I had an opportunity to experience the new "enhanced pat down" procedures today as I flew out of SeaTac and it leaves a lot to be desired, but not a lot untouched.
I'll use this chance to mention that while my write-up of the procedure isn't all that racy, it might not be all that funny to some. I occasionally have the sense of humor of a 12 year old and this post will indulge that a little bit. I'm also trying to keep a certain amount of decorum. Ask yourself this question: Do you occasionally find Weird Al to be amusing? The answer to that is also the answer to "Should I keep reading?"
While they do have the new meat-scanners installed at SeaTac, they aren't fully functional. Not sure how great I feel about some stranger in a room having a look at all my flattering curves... but I'm starting to guess at why the new pat down is the way it is, as an "option". But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Most here who know me are aware that I have a few pounds of metal implanted in my body - about 6 pounds. Best hips money can buy. Anyway, I hop on an airliner a couple times a month on average to go work with clients or at a CPPP (or to ferry a plane to Hawaii, a trip I take this coming Monday). I have grown accustomed to informing the TSA guard at the other side of the metal detector that I'm special as I set off the alarm. It really wasn't much of a hassle before and I never complained. You wait around a minute or two, they wand you and do a cursory pat-down, then you go on your way. Usually takes less than 5 minutes and has no real impact on my travel time.
The new pat down is quite different, as I discovered. There's no mag-wand involved anymore... they just want to feel you. All of you. Painfully so.
Here's how that goes with the rules that went into effect on October 28:
First, they reach inside the collar of your shirt and feel around. No problem.
I was now asked if I'd like a private screening. I declined as I am not that modest. Modesty is for the inefficient! I may have to opt for inefficiency next time. Keep reading, you'll see why.
Now they reach up to 2 inches inside the waistband of your pants and feel the whole route around. Doesn't matter how tight-fitting your trousers are, they have to reach in there and go the circumference. I caught sight of myself in the mirror as this happened and noted that I looked a little surprised. I started wondering how much I would need to tip after this was over...
He moved his hands in tight under my arms, felt every bit of my torso and back... and then:
"Now," says Fingers the TSA agent (names changed to protect the innocent), "I'm going to have to feel down the back of your legs. I will need to touch the private area behind you but will use the back of my hands to do so. Would you like a private screening?"
He was very professional. I declined the private screening again but started subtracting points from that tip tally...
He did exactly what he said he would. I started to feel a little... odd. I'm not easily embarrassed but was beginning to feel faintly like I did in middle school when you have to use public showers after P.E. for the first time: Everybody knows what's happening and what's about to happen, but nobody is happy with it. But you go ahead anyway.
"Now," says the TSA rep (I'm trying to think of a new set of words for that acronym), "I'm going to feel up the back side of your inner thigh. I will proceed upward until I encounter resistance. This will result in contact with what's called a private area. Do you understand?" Neither one of us made eye contact. I said I understood while fully indulging my ability to deny reality. Surely this wasn't about to turn into...
Zing. He wasn't kidding and he wasn't very gentle. We were both committed to getting through this as quickly as possible, I guess. When he did the other side, I actually winced. He could use a little better bedside manner. I should have worn a cup.
TSA guy: "Now I need to do the same thing to the front side of your legs that I did to the back side of them. Would you like a private screening?"
Me: "They... make you to ask 3 times, with that precise wording, and at these exact points, don't they? It seems a little specific..."
TSA guy: "Yes. It's in the regulations sir." He wasn't enjoying his job today. I'm rather glad for that. I wasn't enjoying his job either but don't blame him. I would recommend that he start rethinking his pay structure, though.
Me: "Well, we've made it this far. Let's get through it. I decline the private screening."
Ouch x2. Not kidding about that cup.
That's it for the rub-down (it isn't a pat down, let's not kid). But! We're not done yet. They now have to get somebody else to come swab the gloves and check them for traces of explosive material. I didn't pay much attention to that part as I was too busy being in shock. Yep, that all just happened.
I was in a vague amount of pain, standing next to the line of people who were hurrying through to grab their recently irradiated bags. They were very specifically trying not to look at me. The people on the outside of security saw my show too... and they were all very busily searching their own persons for traces of metal. I had the impression that their search was a bit more fervent than what I'm accustomed to seeing. This impression may or may not have been influenced by recent events.
So! That's what you can expect if you have metal implants or otherwise can't make it through security. I have vague conspiracy-theory type suspicions that the "enhanced pat down" is what it is because they specifically DON'T want you to decline the new MRI machine. Decline and you'll get... well, you know. Fingers actually made it a point to tell me that next time I'd be well advised to use that machine... provided they're up and running (most of them in SeaTac are not).
I still think it would be a great idea for Cirrus et al to put advertisements up in the airline terminals. They could show this new TSA procedure being enacted on a helpless guy, people sitting in the uncomfortable seats, or people at a baggage claim. Put a caption underneath that says "You could be there by now, avoid TSA, take as much water along as you want, have no fear for lost bags, etc etc etc" or put up some facts like "There are 3,600 airports in the 48 contiguous United States."
As I sit in LAX waiting for my 2 1/2 hour layover to pass, I thought it would be fun to write up the experience while it's still fresh in my mind.
No, I didn't get his number. I also declined making the obligatory joke about buying me dinner. I'm sure he gets that a lot.