Today I had one of the absolute worst airport security experiences ever. I tend to fly quite frequently and generally expect that I’m going to have a bad experience at security, but today at the San Francisco International Airport, it was especially bad.
When I travel, I regularly ask to “opt out” of the fancy, new “see through clothes” machines. It’s not that I’m concerned that someone will see me naked. It’s that there are more than a whole lot of issues surrounding the various devices that the TSA uses to go beyond a traditional metal detector. Here’s where I get a tiny bit preachy about these devices:
Scientists and Doctors alike have expressed their concerns over backscatter and other x-ray machines. They expose people to a non-trivial amount of radiation and there are even concerns that it could cause skin cancer.
I personally choose not to go through the machines because there is no independent organization that tests and certifies that the devices are indeed safe. TSA says that “prior studies might suffice” instead of testing. There’s also an alarming lack of information for passengers about the possible dangers of the machine. Something they don’t likely think about while they’re just wanting to get to their plane.
But those issues aren’t what I’m writing about. Today as I place my belongings (including some expensive electronics like my MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad), I let the TSA agent know immediately that I’d be opting out. I proceed to stand there for about ten minutes as a flock of passengers pass me by and go through the cancer machine. At this point, I’m beginning to get a little concerned about the security of my belongings on the other side of security. It’s pretty clear that no one really cares to lead me through like a typical opt-out, where one is allowed to watch over their belongings as they wait for an agent.
One agent began to escort me through the machine, where I assumed falsely that I could just walk straight through. When she realized I was an “opt out”, she escorted me back through. It was then that I let her know of my concern for my materials and I’d appreciate the opportunity to watch over them. Her exact words back to me: “No, no you can’t watch your stuff. You need to go back over there.” Shock and amazement.
Finally an agent states that they had found someone to do the pat-down procedure for me. I then watch as two TSA agents say they were going to play Roshambo (rock, paper, scissors) and whomever lost would have to do my pat-down. Again, shock and amazement.
I’m glad I made it through without further problems because I’m fairly certain I would have turned into a rage machine.
One more story while I’m at it as there was at least one other occurrence recently that bugged me: At security in Denver, after letting the TSA agent know I’d be opting out, he asked me why. I cited many of the above reasons and watched as he shook his head. He let me know that “backscatter machines aren’t the same as x-rays” and that “there’s barely no radiation caused by them.” Maybe you catch the irony in that statement too. It’s clear to me that even the agents have no idea about what goes on with these magic boxes.
As a frequent flyer, this system really, really bugs me. There must be a much better way to make this work. At least I hope so, for the sake of my sanity.