Friday, November 26, 2010

Invasive new TSA screenings for children and pregnant women: My experience

This post is part of my special HAVE KIDS, WILL TRAVEL series to give you advice and wisdom on traveling with kids along with some fun giveaways of travel-friendly items. For instance, see Michelle's guest post for general tips on flying with a baby or children. The topic this time is not very light-hearted but will hopefully give you some information about the new screening techniques at use in U.S. airports as well as some other countries.

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent processes passengers through the full body scanner at Denver International Airport less than a week away from the Thanksgiving holiday on November 19, 2010 in Denver.   UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom
Security images in this post from BlogHer's PicApp Image Search,
not actually of anyone in this story!

As promised, here's my story about going through the new Transportation Security Admnistration (TSA) enhanced screening at airports in the United States. This isn't a how-to or any sort of advice, really — just a recounting of my own choices and the single experience I have had so far with the dilemma of full body scan vs. enhanced pat-down.

We flew from Seattle to Detroit this month, and our trip through Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) security was uneventful. The day before returning through the Detroit Metropolitan airport (DTW), however, I looked online and noticed, Yes, they are one of the airports to have installed the new full-body scanning machines (aka, the Advanced Imaging Technology unit, or AIT). On the list, it says Sea-Tac is, too, but I didn't see one in the lines we were in on our outbound leg.

It wasn't guaranteed we'd go through the full-body scanner, even if it was available in the line we were in (more on that later), but if you are required to use it, you have the choice to refuse and request instead an enhanced pat-down (more on that later as well).

Here's a brief rundown of the concerns people have about the full-body scanners and how I interpreted those concerns for myself and my family:

Safety concerns of full-body scanners

I was 13 weeks pregnant going through security, and I had a three-year-old with me as well. I'm not actually that squeamish about new technology and safety … except when I'm pregnant. I tend to believe the reports that these scanners emit no more (and reportedly much less) radiation than actually flying in the airplane will net you.

However! When I am pregnant (and with my small child), I err on the side of caution. I err more on the side of caution than most pregnant people I know. And here is where I would like to emphasize that this is not advice I'm giving, or judgment of other people's choices. Personally, when I'm pregnant, I like to minimize my fetus's amount of extra and potentially dangerous exposures. I hold my breath when I have to walk past a smoker. I stop coloring my hair. I've never yet had an ultrasound. When I get a headache or backache, I seek out natural remedies (or just plain suffering) rather than pop an ibuprofen. I refused to have my eyes dilated at the ophthalmologist. It's not that I believe every single exposure would be harmful to my baby — it's just that I'd rather not take the risk.

This technology, in this particular form, has simply not been around long enough to reassure me of its safety. For instance, metal detectors? If they had just come on the market, I'd be leery of them, too. As it is, they've been around long enough that plenty of babies have been born whose parents have passed through them, and there's long-term lack of evidence that said babies have been harmed by them. There is no such data on these full body scanners.

Remember, for years they told pregnant women that having X-rays was perfectly safe … until they realized it wasn't.

So, for now, I'd rather avoid them, for myself when pregnant, and for my young child.

Privacy concerns of full-body scanners

The full-body scanners take what is essentially a naked picture of the person inside. This has led to many concerns over privacy, and what might become of such images.

I'm not an alarmist when it comes to this issue. I guess I approach it similarly to the way I sometimes dress with our curtains open. If someone with binoculars is that interested, I guess they can look. I simply can't believe my naked body is that compelling.

In the same way, I figure the TSA agents who work these scanners see so many naked images going past them each day that it's ho-hum, much as a gynecologist probably doesn't gab about everyone's private parts over coffee each day.

But, mostly, I've been reassured by steps the agency has taken to ensure the images are used properly: further blurring of the image, including the face; keeping the operator in a closed room away from the scanner so there's no identification between the person being scanned and the image; having only one agent at a time do the operating; and immediately discarding the images.

That said, I can see where other people would be dismayed at the fact that naked pictures are being taken of them at all. I especially see the concern where kids are involved. In fact, the UK has had grave concerns over the use of full body scanners for children under 18, because of possible violations of child pornography laws. So, again, I would not wish for a child of mine to go through the scanner, just in case someone's not following protocol and an image escaped or was hacked into. The idea of my child's naked picture surfacing online makes me feel much, much sicker than the idea of one of me.

I flunk the metal detector

Here's my story. In Seattle, where I was presented only with the standard metal detector, my earrings set it off. This had never happened to me before. I already had removed my shoes; I was in maternity pants so wasn't wearing a belt (as if). I had emptied my pockets. I had even remembered that my favorite hair clip was wont to set off the beeping, so I had pulled my hair back in a metal-less elastic that morning. But all that preparation was for nought. I had to step back through, remove my earrings and rings and place them into a little pan a TSA employee held out for me, and walk back through. This time, no alarms. So it had been my earrings, I imagine, or the combination of gold rings and my earrings of sterling silver or nickel (not really sure — they were cheap!). I was surprised for sure, but lesson learned.

In Detroit, I purposely wore no extra jewelry. I still had on my wedding band and engagement ring, and my three extra piercings (nose, two higher ear piercings, all three of which are stainless steel but relatively small and had never posed a problem before).

I still set off the metal detector. The guard motioned me back through, but unlike in Seattle, there was no employee on the other side to offer any advice or one of those little pans. I tried taking off my rings, but there was nowhere to put them. The guard impatiently motioned me back through, and — gasp! — I set off the detector again. I was kind of annoyed at that point, because of course I was going to! I hadn't done anything differently this time. Seriously, if I could replay this moment in time, I'd dramatically reach under my shirt and remove my bra (for the underwire) and then motion that I was going to take off my pants (for the rivets). But, alas, I just obediently stepped back through and was therefore directed to the full-body scanner. When I refused, I was put in line for the enhanced pat-down instead.

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 22: A TSA agent waits for passengers to pass through a magnetometer at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on November 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Some passengers are subjected to Advanced Imaging Technology AIT scanners that see through clothing to photograph the entire body to reveal undisclosed objects. Increasing use of the scanner at airports by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is being met with outrage by many US travelers. Passengers who refuse an X-ray scan are required to undergo an intimate pat down by TSA agents. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Not the same guard who surveyed my metal detector scanning,
but the same remote attitude

Here is a full inventory of the metal present on my body that day so you can help me figure out where I went wrong:

  • Two small rivets for the pockets of my maternity jeans. (No button or zipper because of the stretchy waistband.)
  • Underwire bra
  • Gold wedding band and engagement ring
  • Tiny nose stud, two extra ear piercings, all stainless steel

None of these things had ever set off a metal detector before, so I was stumped. I had nothing metal in my pockets or my hair, no extra jewelry, no belt, no shoes. I think the threshold must have been set ridiculously low in Detroit.

So that was annoying.

My reluctant choice: The enhanced patdown

So this is the choice we're faced with when we either fail the metal detector or are randomly selected for increased screening: the full-body scan or an enhanced pat-down. In other words, naked pictures vs. groping by a stranger.

After failing the metal detector for the second time, I was directed to the full-body scanner. I said I wished to opt out and have the pat-down instead, because I was pregnant. The agent didn't argue with me but asked me to wait inside the machine for the next available pat-down agent.

Let me tell you, my conspiracy sensors went off right there, so I waited on the far side of it, somewhat annoying the agent, a young-ish man. There was a man having a pat-down right in front of me, so I tried not to intrude into their space, but I didn't want to risk "accidentally" being scanned. I didn't think it was a huge probability or anything, but better safe than sorry.

My husband and three-year-old had passed through the metal detector unpinged, even though Sam also has a piercing and a wedding band. I guess he must not have had enough cumulative metal.

Mikko saw me standing in the machine, waiting my turn, and tried to come over to be with me. This further annoyed the young male agent, who called my preschooler "sir" and tried to order him to step aside. Yeah, that's really effective with three-year-olds. But between Sam and me, we managed to get Mikko corralled back at his dad's side, while Sam tried to scoop up all our belongings by himself: shoes for three people, coats for three people, two backpacks, two laptops, camera, video camera, two cell phones, all his change, his keys, his belt, etc., all while keeping track of our antsy son. It was kind of a mess. The agent had confirmed with me that there was someone available to gather my belongings; I suppose otherwise they would have made allowances for me to collect them myself before having the enhanced screening.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 22: Air travelers pass through security at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on November 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Some passengers are subjected to Advanced Imaging Technology AIT scanners that see through clothing to photograph the entire body to reveal undisclosed objects. Increasing use of the scanner at airports by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is being met with outrage by many US travelers. Passengers who refuse an X-ray scan are required to undergo an intimate pat down by TSA agents. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

I'll say, just as an aside, that if you've flown before, you will be able to tell the difference between the usual metal detector and the new body scanners. I was wondering about that, if I would possibly go through the body scanner without realizing it. But the metal detector is the standard square archway that you just pass through by walking, and the full-body scanners are more cylindrical and enclosed, and you have to stand there for several seconds in a specific position if you opt for the procedure.

Finally, a middle-aged woman was free to do my pat-down.

She gestured me over to a clear space at the back wall, where there was a mat with two footprints and we were cordoned off by a stretchy band on poles like they have to keep lines in order. She donned a new pair of blue latex gloves. She confirmed with me that I had opted out of the full-body screening and that she would perform an enhanced pat-down in that case. I agreed that this was true. She asked me if I wanted a private room, and I said it wasn't necessary, even though I was feeling a little exposed. Frankly, though, I was the kind of irritated that hoped something scandalous would happen in view of all these people so I could become a YouTube star. It's within a passenger's rights, though, to request both a private room and a witness, so keep that in mind if it would make you more comfortable.

It's policy for TSA agents to be (1) the same gender as the person receiving the pat-down and (2) well trained in providing the pat-down. This includes the specific techniques involved, but also that they be calm and professional and that they explain absolutely everything before they do it. The agent I had was very well trained. I know there have been reports that some agents have not been, or have bullied passengers into accepting the full-body scans against their wishes. All I can say is that that is not how it should be. My take on that is, if you have any concerns about the professionalism shown to you during an enhanced pat-down (or body scan), you should refuse to go any further until you can talk to the supervisor in charge. Or, if it's after the fact, request to speak to the supervisor to lodge your complaint. Because there's absolutely no reason for a TSA agent to be groping passengers (squeezing breasts, feeling genitals with fingers), or to be rude to passengers undergoing something so invasive and disquieting. My advice (what little I can give) to you as a passenger is to be calm and polite yourself, but if something seems off, don't be afraid to speak up and ask for a supervisor. If you have a problem with the supervisor as well, then your next option is to walk away and miss your flight, which I realize is another terrible option. But I hope most agents are as well trained as the one I dealt with at DTW.

To continue, the agent was very clear that she would be doing an enhanced pat-down, and she described the whole procedure in advance, and then every step before she did it along the way. She told me that she would be feeling my head, the sides of my body, and down my legs and arms with her palms, and that she would be going with the flat back of her hands (fingers together) between my breasts and into my inner thighs. She demonstrated the position her hands would be in in both cases. I nodded, nervous but compliant. Because, you know, I wanted to get home.

She asked if I had any implants. I swear it was hours later when I realized she must have meant metal implants. I mean, I didn't think she was just commenting on my impressive bust size, but …

She asked if I had any sensitive areas. I thought about my delicate pregnant belly and my sore breasts, but I told her no. I figured she meant areas that would make me yelp in pain or flinch if she touched them.

Then we began. She had me stand shoulder width apart on the padded mat and hold my arms out straight to the sides. The pat-down began.

As I said, she mentioned every step she took before she did it. The interesting ones, though, are as follows: She didn't touch my breasts on the top. She did run the back of her hand in between them and then trail it underneath, first one side, then the other. She didn't touch my genitals, and I seriously can't remember if she touched my bottom. I'm thinking she must not have, since I don't remember it. She did put the back of her hand up into my general crotch area, again on each side, but I thought she'd go much higher than she did. She said she would make contact where my legs hit my pubic bone (or language to that effect), but she didn't get that high. Maybe she thought she had and was distracted by the droopy crotch of my stupid stretched-out maternity jeans from my last pregnancy.

She also had issues with my waistband, because I was wearing the stretchy high band of the maternity jeans (a demi-panel style), along with a belly band to hold them up. She managed one side by herself but then asked if I preferred to help her get into my waistband. I complied and raised up my belly band and pulled my maternity jeans down a little so she had freer access. She swept a hand inside my waistband all around. She didn't comment on my slightly pregnant belly, and I still don't know if she knew I was pregnant.

She also felt the tissues I had in my pocket, along with the driver's license I had tucked there, and asked me to remove them so she could see.

She let me put my arms down halfway through, when she had moved on to my legs. After it was all over, she had me wait while the palms of her gloves were swabbed, presumably for traces of explosives.

DENVER - NOVEMBER 22: A traveler undergoes an enhanced pat down by a Transportation Security Administration agent at the Denver International Airport on November 22, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The TSA is bracing for heavy traffic before the Thanksgiving holiday, as two separate internet campaigns are promoting a

I asked her as we ended our session what on me could have set off the metal detector, but she had no further ideas. She suggested the rivets in my jeans might have but didn't seem interested in conversing with me on the matter.

I was free to go, and I went to help Sam finish gathering our belongings. The whole ordeal hadn't outlasted his removal of all our bins of stuff from the security belt.

That was about it, facts-wise. But there was a little more to the story: the effect it had on Mikko, and the effect it had on me, internally.

The effect on children

Mikko freaked out when he looked back over and saw me standing with my arms raised and a strange woman feeling me all over. He started crying and screaming, "Mama! Mama!" It brought tears to my eyes to see him so immediately upset. I was kind of surprised he knew that it looked like I was "in trouble."

Fortunately, the agent here was much more reasonable than the young male agent. While Sam tried to restrain Mikko from running to my rescue, the pat-down agent told me he could come over and have a seat near me. So I was able to call to him and reassure him that I was all right, that she was just doing a funny test on me and didn't it look silly. The agent said something similar to him.

He seemed a little dubious, but he stopped screaming and crying and stood nearby to watch. As I mentioned, Sam was still gathering all our belongings at the end of the conveyor belt and truly didn't finish any faster than I did, so it was nice to have Mikko secured somewhere.

I appreciated this agent's compassionate attitude to a child's distress, but I can't be sure that would always be the case.

For instance, I can't imagine how it would have gone down if Mikko had been subjected to the pat-down. Oh, wait, yes I can:

(If this video has been pulled or you want to see the full news report, go here. Thank you to @AstralWeaver for bringing it to my attention.)

That video is from two years ago, so it doesn't illustrate current TSA procedures on kids (though we don't know what does). The good-ish news is children under 12 have been exempted from the enhanced pat-downs, though they still can be given a "modified" pat-down or be selected for the full-body scan if they fail the metal detector, and children over 12 can endure the enhanced pat-downs. You can see that even with a modified pat-down, a young child might freak the heck out.

I've heard this but can't find online the appropriate link: One thing you can do preemptively is ask when getting your boarding pass if your child has been flagged for a random increased search. There will be a special code on the boarding pass. You can request that this be deselected for a youngster. Another measure to take: Be really, really sure your kids have no metal on them! Opt for elastic-waisted pants if possible, and have them remove all objects from their pockets, belts, shoes, jackets, jewelry, and so on.

If you are traveling alone with your children and you are flagged for the enhanced screening, TSA agents are required to help you find a safe location for your children near you. In such an instance, requesting a private room for the pat-down where you can have them contained with you might be the best option.

My emotional reaction

Then there was my personal reaction, which surprised me slightly. I expected it to be a crappy set of choices and a crappy experience, but I really did feel violated — and that without any groping of the genitals or people noticeably staring and pointing. I felt embarrassed, because — as Mikko pointed out in his instinctual way — someone being patted down by a person in uniform looks guilty somehow. I wondered if the other passengers were thinking, at the very least, that I was a chump for having elected the pat-down vs. the scanning machine.

It was kind of creepy being touched by a stranger, even a stranger who was professional and calm. I think one reason I engaged her in questions about my metal was an innate desire to make her into a buddy. I joked to Sam afterward that she had said to me "See you later" as I left and that I thought the two of us were probably best friends now that she had gotten to second base with me. There was something more invasive about having a strange official rub her hands over me than, say, having a doctor or midwife do the same. Part of the issue was probably that it was in such a public place, and not by my choice (in the sense that there was no ideal choice in this situation, if I wanted to fly home).

Throughout the ordeal, I kept questioning my decision to go with the pat-down. Would the scan have been so very bad? I asked myself. And I swear, the main thing that kept me going was the recurring thought: I can blog about this later (!!). I was thinking of you, yes, truly — that you would want to know how the pat-down procedure went, and I would be able to tell you if I went through with it. I almost wondered if I had somehow set myself up for metal-detector failure in some weird blogging-predictive way.

In the end, it was distasteful, invasive, and obnoxious. But it hasn't had lasting ill effects, in terms of nightmares or anything. Sam and I are not planning on flying anywhere for the next three years if we can help it, but that's mainly to do with children, not the security measures. See, we flew with Mikko twice when he was a baby and kind of, um, hated it, so we waited till now to fly with him again. Since I'm having a baby next spring/summer, we figure we're in for another three years of being purposely grounded. Relatives can keep coming to us.

If we had been planning to travel again, would the new security measures have made me rethink our plans? Maybe. But probably not, if the trip were important to me.

My conclusion is that most people will find the pat-downs annoying but will survive unscathed. What worries me, a lot, is the people who won't: people who have had bad experiences in the past, with emotional baggage that a pat-down might trigger, such as molestation, other sexual assault, or imprisonment. I know some very modest women who are unable to endure certain medical procedures, and I imagine the pat-down would be horrifying for them. (There have definitely been complaints about rough or punitive treatment by undisciplined TSA agents, which would exacerbate the risk of emotional damage.) It also worries me that TSA agents might not be particularly prepared to deal with people with various physical issues (such as this man whose urostomy bag was spilled on him during rough handling) or other concerns (for instance, dealing with people in a wheelchair, or people who are young or otherwise ill-equipped to handle the screenings, such as the screaming three-year-old in the video above).

What I wish

I love this article that @Dubhlinn2 sent me on Twitter, referencing Israel's airport security measures: "The 'Israelification' of airports: High security, little bother." A choice quote to demonstrate the differences between the U.S.'s (flawed) security measures and Israel's much more stringent but passenger-friendly control:
"First, it's fast — there's almost no line. That's because they're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you," said Sela. "Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes ... and that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."

I wish agents were trained in more of a Lie to Me fashion of focusing on emotions, on microexpressions, on indicators of deception or strong emotion, like guilt or anxiety or aggression.

I wish that TSA would admit their security measures are flawed, and throwing more machines and money at the problem isn't going to fix it. Here's where I admit I've screwed over security twice in the past (so maybe the pat-down was my judgment from on high): You know how you're supposed to carry liquids in little bottles and put them all in a quart bag? (I have a conspiracy theory about this one, too — that TSA asked the manufacturers of plastic bags, "Hey, what bag size should we use?" And the plastic bag people said, "Quart! No one ever buys those! We'd love to get people buying what's otherwise a completely useless size, and then having to buy a new box every time they fly because they can't find where they put the old one. Yea!") So, I have twice put said quart bag somewhere convenient, specifically so I could remember to pull it out at the last moment — and then forgotten. Once, I had only some lip balm and a couple other small things, so I had it squished into my pocket. Well, guess what, metal detectors don't detect lip balm. (No, only jean rivets and underwire bras!) Once, I had it in the top pocket of my backpack, where it passed through the X-ray scanner unflagged.

Oh, I know, this new full-body scan or the pat-down should, theoretically, detect such dangerous items as lip balm, but I'm not convinced. There really is no machine (yet) that can detect all unauthorized liquids that can be hidden on a person. And there never will be. You know why? Because humans are a whole bunch of liquid! It's possible these new full-body scanners and pat-downs will do the trick, but I envision that they won't be foolproof or, indeed, would have detected some of the more recent breaches of security.

I now know the metal detectors are set to ludicrous levels, but I imagine most bad guys (and gals) know by now not to try to carry a bunch of metal onboard.

I think focusing on evasion, deception, and the presence of strong emotion (other than the usual passenger annoyance) would be a lot more effective. It would keep us just as safe, if not safer, but it would avoid all these issues of privacy, health, and inconvenience.

Because, seriously, flying is bad enough these days — paying to check your luggage, being served peanuts and half a drink, having your knees crammed into the seat in front of you — without subjecting us to ever more intrusions and delays beforehand.

Anyone else remember when flying was kind of fun and exciting? It's been awhile. Now the excitement is confined to having a strange woman rub her hands all over me. That kind of excitement I can do without.

What have been your recent experiences with the new security measures? Do reports or personal experiences with them make you less likely to fly? What do you think it was, of the metallic things on me, that set off the metal detector?


dohiyi mama said...

thanks so much for this post... my husband and I are contemplating taking a trip next year... our daughter will be almost 2 by then and I am quite stressed out over what to do. Great info.

Unknown said...

I second the thanks! We are flying with our 2 yr old to Denver next month from Hartford CT. I am definitely going to find out what their security is like over there BEFORE we get to the airport.

THanks Mama!

Becky said...

I've been waiting for your post about this! There is so much to comment on. I don't like the full body scans, either. There might be a conspiracy theory that TSA is making the pat downs so invasive that most people will just choose the scan out of convenience. My representative in Congress is very passionate about this topic. Last week I heard him on the local talk radio. He said that the Army has spent millions trying to determine the best way to keep their soldiers safe and their conclusion is bomb sniffing dogs. Wouldn't that be easier and cheaper? Also, airports can hire their own private security. I haven't heard the cost of that, but that could be an interesting alternative.

Could you expound on the fact that children under 12 should not be subject to the pat down, but you linked to a three-year-old being patted down, and right here in the SLC Airport there was a whole episode with an autistic four-year-old boy? Is it just a random selection and randomly a child is chosen to be patted down? But doesn't that go against the rule of under 12 should not be patted down? Thanks for the tip about asking ahead of time, so if my child is chosen, there can be an exception made. It would be nice if children under 18 shouldn't be able to go through the full body scan as well, like in the UK.

TulipGirl said...

Thanks for the info. . . we're flying internationally in about 3 months, and this really has me nervous -- especially wiht my kids. For me? I figure I can deal with it, even if I don't like it. But my kids? Ugh. Hoping that enough of a stink is raised that this will be minimized.

Oh, and I --totally-- agree with you about the micro-expressions and people watching aspects that are really important. . .

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I had NO idea that kids under 12 were exempted - I'd heard both reports that you mentioned, and so I'm confused about what happened with those too. My only guess is that they occurred *before* TSA decided to exempt kids.
I am nervous about being patted down myself, because I think Kieran will react similarly to Mikko. We are flying in a few weeks with my mom, and as much as Kieran loves my mom, I doubt she'll be able to do much if he starts freaking out while some random stranger touches me.
I've thought about "playing pretend" a few times so that he can see Tom pat me down, but the idea of normalizing that for Kieran makes me uncomfortable too. So, I'm kind of at a loss.
Thank you for the post!!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I just tweeted you about this, but this article (which is more recent than the one you linked to), seems to imply that kids under 12 ARE STILL subject to patdowns.

So, so not happy about this.

Megan said...

Thanks for this post! My husband and I are thinking about taking a trip before our daughter turns 2 and our next one arrives at the end of May. We really were not wanting to deal with all of this though. I'm still nervous about it, but after hearing your experience I hope that it won't be too bad. I'm mostly just concerned with my daughter and her safety. The last thing I want is for someone to do something to her that sends me into Mama Bear mode and gets me arrested!!! I guess just lots of prayer ahead of time and doing our best in whatever situation we're presented with. Maybe we'll pick a location that does not have the body scanners yet.

Lauren Wayne said...

I'll try to clarify it in the post, too, but what I was able to find was a quote from a spokesperson on some news articles (as opposed to a post from the TSA itself, so that always makes me a little wary) that children under 12 are exempted from the enhanced pat-downs but not from pat-downs entirely. That is, if they're selected for the full-body scanner and you or they opt out, they still have to patted down, but not (supposedly) in as groping a fashion.

The video is from 2 years ago and has resurfaced due to the renewed interest in the TSA procedures. I used it more as an illustration of what could happen no matter what happens to a little kid being patted down, particularly if the TSA agent isn't sensitive to their age. I've heard some agents are being trained to make it more "fun," much as a pediatric dentist tries to put kids at ease by pretending the tools are going on a safari or some nonsense. (As someone whose kid just had dental work, it sorta kinda works, for a bit.) No one's being very clear yet on what exactly could happen to a child under 12 in terms of pat-down, and from the article you linked, Dionna, it looks as though not all TSA agents are informed or trained not to do the enhanced-plus on little kids. (For instance, groping a 6-year-old's testicles!! Oh, my gosh.) The spokesperson in the article again says this isn't policy. So this might be another situation where the decisions from on high haven't filtered down to all agents, or where there's no particular consensus yet on high. I don't know, and it's scary.

I'll just reiterate to make sure your kids have no metal on them, and to request at the boarding pass counter that they be taken off the random search list, so that hopefully they can avoid the whole ordeal.

If you or your kids have to be patted down (or go through the full-body scanner, if that's your choice instead), try to stay calm and talk to the agent ahead of time about their age and how they're likely to become upset. Ask if you can have them stay near you, and reassure them beforehand. If the agent refuses, politely ask for a supervisor so you can clarify their policies, because I don't think that's unreasonable to request. That's the best I can offer. I hope none of your kids have to go through it, though. I was uncomfortable, and I'm an adult who can at least understand the whole situation.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Lauren - do you know anything about the TSA's policy on whether I could HOLD Kieran during a patdown? Someone on my FB page is saying that the parent cannot hold the child. If worse comes to worst and Kieran is selected for a patdown, regardless of how "modified" or minor, I imagine we will have to leave if I am not allowed to have contact with him. He would FLIP OUT. Flip. Out.

Lauren Wayne said...

Dionna: No, I don't know whether you can hold him or not. My best guess would be no, although of course they'd have to modify that stance on a child who was as yet unable to stand. I wonder if you'd be allowed to stay very close to Kieran and touch him, such as at the waist or holding his hands. This mother whose 1-year-old's overalls set off the metal detector was allowed to hold her (comment 13), although that might have been a pre-walker. I would explain the situation beforehand to the agent, mentioning how very sensitive he is and that there's likely to be screaming. I know your main concern is preventing Kieran from flipping out, but if they ignore your wishes and he does start flipping, they might at that point allow you closer or holding him. It's not a great choice. :( Again, be vigilant about metals (such as overall buckles!).

This article recommends asking for a pat-down first so you can demonstrate to your child that it wasn't so bad. As my experience shows, that might or might not help! But at least you could try to explain what's happening as it's going on and be as calm and matter of fact about it as you can.

Updated TSA links: Here are two official links confirming "modified" pat-downs but absolutely no details (as per their policy): and TSA Blog.

I also wonder what they do for a parent traveling alone with a (pre-walking) baby and nowhere to place him/her while receiving an adult pat-down (such as a carseat/stroller). I wonder if they let the parent in that case hold the baby or make the baby be held by an agent or put on the floor/table?? I bet they're all still figuring this out as they go, and that's not reassuring at all, is it?!

Anonymous said...

Interesting information, thank you. I've very glad here in Australia it has not reached that point yet.

My husband has worked security for many years and done the airport security screening. He often comments on how much better the system is in Israel.

Melodie said...

I'm really thankful for this post because I'm going to be flying out of SEA in March to go to Paris and up until a couple days ago I had never even heard of TSA. I appreciate the head's up so I can be prepared.

Sheila said...

I recently read the story of a mom traveling alone with her baby. When she was selected for a patdown, they made her get her patdown in one room with a female agent and took her baby away to get a patdown in another room with a male agent. It happened too fast for her to protest! This is against their policy, of course, but someone wasn't educated and that's what happened. I guess the lesson for that is, don't let go of your baby till you're assured of what will happen!

Looks like another 12-hour roadtrip to get home for Christmas! We did it in August and actually found it way easier than we expected. Unlike plane trips, you can schedule around cranky times and stop for awhile if things get hairy. And there's none of the stress of trying to navigate an airport with all those bags and kids, too.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this post. I think the whole business is worthless. I traveled about 10 years ago and a friend(16y/o) of mine forgot to pack her hair dryer in her luggage and put it in her carry on at the last minute. When it went through the metal detector scan the TSA people freaked out. And she was detained for nearly half an hour with no parent in a room to be questioned.
Really, could they not see that it was an honest mistake and she was bawling, freaking out that she would miss her flight home.
I agree that taking a nude picture of children is absolutely wrong. It is weird and sick that someone will be in a dark little room looking at all those pictures of people including children.
I may be flying in january with my 3 year old and my then 5 month old. I don't want to know what would happen if one (all) of us were "chosen"

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this! I'm mentally preparing myself for flying for the first time with Daniel in about a month by myself. So, I may experience the situation you're wondering about: I'll have a pre-walking baby with nowhere to put him and no one to hold him for me during an enhanced pat-down.

I will also be bringing frozen breastmilk with me on the way back, and after watching this: and reading more explanation from the woman involved here: I'm feeling nervous about what might happen to me with the milk, too.

Ahh, what to do?!

Anonymous said...

You are such a blogging pro. And I have to admit, I would probably view a similar experience as blog fodder as well.

I also share your opinions on full-body scans and pregnancy. If I'm not pregnant, fine, scan away. If I am, I wouldn't be cool with it.

As it is, I've heard that they have the scanners here in Canada, but we don't have enhanced pat-downs, and we don't have the TSA. We have our own body, but they don't seem to be quite as stringent. I'm glad. I don't personally believe that this level of invasion into every passenger enhances safety. But it does create a very unpleasant experience, and that's pretty sucktastic.

Tina Hollenbeck said...

I will NOT fly anymore unless/until these procedures are ruled unconstitutional (which they are, since they clearly violate the 4th Amendment). I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults and will not put myself or my children - whom I've vowed to protect from that if it's at all in my power (and this is!) - into a position of being molested by TSA agents. And I don't trust the scanners either, since - as you point out - there is no long-term testing nor independent verification of their, there really is no guarantee that the images will not be saved, stored, and exported to God knows where. If I "had" to fly (a situation which I do not foresee happening), I'd opt for the scanners over the molestation...but not happily at all. No, I'll get to where I want/need to go elsewhere...which sucks because it rules out international travel, and we'd had plans for that over the next several years. But, again, I'm banking on lawsuits, and those are being filed by liberal and conservative advocacy groups as we speak - yeah.

Michelle said...

Thanks for the post! Very informative. I agree with you that we should be looking at *people* and how they are acting. But that is sort of unscientific and people will always complain about it, because you can't prove anything with just a feeling that something isn't right.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Thank you for the links, Lauren. Clicking around some more, I come to this one:
Here's the skinny. If you are at an airport and the scanners are in use, EVERYONE gets scanned. If a child cannot hold still with their arms raised for 5 seconds, they will be patted down.
So we have decided that we are now going to be practicing holding still for a count of 10. We're going to practice at home, at the store, etc. (to get him used to doing it in weird new places).
I do NOT want to practice letting some stranger touch him, I just can't in good conscious promote it as normal.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

*conscience* (shudder - I hate that typo!)

Momma Jorje said...

I am very much like you when pregnant (and breastfeeding). I stopped dying my hair until Sasha turned 1yo. I won't take medicine of any sort unless I MUST. When I did have to take antibiotics, I took half the daily dose (after discussing options with a very understanding pharmacist). I don't drink soda and rarely even tea. Anyway, suffice to say I'm pretty obsessive about it, too.

I know you choose to avoid the full body scan (and I totally understand), but I thought you might find this interesting:
Have you seen the 4th amendment wear?

The child items say "Read the 4th Amendment Perverts." How awesome is that?! It is printed with metallic inc so it shows up on the scan - even as underclothes!

They make adult clothing items, too. I think some of it even has the entire 4th amendment on it. Passive aggressive protest, anyone?

Momma Jorje said...

And NO pregnancy ultrasounds? Really? I'm amazed in a proud kind of way. I don't think I had one with my first, but that was 20+ years ago.

Then with Tyler I got my requisite single ultrasound through the Indian health system. I honestly think the doctors come up with some "could be" problem to check for just so young women can see their babies. They wouldn't let me use my video tape in their machine for fear of legal risk. If they missed a problem and it showed on the tape, I could sue. How about not screwing up? :-P

With my 3rd (Sasha), and me being over 35, plus the threatened miscarriage... I got an U/S at nearly every appointment!

Now I'm thinking about my 4th and considering doing less doc appts in the first place and maybe even a home birth. I feel like maybe we went to the doctor far more than actually necessary. I would like to find some middle ground. I want one to be available to me when I need one, but I don't want to HAVE to go. My employer reimburses mothers for their copay if they go for at least 9 prenatal visits.

So... I'll likely have more U/S still. I got the 4D U/S with Sasha because of my age and the resulting increased risk for birth defects. I imagine doctors will want to do that again.

Sybil Runs Things said...

Thanks for this post. If there is anything I have learned from flying thus far (and I haven't flown with thie enhanced security) is that every airport, every TSA agent, is going to act differently. It's just how it is. So definitely do some research, but be prepared for anything and everything when you get to the airport. The other thing I've learned is that could not, in general, care any less about parents travelling with small children.
I am so sick over this, I really wish we hadn't told the girls we were going to go to Disney in the Spring. Maybe we'll change it to Disney Land and just drive, instead?

Jenny said...

Great post, I'd been waiting on this one! We haven't flown anywhere since our honeymoon six years ago, and going through the airport wasn't fun THEN. It was right at Christmastime, some of the people working at the airport were rude, and it was the first time I'd flown so I was totally disoriented. Luckily Jordan had flown many times. I can't even imagine taking a 3-year-old and 15-month-old through an airport now. Suzi is sensitive as well, and I'm not too sure what would happen if she or I or her dad were selected for a patdown.

I'm sure most people have a somewhat bearable experience like yours, but there have been enough people who haven't for me to be concerned. And to make matters worse, the TSA hasn't done much to ensure these things won't happen again. They should be firing agents who act inappropriately (especially ones who do so deliberately and not out of ignorance of policy), publicly apologizing for their behavior, and ramping up training to further reassure travelers. I don't see a lot of this happening. Boy am I glad, for once, that we don't have the extra money to take trips.

mom said...

I appreciate this post! We will be moving off Hawaii sometime next year, and we have heard that a new scanner is in full use at the Honolulu airport. I will more than likely go through the scanner rather than deal the invasiveness of a pat-down for either myself or Kaius.

Honestly, I'm absolutely sickened by these new procedures. I do NOT see the necessity...I do NOT feel safe/safer with these invasive precautions. Instead, I feel violated and hubby and I have agreed to never fly unless absolutely necessary once we are safely mainland. It's very distressing...

Olivia said...

Thanks for the post. I know my mohter's underwire bra set off the metal detector when she came here last month. She bought a non-underwire bra for the trip home.

I would love for the TSA to stop spending money on machines and spend it on Lie to Me type training. Another thing wrong with the current system is that it makes so many people nervous and anxious that a whole lot of people probably look guilty and not just the truly nefarious ones.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. It reassures me, a little, that if I need to travel I can deal with the pat-down.

I won't get into the backscatter machines. I'm too worried about the risk of cancer - and there's too many doubts I've seen raised to think it's safe. It may be, but they've far from proved it. (I would get into the other scanner, that uses radio waves; that seems to have a better level of scientific and community confidence. And while I can't imagine most TSA agents are getting kicks or even much amusement from the naked scans, if they want to that's fine. It's not like I'll ever know.)

This still, of course, leaves the problem of traveling with my two-year-old. Hopefully we can just avoid it. Because I WILL NOT subject him to the radiation, and I cannot imagine subjecting him to the groping either. Neither is acceptable.

Last Christmas, before all this, we traveled with him to see his grandparents, and had no problems. This year his grandparents are coming here. I have no idea what next year will bring; it will depend on what's changed. But I won't risk his physical or mental/emotional health for anything less than an emergency. And that's what I think I'd be doing.

I remember being THRILLED to fly as a child. It was such a different world.

Anonymous said...

You should watch this video on you tube "TSA travel terror" it is funny and informative.

Unknown said...

After sharing my concerns about bringing breastmilk through security because of what happened to Stacey Armato, it happened to me! TSA forced me to x-ray my breastmilk, denying my request for the alternate screening:

Related Posts with Thumbnails