Air travelers tweet: TSA pat-downs and scans evoke humor, tears

Thanksgiving travelers are reporting their TSA encounters via Twitter and Facebook. The pat-downs and full-body scans range from entertaining to violating, they write.

Rick Wilkins/Reuters
A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker rubs her hands across a female traveler's chest during an 'enhanced' pat-down at Denver International Airport, Nov. 23. Any passenger who opts out of the body scanning machines, or whose scan turns up something suspicious, receives the physical search.

Most of the 24 million air travelers flying this week will encounter the newly strengthened security measures for the first time.

What are they experiencing? Some have reported their checkpoint experiences to the world, via Twitter and Facebook. Their stories range from serenades of Christmas carols to allegations of bigotry.

Some knew what to expect, having read or watched news about the 411 new scanners and the new pat-down procedures in place at 69 American airports. Others had no idea that anything had changed.

In one encounter, a checkpoint supervisor told an upset passenger that she would be “thankful” for the invasive checks when she saw “those people praying on their prayer rugs.” Many travelers, however, reported no problems at all.

The Transportation Safety Administration has repeatedly cited a CBS news survey, which found that 81 percent of passengers thought body scans were a good idea, as evidence that the outcry over the scans and pat-downs comes from a very vocal minority.

But when that survey was conducted, no more than 10 to 15 million passengers had gone through the scanners. The great majority of survey respondents based their answer only on what seemed like a good idea in theory.

Now that theory is confronting the often-uncomfortable reality of X-ray and millimeter wave scanners that can look through clothing and “enhanced” pat-downs that require extensive physical contact.

The result is tweets about Nude-o-Scopes, groping, and occasionally, humor.

The TSA, for example, has received a host of new nicknames, from the classic post-9/11 “Taking Scissors Away” to “Taking Security Away,” “Targeted Sexual Assault,” “They See All,” and even “Trampling Several Amendments.” The Internet also has new terms for the scans, including pornoscanners and gate rape (already a new entry in the Urban Dictionary).

Sign of the season: One of the TSA agents sang "Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer" to me as I entered the country

• airport security patdowns can take up to 4 minutes? ... it should come with drinks and dinner

Others reported few problems.

• Was expecting the worst going through airport security today, but I flew through in under five minutes, no body scans or pat-downs involved.

Some wrote of their discomfort with the process.

• The last thing I wanted to hear after passing thru TSA naked scanner: "Ma'am, we need you to go through again." #surehopeitwasntworking

And some highlighted deeper issues.

• I just opted out of the backscatter, and then had my breasts and genitals groped by a TSA Agent. It was very violating. When I complained to the agent she told me (QUOTE) ‘You will be thankful about these security measures when you see those people praying on their rugs.’ I am infuriated.

In a phone interview, Eliz Roser of Portland, Ore. – the woman who reported the incident above via Twitter and Facebook – told the Monitor that the reaction of the TSA employee made a bad situation much worse.

Roser had asked to speak to the supervisor after her “enhanced" pat-down left her in tears. She had chosen to opt out and face the pat-down rather than expose herself naked to the TSA agent looking at the scans. “That’s two bad choices, there,” she says.

But “that feeling of sadness and violation turned into so much anger when that woman made that comment to us," said Ms. Roser. "That felt so much worse, that she’d talk about those people praying in the terminal – that we should assume they’re all terrorists.”

Roser has filed complaints with Covenant Aviation Security, the private security contractor at San Francisco International Airport (SFO); the TSA, under whose auspices they work; and the ACLU. Despite promises on the CAS website that all complaints will be addressed within one business day, Roser has received no response.

“I have to fly again in two weeks. I’m going to opt out of the scanner again, because I want my voice to be heard,” says Roser. “I want the agent to know I’m uncomfortable. I want the supervisor to know. If I get to the airport early enough, I have plenty of time to make my voice heard.”

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