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November 24, 2010 10:44 AM   Subscribe

TSA pat-downs and kids. Am I over-reacting?

In January, we are planning to visit Texas to visit family. We originally were going to fly. My wife and I do not really care about the scanners. However we now have a one-year-old and the prospect of someone feeling her up because she won't stand still enough for the X-ray makes me ill. My wife plans to offer to change my daughter's diaper in front of an agent and have the screener visually inspect the new and old diapers. I find this plan hilarious, but will it work? Or should we just take Amtrak instead?

We will be flying out of Boston Logan on the way out and either IAH or HOU on the way home, if that matters.
posted by mkb to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total)
I've flown out of Boston Logan since the scanners have been installed and they do not make everyone go through the scanners, only some people. However, are you really concerned enough about someone patting your child down that you would consider taking the train instead of flying? I opted out of the scanner a few weeks ago and the agent who patted me down was very professional about it, although I understand there have been a few rare incidents. You do realize that they use female agents to pat down other females, right? It's not like getting felt up, I promise!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:47 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you over reacting-I assume you want a response--Yes. If going through either a scanner or pat down are the most traumatic things your child faces you are blessed--I would have absolutely no hesitancy taking any of my grandchildren through either--except perhaps a pat down for my latency age/teen age grand daughters. If you were flying with children on a very frequent basis--perhaps a bit. They are not"feeling her up"--I am surprised that other care takers have not already changed her diapers. Have a fun and enjoyable trip
posted by rmhsinc at 10:49 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

TSA has no sense of humor, or ability to handle exceptions, special cases, or innovative ideas. They will not appreciate your wife's creative solution.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:49 AM on November 24, 2010 [19 favorites]

Just flew and saw no one patted down at all. YMMV.
posted by josher71 at 10:54 AM on November 24, 2010

Two things that come to mind: 1. Wait for the Thanksgiving postmortem. These things were just introduced, and it's a huge travel weekend. Much will be learned, some procedures may change, or be refined to be more clear, and training needs will be identified and addressed to prevent a Christmas travel PR disaster. (Ideally.) 2. Boston to Houston is a very, very long train ride.

I don't know if it will be much comfort, but my sister and I were young children traveling in England during the '80s, when between the IRA and PLO, Britain was pretty much profiling everyone. My mom, sister, and I were pulled off the plane and physically searched. It was weird, but not scary. Neither my sister or I were traumatized by it. (For the record: I'm a little skeeved out about the new scanner/hand-search procedure myself, but more from a legal standpoint.)

Would you feel better if the person examining your daughter was a woman?
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:58 AM on November 24, 2010

My boyfriend just flew from Logan airport today and he said they weren't doing patdowns or backscatter scans. I had to both go through the backscatter and get a pat down last time I flew out of Logan, but that was going to Israel so it was a little different. (I noticed nothing unusually intrusive about the pat down, but maybe it was before they instituted the new ones.)
posted by phoenixy at 11:01 AM on November 24, 2010

In my opinion, you're overreacting. They're not going to give an enhanced pat down to your infant. According to the TSA's info page on patdowns:

Will children receive pat-downs?
Transportation Security Officers will work with parents to resolve any alarms at the checkpoint. If required, a child may receive a modified pat-down. Parents are encouraged to ensure their children have taken all items out of their pockets as they go through the security checkpoint.

I also agree with MrMoonPie, do not change the child's diaper in front of the TSA. It will undoubtedly not go over well.
posted by crankylex at 11:01 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The TSO isn't allowed to hold your child even if you try to hand her off, and isn't allowed to separate you from your child-- since she's not big enough to get around on her own two feet, you'll be in contact with her for the duration of the pat-down.

Supposedly the TSA isn't doing enhanced (read: gropey) patdowns on children under 12 these days, but that may not be ironclad-- quality of training and so on from airport to airport can differ.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:09 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, FlyerTalk maintains a list of alternative airports for most major metro regions. Manchester, NH does have a pretty nice airport, and appears to not have scanners at the current time.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:13 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

That scene in Goodfellas where they were smuggling drugs in a baby's diaper was based in reality; it was and might still be a common hiding place for contraband. Such perps rely on the overall public's "Ack! How dare you search a baby?!" reaction to influence screeners to feel ashamed for ever suspecting innocent children to being searched. Despite all the recent media hype, the TSA screener is not "feeling up" your child any more than the daycare provider/preschool teacher that quickly pats the butt area of your daughter's diaper to see if she needs changing.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:19 AM on November 24, 2010

So you don't mind if TSA looks at your daughter's genitals, but you don't want them doing a gentle pat-down? Yes, I'd say you are overreacting a bit.

Agreed with above: wait til after all the travels in this holiday season, and then freak out if need be.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:31 AM on November 24, 2010

In the 50 or so trips I've done this year, I have found most of the TSA people are pretty reasonable about these things - they didn't make these increasingly ridiculous policies and they didn't buy these ridiculous machines. The tone to take is slightly dumb and concerned - just ask if the scanner is safe for kids, or say you are pregnant. More often than not, they will just send you through the normal metal detector and that will be end of it.
posted by milkrate at 11:39 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

if you really feel that the TSA is out to "feel up" your infant child, then yes, you are over-reacting.
posted by violetk at 12:05 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I read that children under 12 could be opted out. You may want to look into that.
posted by Sufi at 12:55 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

should we just take Amtrak instead?

If the point is to protest the new TSA procedures, this is your best approach. Jokey disruptions in the line will at most annoy a few TSA workers and the passengers behind you. But if the number of people buying airline tickets starts to drop substantially, they'll have to start backing off on the security theater.
posted by ook at 12:59 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are overreacting. The TSA is not going to "feel up" your one year old child. The TSA are overall pretty reasonable people trying to do their jobs. Contrary to what is now apparently popular belief, the TSA are not just dying for the opportunity to lewdly touch you or your kid.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 1:06 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

The TSA says that the full exam only applies to kids 13 and older, but after hearing stories about past inconsistent application of rules in practice, I personally wouldn't trust this.

No, you are not overreacting. I think most parents, faced with even the chance of a stranger touching their kid's genitalia, would be extraordinarily upset.
posted by zippy at 2:43 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

zippy, they don't touch children's (or anyone else's) genitalia. They run their hands down the front and back of each leg, and they run the backs of their hands down the inseam. (they also use the backs of their hands to go over the chest area, back and buttocks). They do this in full view of everyone else surrounding you, so it's not like anything untoward goes on, although it certainly is weird.

It is no more intrusive than going to a tailor. I am not sticking up for the TSA here, as I think the new procedures are ridiculous. But they're not pervy if done according to their protocol. .
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:38 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I travel fairly often with my 2-year-old.

A 2 day Amtrak trip with a 1-year-old sounds awful.
posted by k8t at 3:46 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

zippy, they don't touch children's (or anyone else's) genitalia.

I wish this were true, but as of a few days ago, it wasn't.

For the new 'enhanced' pat down that applies to passengers 13 and over, Flyertalk and the New York Times, and this ex-cop contain first-hand accounts of passengers receiving front of hand contact - through the clothing - to the genitals. Some of these and past accounts also describe poor training and inconsistent application of procedures by the TSA.
posted by zippy at 4:31 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

You are overreacting. It's common for new fathers of daughters to go ballistic if anyone touches their child because they have some irrational fear that EVERYONE including their friends and people doing thier professional jobs (daycare workers, medical personell, TSA agents) are going to find something sexual about touching their child daughter. Most people do not find young children sexual and if they did they would be weeded out of professional service. Myself and many other women made it through girlhood unharmed by strangers changing our diapers and getting the occasional security pat down.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:30 PM on November 24, 2010

If your child would experience a stranger's looking in her diaper as traumatic and intrusive, then no, you are not overreacting; flying is hard for kids and adding additional upsetting experiences makes it harder.

If you, but not your child, experience a stranger's looking in your child's diaper as part of their professional duties as traumatic and intrusive, then maybe you are overreacting.

I hate the new TSA nonsense with a wild, unholy passion, but I don't think that TSA personnel are psyched about "feeling up" one-year-olds. Statistically speaking, most TSA personnel are likely to be parents themselves and to have changed one-year-olds' diapers. It is not a sexytimes experience the vast, vast majority of humanity.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:18 PM on November 24, 2010

The tone to take is slightly dumb and concerned - just ask if the scanner is safe for kids, or say you are pregnant.

I am visibly pregnant and didn't want to go through the scanner a few weeks ago and they made me anyway. They told me that they wouldn't have the scanners if they were dangerous to pregnant people. They didn't offer me a pat-down as an alternative, and I didn't know at the time to specifically ask for one.
posted by pizzazz at 6:29 PM on November 24, 2010

It is not a sexytimes experience the vast, vast majority of humanity.

Quoted for truth.
posted by gjc at 6:56 PM on November 24, 2010

I just flew with my four-month old and the TSA agents were surprisingly nice. We didn't have to go through the full-body scanner. All they made me do was take off my carrier and put it through the scanner. Then, I walked through the old school scanner with my baby in my arms. Once we got to the other side, the TSA agents moved all of our assorted baby gear to a nearby bench and wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. My husband did have to go through the full-body scanner.

On a side note, while I was re-loading up all our gear, I overheard a TSA supervisor telling the agents that the most important thing today was to make sure to treat people with friendliness and dignity.
posted by JuliaKM at 3:55 AM on November 26, 2010

Zippy's link to the police officer story is a must read.
posted by dejah420 at 8:02 AM on February 16, 2011

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