The humiliation of airport security

I fly often and am pretty immune to security demands, but yesterday was the worst.  My husband and I were going through security at Reagan National in Washington, D.C.  I had loaded the bins with my coat, my scarf, my boots, and my liquids.  When I approached the scanner, the security guard (male) indicated that I should remove my sweater as well.

The sweater – oversized in that it fell to my thighs, but not thick – was my clothing.  Beneath it, I wore thin leggings and an even thinner layering tee shirt.  I would never, ever leave my house in the leggings and tee shirt alone.

But when the guard asked, I took off the sweater.  Embarrassed, I held my arms up in that scanner, then walked out, then waited, assuming that was the end of it.  It wasn’t.  The guard on that end pointed to the (very public) image of me with a square at the side of the breast.  She didn’t verbally ask what it was.  Nor did she use her eyes and look, though you could see everything that was NOT there through my white, skin-tight layering tee.  Nope.  She patted my breast.

What that scanner picked up was the implant that has been in my body since reconstruction after breast cancer sixteen years ago.  I told her that (with some disdain).  She was satisfied and let me go.  But I’m still steaming.  And asking questions.

Like, where’s the common sense in these security screenings?

Like, why was my husband allowed through the scanner with his heavier crew neck sweater, which he wore over a dense, oxford cloth,  button-down shirt?

Like, why was that screen with the results of the scan right there where everyone else could see?

Like, are women discriminated against by male security guards?

Like, do I look like a terrorist?

I’m all for safe flying.  But this was overkill.  What are your thoughts here?  Have you been embarrassed going through security?  Know someone who has?  Are women more susceptible to quasi-strips than men?

Well, okay.  My knitting needles did get through without question.  I’m working on a pair of fingerless mitts in a cheery yellow, doing two at a time on one 40″ circular using magic loop.  So at least I had something to soothe me as I sat on that plane and seethed.

By |2012-02-13T13:39:00+00:002012|Blog|24 Comments

About the Author:

Barbara Delinsky
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24 Comments

  1. EV BEDARD February 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    I agree with you & want to know what can be done about such things–I have run into a problem with some of my injection meds–they are wearing gloves (that have handled other items & other people) & I resent the guards handling my meds–but when I tried to place them in small see-thru bags, they wanted to take them out & handle them up close anyway. I even had a doctor’s prescription slip for the meds I was using–hate thoughts of air travel because of it.

    • Barbara Delinsky February 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm - Reply

      Which raises the issue, Ev, about what would happen if you requested that they use clean rubber gloves. Once, when they manually searched my bag, I did remark that those gloves had been searching other bags. The agent just ignored the remark.

  2. Tara February 13, 2012 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    I flew last Saturday and as i do every time i fly, i put everything in my carry-on bag except my drivers license and credit card which i slipped into my back pocket. i went through the scanner and was pulled aside and she did ask if there was something in my pocket and i replied it was my cards and pulled them out. she still had to pat down my butt (with the back of her hands) and then let me go on my way. i do think some of the security personnel let the power go to their heads. i actually had what i considered a worse encounter right after 9/11 when i traveled at the very last minute to see a family member who was in a bad accident and was in a coma, so time was of the essence. i threw the things i would need into a duffle bag and left, they chose me for a gate check and threw my duffle up on a table by the gate and started pulling things out of it, they laid my bras and underwear right out there for all to see, i was mortified.

  3. Dede February 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    Geesh, that was awful! There is no reason for them to have that type of power! So sorry you had to go through that!

  4. Nadine Huard February 13, 2012 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    So sorry, Barbara. That is so not right. Yes so why you. That is a good question.

    • Barbara Delinsky February 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm - Reply

      It happens to many people, I guess, Nadine. My question is whether women are targeted more often. Or maybe it’s just that what we’re targeted for is more personal. Tara having her underwear laid out in clear view? That’s unnecessary!

      So I ask, how many of the 9-11 bombers were women? Was the shoe bomber a woman? How about the underwear bomber?

  5. Sigrun Sigurdardottir February 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    My friend had to change plains in the US flying from Iceland to Hawaii. She broke her arm few days before the flight. She had a note with her telling about the accident. The US custom still wanted her to take the cast off!!!! She was arguing when some older custom officer came and took matters in his own hands, read the note and let her through!!

  6. Cherie February 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    It’s great that your knitting needles made it through but that begs to question… why did they allow knitting needles to go through but they had to “pat your breast”? I’ve gone through larger airports and not been questioned about lip gloss in my purse but had a security guard (female) at Roanoke VA take my mascara and throw it in the trash. (1.0 oz mind you)

    Was in Orlando airport a few months ago and listened to a security guard as he walked through the line of waiting passengers holding a plastic bin over his head..YELL over and over again DO NOT PUT YOUR PURSES AND CARRY ON BAGS IN A BIN… THE BINS ARE FOR LAPTOPS and SMALL ITEMS ONLY!!!! (he was literally screaming this)

    Unfortunately Airport Security are not highly trained professionals, they are not paid well for their services and that creates a total lack of knowledge and professionalism.

  7. Christine Anderson February 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    I haven’t flown since 07 and it was a real pain. What happened to you was totally unacceptable and uncalled for. I’m sorry for the humiliation you experienced!

  8. Judy Beatty February 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    I had to go through the body scanner machine when in San Francisco, when I had arrived at the International terminal (on a flight from Monterrey, California to San Francisco. Not international travel according to my map.) and went in the same building to the regular travel gates. What could I possibly have gotten into INSIDE the airport?? But, I figured I had nothing to hide, so I didn’t complain. At least I could keep my clothes on! I have seen them do almost a cavity search of an old man (easily in his 80’s), checking inside his waistband, down the legs of his pants, and thoroughly checking every inch of his body, and also a woman in a wheel chair. I realize that they have to check for dangerous things, but really! Some common sense might be a training session they all need!

  9. Maria Piccirillo February 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    They again are way out of line. I am sorry that you had to be put through that humiliation. I feel like most that safe flying is very important, but this was overkill and should and could have been handle in a different way. My question is who do they have doing these seaches and what is their training? This is not a first for the TSA, and sad to say not the last. My husband and I have not flown in a few years and to do intend to anytime soon. We are just tired of it all, and I am not sure how I would react to this type of humiliation, nor do I feel we should.

    They had us take shoes off, belts etc.and they took the cork screw out of a really nice manicure set I gave him for Christmas, but not the nail file or scissors. Now the set has that piece missing and all for what? I think some of them enjoy the effect they have on people. I would hope that these screeners are given background checks, but you have to wonder.

    I feel these types of behaivors should be reported, but I understand often we do not want our privacy invaded more. They resently said that they were going to relax some of these security demands, but I guess not everyone got the memo. Sorry again Barbara, again that is just wrong!

  10. tonya February 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I haven’t been humiliated YET….however I am set to fly mid-March and don’t like the pat down thing. My sweetheart has flown often, and every single time he flies, whether solo or with me he gets flagged!!!! They literally take him into another room, swab his belongings and he goes through the pat down…its a lengthy process that has made us miss our flight! He is an american citizen, born and raised, has a very clean record….yet his name Jose sets the alarms off for some reason. You would think there could be some way they could flag him and say…he’s ok…no need to prod and probe any more!!!

  11. Deborah Basel February 13, 2012 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    I travel all the time and also am fairly immune to TSA rudeness and indignities, but I had one male agent at BWI who was definitely inappropriate. He stood way too close to me while telling me that my choices were to either go through the scanner or to be patted down by him. Meanwhile he leered at me the whole time. I got through the scanner – couldn’t wait to get away from him and was running late to the plane or would have definitely found someone to complain to. I hated the idea of him looking at my scanner photo (doesn’t usually even phase me in the slightest), but this guy was slimey. I felt violated by the whole experience.

  12. Susan February 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    I am sorry that you had a bad experience, but never be embarrassed for being a breast cancer survivor! Don’t let yesterday ruin today or your days to come. As a fellow knitter, I am glad that you had your knitting to distract you.

  13. Sue Miller February 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    I saw an old news clip from 2010 where the TSA forced a disabled 4 yr old to remove his leg braces and insisted he walk through security scanner on his own. I’ve never flown and I don’t think I want to after hearing about things like this.

  14. Eileen Burkhardt February 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    My father, back in the day, of course, had a card that exempted him from screening at the airport due to his pacemaker. Can you get one from your surgeon?

  15. Pam Lord February 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    Barbara, I am so sorry that you had to undergo such humiliation. Your experience completely validates my refusal to fly. I like to think that I am hardened to these types of situations, but I don’t think anyone with a shred of dignity can be immune to that kind of embarassment.

    Aside from the humiliation, I refuse to be scanned. I work in a hospital and I have discussed this with our CT techs. They confirm my greatest fear-that there is no real control over the amount of radiation being emitted from the scanners. And I’ve already had enough radiation to last me a lifetime. So, my choice of being groped or radiated leaves me with only one other choice-don’t fly. I know that air travel is a necessity for many, but for now, I am fine with driving.

  16. Sharon February 13, 2012 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    I received a “medical alert” card from my surgeon for the hip replacement; perhaps you can get one from your doctor? I haven’t flown yet since surgery, but when I do – I’m supposed to be exempt from the body scanner (which I’d rather have) than a “pat-down”, which is what I’m supposed to receive. I’m not sure what effect the scanner will have on me with a new hip?

    On a recent flight, my husband wasn’t required to take off his steel-toed shoes. I feel there are a lot of inconsistencies with airport security and the passenger expectations vary from airport to airport.

    I’m sorry you had such a hard time … knitting helps me too! I think these TSA agents need to take some training in “people skills and respect”. Good Luck on your return flight!

  17. Pam February 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    I haven’t flown since they started using the scanners. I’m flying to Florida in October for a wedding and am concerned about getting through security because I have a prosthetic eye. Afraid of what I’m am going to have to deal with because of it.

  18. J Buttgen February 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    I feel so bad that you had to endure that.
    My 85-year old BLIND, father-in-law has had to go through similar things when he flies from AZ to see us here in Indiana. He is usually in a wheelchair and he wears a cap that identifies him as a blind veteran . . . but a couple times, in Indy and in South Bend, he had had to practically undress . . . he always has to remove his shoes and he is searched and patted down like nobody’s business. My husband gets more angry about it that his dad . . . who says “They (the airline security guards) won’t keep me from visiting my grandkids.”

    As to your questions about women picked on more frequently – I’m not sure . . . but when I traveled to Florida for Spring Break a couple years ago – my friend was wearing jean capris that had little metal buttons near the knee . . . they were very obvious and she kept triggering the alarm, they kept making her walk through and even when the wand beeped at her knee – they still puller her out and made us wait until a supervisor used the wand to make sure the alarm was from the buttons and nothing else.

    My husband thinks overweight people get picked on more frequently . . . so I guess everyone has an opinion.

    Better luck on your trip home.
    🙂

  19. Lorraine Thacker February 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    I applied a couple of years ago and went through several stages of the process, trust me…they screen TSA every which way but loose. If you think the screening TSA gives you at the airport is strenuous, you wouldn’t want to go through that one. Ultimately, after being put on a medical hold for a couple of minor health issues (I just turned 60 yesterday), I decided I really didn’t think the position interested me after all. It’s difficult for me to say we need this security with a straight face, when I personally feel we have given up far too many of our freedoms for a false sense of security. I realize that 9/11 shook us to our core, and we will always remember it, like many of our prior generations remember things like Pearl Harbor. However, we founded our nation on the desire for freedom…when did we lose our sense of proportion? I first flew commercially in 1971 from Seattle, WA to Heathrow, London and on to Madrid, Spain as a 19 year old. There was no security in those days, it was in the beginning of hi-jackings and in fact, my return flight from Madrid to JFK on Iberian Air was hijacked the next day to Cuba. A little excitement, fortunately no one was harmed, just slightly delayed. I sometimes wish we could return to that manner of flying.
    As another note, I’m amazed they let you keep the knitting needles, I’ve had mine taken : ) but as everyone has commented, sometimes it takes someone with some common sense!

  20. nancy February 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    I am so upset for you and all the other women who go through this.This is why I won’t fly since 2002.They made my 9 year old daughter take her shoes off and had to go through a pat down while my husband and son got through without a problem.She was confused and mixed up and i was helping her and they got annoyed with me.
    From what i hear things are worse so i stay away.I cruise.

  21. nancy February 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Oh one more thing-there was a guy in a turban who got through without a glance…and i had tweezers in my bag -and they did go through it without seeing them.

  22. Tina February 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    My cousin had the scare of her life at an airport…she was traveling with her twins when they were just toddlers and had just followed them through the scanner when she was pulled out of line for a random pat-down. The kids were running ahead as little ones will do, and the agent would NOT let her grab the kids before continuing with the pat-down. They were almost out of her sight, but thankfully a good Samaritan (a mom, of course) got the kids and brought them back to her. Thank God it was someone good that grabbed them and not some pervert!

    I can remember when flying was fun and glamorous–I actually looked forward to it. No more–I haven’t flown in ages and actually did a train vacation a couple of years ago and loved it.

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