A First-Hand Account Of A TSA Pat-Down

While that ExpressJet pilot in Memphis was refusing to be scanned or pat down by TSA screeners, travel writer Julia Buckley was busy detailing her adventures with both security procedures for Jaunted.com.

After feeling “a bit violated” by the all-seeing, all-knowing full body scanner at Buffalo International Airport, Ms. Buckley opted for the hands-on pat-down when she was going through the airport in Pittsburgh.

Aside from the extra wait — and the eye-rolling response from the screener when she refused the full-body scan — she writes that her pat-down was “the most civilized we’ve ever had, by a mile.”

According to Buckley, the screener outlined the entire procedure in advance and then subsequently asked for consent every time her hands moved to a different area of the body.

Writes Buckley:

It was completely painless and astonishingly civilized…
All in all, it took about five minutes more than going through the machine, but we’d take that any day over a scan again – and we even made the guy feel guilty for groaning at us when we said we’d felt gross after we’d been scanned the day before. From now on, we’ll be requesting a patdown wherever we go.

Of course, the question remains as to whether or not this pat-down is any substitute for a full-body scan or even the old-fashioned detectors.

What It’s Like Refusing a Full-Body Scan: A First Hand Account [Jaunted]

What It’s Like to Go Through a Full-Body Scan: A Firsthand Account [Jaunted]

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  1. jesirose says:

    Uhm. Did they eat the wings before or after the scan? I know it’s a silly thing to focus on, but if they can’t even make sense of the order of events…

    That said, I won’t go through the scanners either. I’m flying next month and NOT looking forward to a second of it. Won’t be flying again for another year, and the only reason I’ll do it again is leaving the country (vacation!)

  2. Bodger says:

    Color me skeptical. What are the chances that the TSA knew that this woman was a travel writer and gave her better treatment than the average member of the traveling public might receive? TSA seems to have a lot of information (some of it occasionally correct) about everyone, so why not this woman’s occupation?

    • deadandy says:

      I would estimate the chances that they knew she was a “travel writer” at 1 billion to 1.

      • TechnicallySpeaking says:

        Nooooo. The “authorities” know everything about everyone at all times.

        9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JORB

        • Mythandros says:

          Why are you mocking people here?

          People who take that position have a valid concern.. one that has been met with nothing but skepticism and ridicule. You realize, of course, that the US government is MORE than capable of doing that sort of thing, right? Whether they did it of not, I don’t know.. but do you have to mock someone just because they have a different perception than you?

          If you look back into history, the US government has done FAR more questionable things than potentially and allegedly flying a plane into a building.

          Try to keep an open mind is all that I’m saying, don’t buy into something just because some dope on the television says it ain’t true.

          • sonneillon says:

            My point on that issue is that the government can be omnicompetent or incompetent. They are binary choices. Many theorists will say they acted stupidly in one area and then with supreme knowledge and sophistication in the next. That doesn’t jive.

            There are some questions about information chain of custody and how our intelligence is gathered and works, but I think Hanlon’s razor is the best explanation.

      • guroth says:

        Is it so difficult to believe there could be a computer somewhere that collects the names of journalists and then compares that to a list of names on airline tickets, and then subsequently add a flag to their ticket in the airlines database so that they know ahead of time?

        It wouldn’t require any kind of magical technology, they already do it with the no-flight list.

        • Mimet says:

          But the “no fly” list is incredibly wrong. What are the odds they’d be able to get a “travel writer” list right?

        • sonneillon says:

          Not that difficult. But I don’t really see the people doing the check-in calling TSA and saying there is a travel writer in the line. 4th from the rear. No they were just fast and professional because most TSA personal just don’t give a sh*t. They show up they do their 8 then they leave. If they have a chance to steal when nobody is looking they may do that. Some of them are just jerks but the vast majority of them are counting the minutes till they can go home.

        • Ichabod says:

          IS it that hard to think that TSA doesn’t give a shit who they fondle?

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      If they’d known she was a travel writer, they would have given her the full treatment. TSA thrives on the fear it generates, not only to get more people into their nude-o-scopes but to fulfill their only viable purpose, security by fear-mongering.

    • IThinkThereforeIAm says:

      Or, maybe it’s just the other end of the spectrum.
      I don’t believe that EVERY person working for the TSA is a low-life douche-bag just there to feel up helpless passengers. I am sure that (just like in every other profession/job) there are nice and conscientious people. We just don;t hear about them that often (certainly not in the news or on Consumerist).

      • wrjohnston91283 says:

        I had a TSA agent be very helpful to me in August when I had to go back out to my car since we couldn’t find a cell phone. He also put our back through the xray to try to see if it was buried under something.

        Speaking of bad airline service, I also had a US Airways rep waive some fees without me even asking later that trip. We were also bumped to first class for the final leg as well.

    • StarVapor says:

      TSA most likely has access to your complete dossier available with a few keystrokes.
      It probably contains info that you don’t even know or remember about yourself.

    • yulingo says:

      I got pulled aside for additional screening at the airport this morning.

      Besides the fact that it took a while to go through my stuff, I didn’t feel violated at all.

  3. Darrone says:

    I love that the only way to get on a plane is to be physically patted down or scanned essentially nude, but I can get onto a crowded commuted train with just about anything without so much as seeing an officer from a distance.

  4. jason in boston says:

    Theatre. However, I will be opting for a pat down. I worked on reactors and absorbed enough zoomies not coming from the sun for 1 lifetime.

    I would like to see if there are any long term effects for the TSA agents in these relatively (from what I can see from pics only – I could be wrong) unshielded tools.

    • EllenRose says:

      The scanners I’ve read about were looking at energies emitted by the human body, energies somewhere in the vast and confusing middle between microwaves and infrared. No energy input from the machine. (And I’ve absorbed my own share of radiation. Shoulda seen them freak out when my badge showed 170 millirem.)

    • AnthonyC says:

      I’m curious- what kind of a dose rate does a typical employee working on nuclear reactors get?

      I’ve worked with radioisotopes in biochem labs before, and more recently I worked with x-ray spectrometers, and there’s it’s almost unheard of for even the least careful people for read more than 10-15 millirem/month. I’m told the highest-dosed radiation workers tend to be nuclear medicine technicians at hospitals, manufacturing and administering short-lived isotopes.

      • jason in boston says:

        Naval Reactor, and this depends on ship. We had a limit of 5rem/year. At my highest, I think I got in the 20mrem per month while working on the Ion Exchanger. Then again, I was on the newest carrier at the time.

        I heard people on the Enterprise (through second hand knowledge…can’t actually verify this) had to get waivers because it was common to go over 5 rem/year.

  5. wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

    Sounds like she’s romancing it a bit, but my modified pat-down wasn’t too bad. A little more violating than just the wand, but the female TSA employee used the backs of her hands and did tell me she was going to do the inside and outside of my legs. She stayed far away from my lady parts, so no question there if it was too close for legal comfort. Definitely wasn’t.

    I do not think this is necessary at all, but whatever. I have to fly on occasion and as long as no one gets grab-happy, I’ll take the pat down over the scanner.

  6. ITDEFX says:

    so if they are behind you and you let out a fart (accidental or on purpose) can they consider that assault on a federal officer? ?

    • Dover says:

      I chuckled audibly and commend you for your fine comment.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      A woman was just arrested for assault on an officer for blowing a bubble that touched him. I suppose farting in their general direction would also be assault.

    • Mythandros says:

      +1, I’ll be sure to do that when next I’m at the airport.

      ROFL. Last I checked, normal bodily functions are not illegal, but what do I know?

  7. CBenji says:

    Strange how planes are the only things subjected to this too. Some fly by night trucking companies can hire very shady people, and trucks could do a lot of damage to human life. Or a big CAT dozer or loader as CAT equipment have universal keys. Can you picture one of them tooling around a neighborhood?

  8. dolemite says:

    They should have just 2 lines…one for patdowns and one for xrays. It’s dumb you have to actually ask for a patdown, and get an “eye roll” or groan from someone for choosing the alternative.

  9. Dover says:

    “…requesting a patdown wherever we go.”

    I guess she enjoyed it, then.

  10. theirishscion says:
  11. suez says:

    A few years ago while flying out of Appleton, WI, I was the lucky one to be pulled off to the side for a pat-down. I didn’t think it was a big deal and it was over quick…although my folks were a bit shocked since they could see over the ropes and watched their daughter getting frisked.

    • dadelus says:

      My first time flying after 9/11 I ended up on a flight that was pretty much me (a single, white, mid 20’s male travelling alone) and a missions group heading to South America. Guess who was “Randomly Selected” for additional screening both at security AND before boarding.

  12. Power Imbalance says:

    Airline security = Joke

  13. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    When TSA was testing the full-body scanners in Newark I had the patdown then I was told to get into the scanner with my arms raised. I had no choice – they said to get into the scanner or I would NOT get on the plane. Period. I told them I wanted to object and they told me I could, but I would miss the flight and would have to go through the scan anyway. I still hate flying.

    • fs2k2isfun says:

      They were wrong. Next time ask for a cop, the FSD (federal secuirty director), and the airline you are flying’s station manager. They will put the TSA in their place. Also be sure to file a complaint.

  14. RobHoliday says:

    I’m waiting for the large, long scanners they used in the movie Total Recall. Let people walk down a long corridor while people can scan/view them down to the skeleton. No stopping, no putting stuff on conveyors or removing shoes.

  15. Mcshonky says:

    Fly naked airlines…. just your bags get scanned but don’t mind the “skid marks” we’ll take off and land just fine.

  16. AgostoBehemoth says:

    TSA – security theater at its finest.

  17. huygensbyer says:

    I’ve been patted down before, long before the full body scans went in. I learned to not wear underwire bras to the airport after that because the screener had to pat down my chest. However, they assigned an older woman to do the screening. She was VERY professional and was obviously trained to do the pat down in a way that would not make me feel violated, even though she had to make sure I wasn’t packing heat in my bra.

    I’m not saying I agree with the process, but it’s not like the people who are doing the pat-downs want to be there either, and I appreciate that they’re doing their jobs the best they can and trying to make passengers feel uncomfortable.

    • evnmorlo says:

      They are getting paid, you are paying. They initiate the rubbing, you are being rubbed. Obviously their position is advantageous, or are you heartbroken by the plight of Nazi camp guards? And just like that “job” attracted sadists, there are probably plenty of deviants in the TSA who find their work exciting.

  18. TerpBE says:

    “From now on, we’ll be requesting a patdown wherever we go.”

    I had the same thought, but they called the cops on me when I went to Burger King.

  19. Sian says:

    Of course, the question remains as to whether or not this pat-down is any substitute for a full-body scan or even the old-fashioned detectors.

    It’s all theater anyway. As far as effectiveness goes, it doesn’t matter one whit whether they scan you, pat you down, or wave a stick up and down while making ‘OOOwweeEOooOOoo’ sounds with their mouths.

  20. Peacock (Now In Extra Crispy) says:

    When I flew out of London Heathrow in April, something (I suspect my underwire bra, I was wearing sweats) set off the magnetometer. I was on the receiving end of a most efficient going-over–can’t describe it as a pat-down, as there was no patting involved whatsoever–by a British security officer. It took no time at all and was totally non-invasive and inoffensive. And thorough.

  21. Bella_dilo17 says:

    When I was in Amsterdam, leaving Italy, my brother got a full body scan. Then they closed it and gave him a pat down also. I got a very, um, intimate pat down, but she did have gloves, and did use the back of her hands. It was just awkward at my chest, considering I’m 16.

    But, it was quick and professional. I didn’t mind it.

  22. dotyoureyes says:

    It sounds like this passenger got the current “standard’ pat-down. What we don’t (and likely can’t) know — when will the Pittsburgh airport roll out the new, more intrusive pat-downs?

    Christopher Elliott got the TSA to almost say the new “enhanced’ opt-out friskings will roll out nationwide starting October 31st.

    I’d love for that traveler to go back over Thanksgiving and see how the pat-down experience has changed.

  23. Blious says:

    Every pat-down is different but some are extremely invasive and totally out-of-line

    I had one guy literally touch the top, bottom, and sides of my male private parts

    I honestly have never been so uncomfortable

  24. pridkett says:

    I’ve been patted down a few times now because I don’t like the idea of walking through the nudie-scans. Really they’ve been perfectly professional in the process. Of course, my second time I went through it I giggled frequently just to make the officer uncomfortable. Next time I should stuff my pants…

  25. peebozi says:

    i wonder if the bad press from the pilot initiated a memo “reminding” the employees they may be going over the line and things changed.

    or maybe a memo warning that the american public is looking to shame this so-called organization for its behavior and reporters may be looking for some good stories.

    my pat down goes as follows “yea, right there, a little harder, too hard, yea, that’s it, to the left just a little, too much, back to the right a little, yea, that’s it. that was wonderful, may i have your phone number for the next time i’m in town?” i’m not gay so it’s funny!

    • Bella_dilo17 says:

      On my way to Puerto Rico, a man got in trouble for making a sexual joke to a TSA examiner. He had an artificial metal hip, and the examiner requested he unzipped his pants to see the scar. The man said, “Only if you return the favor.”

  26. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    I’ve experienced a physical pat-down several times and have never taken issue with it. The employees doing the pat-downs are always extremely professional.

  27. learned says:

    Time to get rid of the TSA

  28. Mecharine says:

    I’d like to know what they expect to be able to find with pat-downs. Any credible terrorist would be walking around with an ass full of explosives that a non-invasive pat down wouldn’t find.

  29. fs2k2isfun says:
  30. bruzie says:

    I don’t know if this has been asked, but why are the pilots being screened, anyway? They already get to go into the cockpit so it’s not like they need to smuggle anything on board in order to gain access.

  31. mikehtiger says:
  32. Elphaba says:

    I seem to always get selected for the super special pat down. My last one in Las Vegas was so annoying. As she patted me in “sensitive areas” she pretended to care about my privacy by continuing to offer me a private location at for my search. I don’t have anything to hide when my government insists on patting me down, did she have something to hide? I really got the idea she wanted the privacy, I just wanted to get on my plane and get this TSA inspection done as quickly as I could. I finally told her I want this done quickly and I DO NOT want a private location. As I said before, I’ve had this pat down several times, and other than the one that yelled at my child, yes I filed a complaint, this one annoyed me with her fake privacy concerns.

    PS does anyone have an idea how I alarmed in a place where there was NO metal what so ever?

  33. cavelamb says:

    Why should ANYBODY have to put up with this just to get on an airplane?

  34. Galium says:

    Just curious, if they pat down children are the pedophiles?