Extent of "grope/enhanced patdown"???
November 19, 2010 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be flying next month, and I'm already annoyed/upset, etc... about the pornoscanners and groping issue, but I'm even more nervous now due to one article I read and am wondering if I'm misunderstanding the groping issue and it is actually WORSE than I already believe it to be: Is the "enhanced patdown" an actual under/inside the clothes grabbing of genitals? I can't find a clear statement on the TSA site (great PR, not so great information architecture) and one blog explicitly detailed the touching of her labia but other blog posts I've seen can be read either way (as underclothes contact or overclothes, they're not particularly clear). Help???
posted by symbioid to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd love to read that blog post.

I can't say what goes on behind closed doors, which is why I would never agree to a private pat-down, but no, the standard "enhanced pat-down" procedure is outside the clothes, but still pretty invasive. Though I have read several reports from credible sources/friends who indicated that a TSA agent did put their fingers inside their waistbands.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:20 AM on November 19, 2010

This op-ed article in today's Boston Globe, from a male staff writer who declined the body imagine scan, says, "The agent firmly ran his hands over my entire body, head to toe, front and back. He rubbed his hands over my buttocks and in between. He put his hands in my pants and ran them all around my waist. From behind, he ran his hands along my legs, all the way up my thigh as high as he could go and onto my genitals. Then he moved in front of me and then did the same thing again." [emphasis mine]
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 10:24 AM on November 19, 2010

As annoying and intrusive as these actually are, the blogs are whipping themselves up into a frenzy and trying to convince everyone that every TSA patdown is a cavity search. It's not. They're not going to go into your underwear.
posted by proj at 10:25 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: the standard "enhanced pat-down" procedure is outside the clothes

I don't know how you can say that with such certainty. The New York Times says "one frustration is that the agency, citing security reasons, has declined to release specific guidelines about how the pat-downs are conducted or what agents are permitted to touch." (second page) It goes on to say that TSA agents are not supposed to touch inside the underwear or up a skirt, but says nothing about other articles of clothing.
posted by enn at 10:25 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: here is the article about the assault. It might not be standard, but it may have been an instance that happened.

I won't editorialize here, despite my desire to do so...
posted by symbioid at 10:26 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds as though it varies by airport/agent, but I had the enhanced patdown and it really, really wasn't that bad -- I was in a public place, next to the scanner, and the agent was really respectful, telling me what she was going to do and acting very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. She did use the back of her hand to pat down around my boobs and my inner thigh, but I didn't feel violated at all. She did NOT reach inside my clothes at any point.
posted by cider at 10:29 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the same NYT article I linked:
“What I’m hearing is some real inconsistency,” said Kate Hanni, executive director of FlyersRights.org, which operates a hot line for passenger complaints. “There seems to be a huge variation in how they’re patting people down.”
So, anecdotal reports are not going to be very helpful to you, I'm afraid.
posted by enn at 10:30 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Two weeks ago I received an enhanced patdown after opting out of the pornoscanner. The TSA agent did put her fingers inside my waistband; however, the genital grope portion of the search was strictly outside-the-clothes.

On preview, the agent's fingers most certainly did go into my underwear, though only by a couple of inches. I suppose she may have done this unintentionally and was actually aiming for the waistband of my pants instead, but it did happen. And yeah, the whole experience sucked.
posted by purplemonkie at 10:31 AM on November 19, 2010

Mod note: bunch of comments removed - if we could keep this from being a general referendum on your personal feelings about the TSA and stick to things you KNOW, that would be terrific
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:32 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: enn- you're right that nothing has been released publicly.

Considering I've already gotten three of the pat-downs this month and I'll likely have another in just a couple of hours I feel confident is stating that my experience is representative of the "standard".

And my regular flying also means that I've witnessed a few of these being done on other people. And I'm a frequent (this month, daily) reader of FlyerTalk, where this is a pretty hot topic.

Am I an authority? No. Am I pretty confident? Yep.

symbioid - Thanks. I went off and found that on my own as well. When I initially read I could see where you were confused on whether or not this was inside or outside the clothes. I would write and ask her. I think she has every right to be upset but I also think she may have been fast and loose with language there.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:33 AM on November 19, 2010

On Wednesday I opted out of the pornoscanner at SEA and was felt up by a TSA agent. She carried my stuff from the x-ray belt to the patdown mat, and could keep an eye on it throughout the entire procedure. She was as polite as anyone can be while doing a pat-down, and explained what she was going to do before doing it. She used the back of her hand when going over my chest and up my thighs until meeting "resistance". No fondling or cupping of my body was involved--it actually felt like she was just brushing lint off my clothing. She did run a finger around the inside of my waistband, front and back, lifting my shirt just high enough to do so, but otherwise did not displace my clothing. I can't imagine that such a delicate patdown is actually useful. For me it was way less creepy than going through the pornoscanner (experienced that a couple of weeks ago), but YMMV.
posted by esoterrica at 10:35 AM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: Here is a forum which members have linked news and blog articles about personal experiences related to the new TSA procedures:


Actually, Flyertalk forums have a wealth of information from frequent flyers who experience these every day. Some posters are business travelers who actually fly more days of the year than not. Their level of detail related to airport security is astonishing.
posted by juniperesque at 10:37 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

The ACLU has a lot of resources for travelers; the "Know Your Options" page might be worth printing out and bringing with you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:39 AM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If folks want to talk about this topic and not answer the OPs question, might I suggest the MetaTalk already in progress? I know this is an interesting topic, but this is AskMe and this thread needs to stay on the OPs question.
posted by jessamyn at 10:41 AM on November 19, 2010

My mom had to get the patdown when she flew last weekend (the metallic fabric in her clothes was opaque to the scanner, or something). It was all outside the clothes, and the agent used the back of her hand and told her which parts she was going to touch before she did it.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:42 AM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: The author of that blog post never states that the genital patdown was conducted under the clothing; I interpret her assertion that the TSA agent felt her "labia" as meaning that the agent's hand could be felt, through clothing, on her genitals as opposed to just on the crotch of the pants (which is often an inch or two below one's actual genitals). (I also assume she means outer labia rather than inner labia.) Note that the agent started at the bottom of her legs and worked her way up; either the woman had extremely loose pants on, or the procedure was done over her clothing and she just doesn't explicitly state it.

That blog post reads as someone who is either a) deliberately trying to be ambiguous in order to dramatize the situation, or b) unintentionally creating ambiguity due to her unfamiliarity with anatomical terms ("vagina area"? really?). Much as I am disturbed by the "enhanced patdown" procedure and hope to never go through it, I'm 99.9% sure the TSA isn't going around sticking their fingers up women's vaginas.
posted by pluckemin at 10:59 AM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: For jessamyn's sake, I'm gonna shut this - I think my answer was questioned well enough. :) Thanks to everyone for your inpute.
posted by symbioid at 11:22 AM on November 19, 2010

The point of a patdown is that the officer needs to make sure you aren't hiding anything. Since "anything" no longer means just a gun or a knife, that means that for the most part, every square inch of your body must be checked for things that aren't anatomical. That means that as the officer checks up your legs, the gloved hand must come close enough to the taint region to determine that there aren't explosives secreted there. That means there are going to be incidental cheek/ball/labia/glans brushings. They aren't trying to actually touch our businesses, they just need to get close enough that they would be able to detect something large enough to be dangerous.

Are there really this many people who have never had this done before? It's pretty standard for secure areas like courthouses and jails. And airports- just not at this scale. If you were flagged, you got this treatment. People on "the list", random picks and fat guys and girls have been having to lift folds since commercial airspace reopened in 9/2001.
posted by gjc at 10:16 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Can't Figure Out Why I Can't Figure It Out   |   Is it worth it to hire an interior designer /... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.