18 April 2012

The Opt Out

This weekend I flew down to Florida for a reunion/bachelor party.

On both trips I opted out of the backscatter scanner at the airport. If I'm going to have my dignity pillaged, I'd have it done explicitly rather than insidiously.

I noticed what might be an interesting trend. (If you'll allow me to call two data point a trend.) The officer uniformed guy who actually did my examination was polite, and bent over backwards to describe every step of the process in annoyingly repetitive detail, both by explaining the whole procedure up front and then again step-by-step as it was going on, several times. I imagine this is because many people have or are freaked out or surprised when they get to the actual laying-on-of-hands part of the procedure, and the TSA has actually modified their procedures in response to complaints.*
I'm a little uncomfortable giving them this much credit.

Even though the gropers were pseudo-polite, everyone else involved was incredibly rude. (No surprise there.) There was no clear procedure established. No attempts were made to explain what was being done and what was expected. It was just gruff "stand over there! now move here! go with him! no stand still! don't move, but get out of the way! why are you there? take everything metal out of your pockets! why are there non-metalic objects in your pockets? take them out! put them down! not there!"

One of the guys who rubbed me down was the same guy who had checked my boarding pass minutes earlier. He was (sort of) considerate when grabbing on me, but really rude when he had done the papiere, bitte! thing. (I moved my suitcase up to make some space for the woman behind me. My feet didn't move, I just repositioned my bag from behind me to in front of me while he was inspecting my license. His response was a shouted "Don't go anywhere! You can't go anywhere yet!")

I think it says something about the TSA and its incentives and concerns that it has trained its employees on one part of this process, but leaves them to run around like schizoaffective headless geese for the rest of it. I'm not sure what it says though. It would make sense to me if they either consistently treated opt-outs politely or consistently growled at them like cattle.*
Chattel? Yes. Both.
But I don't make much sense out of being rude and then pretending to care right before they palm your delicate pieces.

Maybe there's simply a big part of the population that is super-sensitive about being touched but doesn't give a shit about being barked at and ordered around. It could be that simple, but I don't like it. Thoughts?


  1. This isn't directly on point, but now that I'm traveling more I go through the opt-out procedure a lot (one of the Portland TSA guys even recognizes me now. Am I supposed to bring him flowers?).

    It's interesting seeing which aspects of the physical inspection are consistent. For example, only one of the dozens of TSA agents who's performed the procedure on me asked to see the top of my head. Others pay less attention to hands after the initial inspection of them, which would seemingly make it possible to palm something off one's clothes if one was dedicated to it (though not likely anything that could actually damage a plane).

    Your experience jibes with mine though: The agents have been unfailingly polite during the actual patdown. Where I've run into problems is when I'm forced to wait behind the metal detector while my bags (with wallet, phone, etc) are left unattended on the other side until the groper finally makes his way over.

  2. I'm slightly reminded of Air Force basic training. The training instructors (aka drill sergeants) will shout at you til you think you're gonna be thrown in jail for life for not making your bed properly. They'll threaten to throw a chair at you, they'll get in so close to you you feel the spittle as they shout at you. But they'll never actually lay a finger on you without first calmly informing you something like: "I am going to touch you. The purpose of my touch is to..."