sensitive area.

    I wonder how Blogger Bob (or perhaps even John Pistole himself) will handle the PR disaster when the first passenger “loses it” during a pat down and goes public with her (or his) story. If history is any indication, they’ll issue a press release commending the screener for their completely professional conduct in following all procedures properly and in responding to the “incident.” They’ll blame the passenger for everything that went wrong, and recommend that anyone with “issues” that make them unable to remain calm, cooperative, and respectful to the screener during a pat down should not fly. And they’ll consider the problem solved.

    The lack of provisions for passengers to retain sight and control of their valuables while being scanned is the most serious flaw in the TSA’s procedures. But the potential for a victim of sexual abuse reacting improperly to a pat down is another problem that the TSA has apparently chosen to ignore.

    (Also, wouldn’t that “heavy days pad” lead to a pat down if the officer viewing the nude-o-scan sees it?)

  • AKFlyer

    @ Hapgood, I’m a whole body scan refusnik so I don’t know if the pad shows up or not — if it does, that means a substantial percentage of women between 12 and 52 will be sent for additional screening. But I do think the TSA is violating the ADA. PTSD, including “complex PTSD,” a dx that includes symptoms resulting from rape and domestic violence, is a disability the federal government is mandated by law to accommodate. Yet, as we’ve seen repeatedly, any sign that you are agitated results in MORE scrutiny and pawing by the TSA. Being forced to submit physically to an authority figure is very triggering of complex PTSD symptoms. Some of us (including me) travel for work and can’t just stay home to avoid beinr retraumatized.

    Has anyone ever asked Blogger Bob how the TSA accommodates mental disabilities, as required by law?

  • Frank

    Hapgood May 2, 2011 at 11:31 am
    Frank, a crowded queue of shoeless terrorist-suspects patiently waiting for the TSA screener to irradiate them and/or grope their genitals would be an ideal place for a suicide bomber to martyr himself in memory of bin Laden. It would be far easier than trying to blow up an airplane. And it would probably inflict more damage than a successful airplane bombing.
    ====================================================

    Then why hasnt a terrorist gotten a bomb into Ben Gurion Airport?

  • Em Hoop

    My parents sheltered me under the stairs in our English house every time the buzz bombs arrived from Germany. The stairs were often the only place left standing when the bomb hit.
    I have been fascinated by the psychology of people who would support, encourage, willingly endure, the weight of the Hitler government on their lives.
    Is it any wonder my nerves go all thumpety-thump whenever i contemplate the overwhelming power of the TSA personnel in our airports and our inability to opt out of this invasive boot camp for whatever our home-grown government thugs plan for us next?

    How long, I wonder, before the continued emphasis on the terror factor turns us all into sheep, willing to climb aboard the trains–or in our case, probably the tandem tractor-trailer trucks–to go to an un-named destination and an unimagined fate, in the name of national security. Makes me want to throw up at the very idea of flying.

    Is there no middle ground here, with reasonable security measures without the thuggish attitude?
    Of course, I would not want to be the TSA agent who let something or someone get through that shouldn’t. Good career ender, that.

    Maybe there is no choice but to fly if we must and endure the body searches as long as the fear persists. This is going to be a hundred year war, and we might as well get used to it. About 90 years to go…..and counting….(It would take as long as it takes, were we defending our home territory against invading hordes of middle eastern armies….. they will fight us as long as it takes, too)

    I’m so glad I don’t have to fly.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    I refuse to be subjected to the potential health effects of the full body scanners.

    Negative x-ray health effects are cumulative. TSA claims the dose from their full body x-ray scanners are safe, but they can’t really know that for any individual passenger considering they don’t know any passenger’s x-ray history. Personally, I try to avoid any unnecessary x-ray. It’s safer.

    TSA claims millimeter radiation from their MMW scanners is safe, yet no one knows that for sure because there has never been a long term study of this type of radiation from repeated exposure over a long period of time. I have no intention of being a TSA guinea pig.

    So, at this point, it means that I am subjected to the “enhanced pat-down.” I have generally called it a “grope-down.” I have to fly often for business, and frankly I want to fly periodically for “pleasure.” I an unwilling to give up flying because of a bunch of security idiots in the government, who in my opinion, have no clue how to actually make us safe, so they try to make us think they are making us safe with ineffective, outrageously expensive measures which don’t actually work. I am also unwilling to give up flying as that would mean that, at least in my case, the terrorists have won, that they have caused me to completely change my life due to fear.

    For the first time, this past week I was patted down and it was not a “grope-down.” That being said, this was one of the few times since the new pat-down went into effect, I haven’t been groped. If you think I’m exaggerating, I think that you would agree that if your private part was literally grabbed, and grabbed so hard that it hurt, you would feel groped too. In fact, I think you would feel violated, as I feel I’ve been violated.

    I don’t feel that the government, under any circumstance, needs to yank or feel up passengers to make us safer. For example, if a passenger is wearing a bomb, it is hard to believe it will be solely on a man’s or woman’s genital area. If it is, it will likely be an “impotent” bomb, unable to blow up much more than the passenger. If it is larger, so that it would be potentially effective, then it will extend past the genital area and so it will be unnecessary to touch the genital area of a man or women to find the bomb.

    The “panty-bomber” is an example of that. A standard pat-down would have easily detected that bomb (By the way, it’s highly unlikely that either type of full body scanner, backscatter x-ray or MMW, could have detected the “panty-bomber’s” bomb.).

    So, I will continue to fly. I will continue to refuse to submit myself as a TSA guinea pig by refusing to enter a full body scanner. I will continue to speak out against TSA’s violation of my Constitutionally protected rights. I will continue to speak out against TSA’s incompetence and TSA’s ineffective security measures. I will continue to speak out against TSA’s security theater and call on them to put in effective security measures that will actually make us safer.

    Karen, thanks for a great two part series with excellent suggestions to get through TSA security.

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