Discussion in 'Aviation Passenger Security in the USA' started by Ann Xious, Feb 22, 2013.

  1. Ann Xious

    Ann Xious Guest

    Hi, stumbled across travelunderground yesterday and keep coming back to read it instead of doing my homework....

    In October, 2012, my mother's sister died suddenly, so, even though I have some pretty bad anxiety a lot of the time, I decided to meet my mother in Florida so she would have some emotional support through the funeral and etc. There was some big political action the night before I left - a bunch of people went around town breaking bank windows. Somehow, that led to heightened security, and the line to get through screening was by far the longest I'd ever seen in Portland, and it moved just slightly faster than a glacier. By the time I got to the x-ray area, I had 30 minutes before my plane took off.

    I knew I wasn't going through the machines - not only do I loathe the idea of them and find them intrusive and downright unAmerican, I had a tumor a few years ago which was life- threatening, and one of the main causes of it is radiation. Nobody else in my family has ever had this type of tumor, and I feel, perhaps ridiculously, uncomfortable with adding to my radiation intake. When I got to the TSA agent who was directing people into feeder lines for the different machines, I told him that I could not go through the machine because I am a cancer survivor and it scares me. He said it was not harmful at all and I had nothing to worry about. I said, "I'm sure it's irrational but I can't go through that machine. I opt out." He tried again to convince me, and then told me to tell the next agent.

    I took off my shoes and them in a tray, and put my bag with my wallet in it in a tray, and my laptop in a tray, and I put my coat in a tray. I approached the agent who was funneling people into the x-ray machine and told her I was opting out.

    The next agent also tried to talk me out of opting out, but I refused. She then had me stand right next to the machine, which I did not like doing, because I could hear a slight buzzing from it, and it made my head feel tight. Even though I knew I was probably imagining these observations, I started to panic about being so close to the machine. The scar in my neck from where the tumor had been started throbbing, and I tried hard to calm myself down. I waited for someone to come do my pat down, but it was taking too long and I was worrying about missing my plane. I looked around to see who I could ask about the pat down, but everyone seemed busy and I didn't know if I could walk away from the spot they told me to wait in. Finally, I just shouted over to the last agent I had talked to, asking when they were going to help me. She told me they were very busy and I had to wait.

    I mentioned that I was running out of time and she said this is what happens when you opt out, that they don't have enough staff to cover it. Meanwhile, I was trying to keep an eye on my laptop and my purse, which were sitting on the other side of the barrier, alone at the end of the conveyor belt, while other passengers came and picked up their belongings and left, one after another.

    Finally an agent showed up, saying loudly, "You gotta pat down for me?" Only, he was a man, and I am a woman. The agent shouted over to him that they need a female, and he said, "Oh well, I offered!" About five minutes later a female agent showed up and they ushered me through the barrier to a spot right in the middle of the path people took from the x-ray machine to the conveyor belt to pick up their belongings. This meant that every person going through the machine where I was looked at me as I stood there being touched.

    I'm in my 40s and probably 50 pounds overweight. I already feel self-conscious and ugly, and I felt even more self-conscious standing there in my socks, while a woman in rubber gloves told me where exactly she was going to touch me. To my surprise, I felt myself start to cry. I've been patted down before - I am large-breasted and my underwire bra has set off the metal detector in the past, but this was different - it was something about the agent coldly telling me where I was going to be touched while all these people walked by, one by one, staring at me. I've been sexually assaulted before, but never thought I had PTSD from it, but these events were stressing me out, I guess, because I started flashing back on those assaults...

    I was wearing a skirt with leggings, foolishly I realized, because when she did the up-to-the-crotch touching, my skirt hiked up, exposing me all the way up, right along with her hand. She also told me I had to lift my shirt up so she could feel along my waistband, so now I was standing there, holding my shirt up, letting everyone who passed by look at my fat stomach. It was really an unpleasant experience, made worse because they made me face away from the conveyor belt, so I couldn't see my laptop and bag anymore. It felt like it took a long time, partly because I felt so uncomfortable and partly because she repeated her "I will be touching you here here and here" speech twice - once in full, and then again before touching each area. I told her to just hurry it up because I couldn't see what was going on with my belongings and was going to miss my plane.

    After she was done, tears running down my cheek, I grabbed my things. People were trying to get around me, and there was no bench or seat to sit on to put my shoes on, or my belt, or get myself together. I knew my face was red and anyone could tell I was crying. I ran to my gate and was the 2nd to last passenger to board.

    On the way back from Portland, it was slightly better but just because it was less busy. Again, they tried to talk me out of it, again I had to stand RIGHT next to the x-ray machine, and again I felt like I heard a faint buzz from it and it made my head feel tight. Again, I had to wait quite a while for the pat down specialist. This time, I was with my elderly mother, though, and she was cutting it close, and I was worried she'd miss her plane. She needed me to help her get her carry-on to her gate, and she also didn't want to leave without giving me a hug, so she refused to go to her gate without me. She stood by my laptop and other stuff, so at least that wasn't a worry.

    I asked twice for them to get the pat down agent, telling them my mother was going to miss her plane. They didn't seem concerned. Finally, someone came over, walking slowly, and stopping along the way to chat with another agent. By the time she got to me, I was fuming. Again I had to stand in a spot right in front of people exiting the x-ray machine. I was very unpleasant to the agent, but to my surprise, she was really kind to me anyway. I calmed down right away in reaction to her kindness, and ended up apologizing to her and getting her name so I could send a positive comment about her to her bosses. Her touch wasn't as intrusive, and she didn't make me lift up my shirt.

    Afterwards, my mother expressed shock at the way I had to stand in such an exposed area. She said that at the little local airport where she lives, they have a little screen set up so you have a modicum of privacy.

    Luckily, my mom's plane was late, so she didn't miss it, because the opting out took over 20 minutes this time - less time than in Portland, but it definitely could've been done more quickly. I got the feeling both times that there was no urgency - when they ask for a female officer to do a pat down, I don't think anybody feels they have to hurry. Considering it's an airport - full of people catching planes - that's pretty messed up.

    In the end, it was not a terrible experience, I wasn't hurt or abused, so I really can't complain. But, as someone with anxiety, I don't ever want to fly again, which I feel silly about. It has definitely made an uncomfortable experience (flying) completely distasteful to me.
  2. CelticWhisper

    CelticWhisper Founding Member

    Thanks for sharing your story, Ann.

    I would say, however, that you were abused and have EVERY right to complain. Your dignity and privacy were violated for no good reason, and that is simply unacceptable. Please consider writing to your elected officials at all levels, as well as the airlines to let them know you won't be doing business with them anymore, and add fuel to the fire that is working to destroy TSA and restore dignity to our airports.

    I can also heartily recommend Amtrak as a means of travel - read my "CelticWhisper Rides the Rails" thread here on TUG and see how amazing they were when I traveled with them last spring. It's everything a trip should be and then some.

    Finally, on behalf of us all, welcome to TUG!
  3. FaustsAccountant

    FaustsAccountant Original Member

    Ann, I am sorry you have to go through that, and I hope you never have to face that again.

    Unfortunately and despite all the puffy talk from the TSA, when we opt out, they do exactly what they did to you to punish us for opting out. For not submitting. It's messed up, in every reality except their own, it's messed up.

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