Why I choose to opt out of the TSA scan

In April, Matthew and I spent an entire day traveling. Yup. From 8am until about 9pm Pacific, we were in transit of some kind or another. This is not uncommon, but it still can hurt.

For some reason, from start to finish, this was an especially tough day, travel-wise: kicked off by being a little behind schedule getting to PDX and having to rush through every line we hit. (By “rush through lines” I mean, rush to lines, and then stand, and wait……) When we hit the TSA screening, we did what we normally do and opted out of the full body scan.

This has been our MO for years, and is usually no problem, it just slows things down a hair. Today, it slowed things down, a lot. I watched as my items made it through the x-ray on the conveyer belt and then sat, and sat, and sat. Everything that was important to me waited on the other side of security, to be picked up by anyone quick (and malicious) enough to make a grab for it: my wallet, my backpack, my passport, my guitar, all ripe pickings.

There was even a woman in front of me in line for the opt out. And let me tell you, they are not staffed to serve a line of opt outs. It was a high stress situation for me.

Finally, it was my turn, and the female TSA employee gave me the standard run down about what she was going to be touching and with what, and she gave me the pat down.

This was easily the most aggressive / no-nonsense pat down I’ve ever received. Twice she had to ask me to spread my legs further apart so she could run her hands from my upper inner thigh to my feet. She fully inspected my bundle of hair, and when she got to my chest, she rammed her hand in between my breasts and did a thorough tactile inspection of my “cups.”

The stress of making my flight, compounded with the invasive “feeling up” I was experiencing, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “why am I doing this?!”

Great question. And it got me to review why I make this choice. (Read: it’s always healthy to periodically question why we do the things we do. Having a reason other than just Habit gives intention and purpose, even to the little things.)

I do this because from start to finish, I know exactly what is happening. 

1. Choosing not to expose myself to scanner radiation.

I’m not a scientist (nor do I play one on the internet) but I just don’t know what the extra radiation of the scanners could do to me, long term. Some radiation authorities like the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Energy Agency recommend against their use for pregnant women and children, and if you watch carefully, you might see TSA directing kids through the metal detector, rather than the full body scanner.

Even if I receive 1000 “fairly invasive” pat downs at the airport, it won’t be enough to give me cancer.

2. Some (authorized) public groping will not hurt me.

Granted, I am fairly comfortable with my body, so this procedure will not leave me with any emotional scarring. Also, the fact that this is my choice is extremely empowering. I plant this choice like a shield in front of me; I feel my awkwardness as I request to opt out, I see people glancing over at me to see why I have vacated The Sacred TSA Line, and I allow a stranger to get to “second base” with me. But I am armed with my Shield of Choice.

And you are too. I do not write this to be political or even controversial. There are pros and cons to both choices, when you walk through airport security. My hope is that for those of you who would rather not have a grey and black image of your flesh show up in front of the eyes of a stranger, or expose yourself to unnecessary radiation, those of you who would rather opt for a professional (albeit invasive) pat down, you now know this is your choice.

I also hope that, in time, enough “disruption” from opt outs like Matthew and I will cause TSA to continue to refine their science and their process: to continue to find safer, quicker and easier ways to get massive amounts of people from the streets and onto the plane.