Can't I just step through the gate like it used to be?
October 7, 2010 1:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm flying next month and will have to go through a full body scanner for the first time. I'm not comfortable with this at all. I'm so not ok with the scanner that I'm considering driving 17 hours instead. I know that I can request a patdown, but will this subject me to any additional hassling or questioning by the TSA / airport security?
posted by asockpuppet to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've done this. You will be subjected to a pat-down search much like the type you'd receive if you repeatedly caused the metal detector to go off. The TSA in response to your refusal will likely make you feel uncomfortable, but you'll still make it through security just fine.

I described my experience in this thread.
posted by odinsdream at 1:26 PM on October 7, 2010

I encountered the full body scanner at BUR and I told them I did not want to be scanned as it was invasive and a violation of my privacy.. so they patted me down and wanded me.

This was last summer. I was unaware they had the full body scanners at Burbank. I didn't know you could decline but did anyway out of contempt for such a violation of my privacy. The TSA man pointed to a sample picture they have posted as if to assure me it's not a big deal (while probably sending an ESP message to his friend in the viewing room -- hey, there's a 34 C coming your way) and when I said I didn't feel comfortable going through it, he got a woman to come do a light pat down. Then I was on my merry way.
posted by loquat at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2010

Your treatment upon refusal really depends on the TSA agent who is operating the checkpoint, but reports on Flyertalk about refusal range from "the TSO was professional and did a brief pat-down" to "the TSO was rude and yelled about holding up the line before subjecting me to a thorough pat-down and hand-wanding". My plan, should I ever encounter one of these at a checkpoint, is to politely refuse and ask for alternate screening.

You do have the right to refuse as this screening is optional for all passengers. Politely do so, and if they tell you that you can't, request a supervisor.
posted by bedhead at 1:46 PM on October 7, 2010

There's probably some nonzero chance they could choose to strip-search you, or at least pat you down, which is probably a bigger pain in the ass than just walking through a magic machine untouched and fully dressed, although maybe less creepy (depending on why you don't want to go through the body scanner, I guess).
posted by floam at 1:50 PM on October 7, 2010

When approaching the scanner you should speak to the TSA personnel and use the phrase "I opt out". These are the exact words which should trigger a hand pat down. You do not need to offer a reason.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:50 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I always refuse the body scanner. When I get to the carry-on x-ray machine and approach the body scanner, I just say "I'd like a pat-down, please." A couple of times, I've had to wait up to 10 minutes or so for them to get around to it. Once, they did some kind of swabbing operation on my shoes. So far, requesting a pat-down hasn't caused them to search my carry-ons or give me any other special attention. However, you should make sure to arrive at the airport in plenty of time, in case they make you wait, and/or search your stuff.

Also, some airports seem to have both body-scanners and metal detectors, with some lanes using one or the other. The last couple of times I flew, I was able to avoid the hassle entirely by getting in a line served by a metal detector.
posted by Maximian at 1:55 PM on October 7, 2010

Floam, can you point to a reported instance where the TSA has strip-searched a passenger as a result of refusing the body scanner? I have not seen a report of such response. I'm fairly certain they will just place you in the queue for a manual pat down.
posted by foggy out there now at 2:26 PM on October 7, 2010

Lots of pat downs go on every day without incident, it's just that nobody blogs about them unless it's a full body cavity search by a rude TSA employee who is half-asleep while looking at boobs on the full body scanners.

I would never drive 17 hours to avoid a 30-second pat down.
posted by thorny at 2:34 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

See if you can get in a line with a metal detector instead, almost all airports in the US have that option. If you don't, saying that you opt out without mentioning why will get you through the line the fastest and with the least hassle. Don't hassle TSA about doing their job and they're unlikely to hassle you. Be calm and friendly and everything will go fine. Smile and all that good stuff.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:47 PM on October 7, 2010

There is a zero chance that they will strip-search you; do not be alarmed by that incorrect advice. Standard operating procedure for those who opt out of the scanner is a pat-down search after the passenger walks through the metal detector.
posted by bedhead at 2:48 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hate and fear the surrender-to-authority and unclear enforcement of rules at airports, and I dreaded the inevitable scanner encounter I knew was coming. I can't remember which airport I was at, maybe the international terminal at SFO, but I had absolutely no problem when it came up this spring.

I was offered the choice (without even asking or looking trepidatious) all in one sentence; "This is the inspection line with the full body scanner. If you don't want to go through the scanner, you may opt for a pat down".

The experience was, truly, less of an issue than asking for no tomatoes on my sandwich at the deli. I got a respectful, speedy, and fully human inspection from a female officer. It was not invasive at all, I did not have to wait, nobody guilted me, rolled eyes, or asked my reasons, and it was performed right there on the control spot before the metal detector during the time I would have been waiting my turn anyway. She asked if I was okay with that, or if I wanted to leave the line for a privacy screened area, and clearly explained before each of her actions what she would need to do to complete the inspection.

I do understand that perhaps I was just very lucky and encountered two extremely professional officers, and that other people have had other experiences. I am no TSA-apologist; on other, non-scanner-opt-out occasions, I got shunted down a habitrail tunnel to stand alone in a locked clear plastic box because I didn't want to take my "too baggy" shirt off and stand in my bra in the inspection line, and once, a male officer jammed his hand, unannounced, between my thighs from behind because I "was wearing a long skirt".
posted by Sallyfur at 2:56 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ignore my guess above, it was uninformed.
posted by floam at 4:20 PM on October 7, 2010

I got a punitive "pat-down" for refusing - politely - in LAX. No strip search but they made a point of getting a good feel. Two officers (supposed to make me feel safer?) and just out of the public area, but I have no question they were trying to make a point.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:41 PM on October 7, 2010

A pat-down is nothing, they aren't allowed to feel you up, you have the right to request a same-sex officer (if that makes you more comfortable) and in my airport experience (pretty lengthy) most employees and security officers are really friendly. It's not very practical if you're on a schedule, but I always take comfort in the fact I can refuse to fly. You can refuse any kind of search as long as you leave the airport on foot.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 7:28 PM on October 7, 2010

There's probably some nonzero chance they could choose to strip-search you

You don't have to consent to any search, as long as you're willing to walk away and not get on a plane. Airport security are not cops. Also, they are not going to strip-search you, they are just going to pat you down. I'll be fine. They are trained to be respectful.
posted by Dasein at 2:13 PM on October 8, 2010

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