Airline Passengers – Get Ready for Your Pat-Down

When I was 60 years old, after many years of running and one New York City Marathon, I made the decision to have my knees replaced. Yes, both of them at the same time. It was a good move. The operation and rehab went well and after six months, I was able to resume most of my regular activities, except for running. I believed my doctor that my quality of life would be very much improved.

Except for one thing. Whenever I go through airport security, I am subjected to a through and humiliating pat-down. But guess what, America? I will no longer be alone. Because TSA agents have a 98 percent failure rate detecting weapons being brought on planes (these tests were executed by the Department of Homeland Security), the agency’s response is to make the rest of us suffer. It doesn’t matter that these weapons – guns, machetes, nunchucks, hand grenades, uzis, whatever – were hidden in carry on bags, not on people, pat-downs are supposedly going to make all of us safer.

Any reasonable person can see the fallacy in this argument. But the TSA has never been known for taking the reasonable route. The agency opts for headlines that will make the vast majority of Americans believe it has their welfare at heart. There’s no mention that carry ons will be more diligently screened, just passengers. And make no mistake, these new pat-down procedures will be “comprehensive.”

The change in TSA pat-downs is apparently so extreme, that airport security and police departments have been alerted, according to a report from Bloomberg. “Due to this change, TSA asked FSDs [field security directors] to contact airport law enforcement and brief them on the procedures in case they are notified that a passenger believes a [TSA employee] has subjected them to an abnormal screening practice,” ACI (Airport Council International) wrote.

These new procedures are not new to me. I have had to endure these invasive pat-downs since my knee replacements. So, in case you’re wondering, I thought I would give you a preview of what you have to look forward to, whether you are planning a spring or summer vacation, when you will be one of millions being subjected to these new more thorough pat-down procedures.

I have a Global Entry card which, I had hoped, would cut me some slack. Being in a group that has been pre-screened means I don’t have to take off my coat or shoes or remove my laptop from my bag when going through security. But it doesn’t give me a pass on pat-downs.

After I go through the TSA check-in line at security, I place my belongings on the conveyer belt and then walk through the metal detector. The alarms go off and I explain that I have knee replacements. Then a female agent is called over to do the pat-down. I’m often asked if I want to do the pat-down in private. But if I’m alone, I worry about my belongings staying in the area without anyone watching them. (I’ve seen numerous TV programs where TSA agents and passengers walk off with electronic equipment, etc.) So I agree to the pat-down in the open. It rarely goes well. The TSA agent, perhaps sensing my disapproval, is usually sullen and aggressive. She makes a point of telling me that she’s using the back of her hands, as if that makes this invasion of my privacy OK. On one occasion, the woman’s hands, after feeling around my breast area, moved to my groin. I steeled myself not to cry, but did not succeed.

By the time I was cleared and rejoined my husband, I was sobbing. He tried his best to comfort me, but he was angry. I didn’t want him to create a scene, so I pulled it together and we walked to the gate. It took me the entire plane ride, five hours-plus, for me to calm down. But, of course, I knew that I would have to endure a repeat of the process on the way back.

For the record, agents in New York, whether at LaGuardia or JFK, are the most difficult to deal with. The agents at Reagan National in D.C. are a close second. (One can only imagine how busy the NYPD will be once these pat-downs get underway.) The TSA agents I have encountered in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and many other U.S. cities, are more empathetic, perhaps because those airports receive less traffic and are less in the spotlight. Or maybe people in these cities are just nicer. Who knows?

I understand that Homeland Security and the TSA have a job to do. We all want to be safe when we fly. No one wants another 9/11 or to be sitting next to the shoe bomber. We also want to avoid profiling, singling out people deemed to be a threat because of how they look, their religion, or where they live. But there has to be a better way to keep all of us safe and not have some passengers (like me) feel traumatized each and every time they fly.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (707 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.