You know those “request a private screening” signs you see at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) area in the airport? But you never take it because you’re in a hurry and you’re thinking about your flight, right?
This is why I’m here.
Requesting a private screening, at least at Boston Logan Airport, results in a myriad of responses. First, you will be informed that the radiation exposure from the full body scanner is minimal. Next, you will still need to remove your shoes and put them through the X-ray scanner, along with your laptop and baggage (rats, I thought I might skip this step).
You will be asked to step aside and wait while two agents – in this case, both female – gather your belongings for you. You are not allowed to touch your belongings or carry them. The agents will do a little Keystone Cops act while they try to decide where they’re going, and who’s going to lead the way. At one point I actually said, “I’m following you guys.”
You’ll head to a small cubicle, surrounded by 10′ high walls of frosted plastic. One of the women will then share with you, in mind-numbing detail, the following information:
1. I am about to touch you.
2. Here is a stunningly extensive list of all the places where I am about to touch you.
3. Here is a list of all the “sensitive” areas I will touch, which I will do with only the backs of my hands.
4. At the end of every statement, I will say “okay,” but without raising my voice a little at the end, thereby leaving you puzzled as to whether I am expecting a response or not, okay.
“Do you have any questions?”
I did. “Is this a frisk?”
Panicked, the agent looked over my shoulder at her much older and slightly grizzled co-worker.
“It’s a pat-down,” the older agent said.
“Is that another word for frisk?”
Her gaze went to some far away place where seemingly-pleasant-but-still-here-asking-unpleasant-questions folks did not bother her. “It’s a government-sanctioned pat-down, not a frisk.”
Oh, well, in that case. “I think the question still stands, but okay,” I shrugged.
The ungrizzled agent then proceeded to grasp my person, and every item of clothing on my person, in what I can only describe as an excessively firm grip. Imagine someone who loves you deeply, and has not seen you in some years, grabbing you in an enthusiastic bear hug – but thoroughly and systematically, and using only their hands.
When the procedure was finished, the agents stayed with me while I put my shoes back on and gathered my things. I asked the hands-only-bear-hug agent her name. “Lydia,” she said.
“I’m Jen,” I said. “I felt like we should be on a first-name basis, since you got further than most first dates.”
“Story of my life,” she said.
For morbidly curious readers, the whole procedure took 12-15 minutes, but the grope/frisk/government-sanctioned-pat-down took just 2-3 minutes. Most of the experience was people standing around and looking at each other, as if to remind one another what they had learned in that seminar a few years back. The procedure also seemed to have a bias: the breasts were outlined with the edge of the agent’s hand, but hardly groped at all, whereas I felt like she really owed me dinner for determining the sanctity of my nether regions.
All in all, not a pleasant experience, but not nearly as bad as you might imagine.
And now you know.