Friday, 22 March 2013

Five Things for Friday: TSA and Opting Out

When I flew to the States last month, I also made a separate journey from Indianapolis to Salt Lake. All told, from start to finish, I think I flew on 8 different planes!

That's a LOT of potential scans from those TSA x-ray machines, and although they say it's safe and all, why expose yourself to more radiation than necessary?

When choosing to opt out of their scanners, please use the phrase "I'm opting out." That is the legal terminology they are listening out for, apparently.

So here are some tips gleaned from my experiences.


Don't wear any loose, flowing clothing, and if possible, wear comfortable trousers/pants without pockets. I originally planned on wearing a skirt (I usually wear skirts anyway), but decided on the trousers because of pat-downs -- it makes it easier for the TSA officials to do their jobs if you don't have extra fabric of the skirt getting in the way.

My blazer was great, because it did have pockets, but I could take it off in the queue and simply told the officials that I didn't have pockets when they asked. It just simplified things.


Speaking of pat-downs: they aren't fun, but in the end it wasn't a huge deal. I opted out of the scanners in Indianapolis (twice, but had 3 pat-downs!), Salt Lake City (once), and Newark (once). 

Every time, I had a short wait for a female official, and I was always treated with courtesy and respect. 

Of all those opting out moments, interestingly enough, only one other person opted out that I could see. Hmm.


Here's a little tip: Don't wear hairspray! The TSA officials wear blue gloves during the pat-down, then wipe them with some sort of paper which is then scanned for chemicals. I hardly ever wear hairspray, but for some reason decided to give it a try on the morning of my flight, and it made the machine test positive for TNT.

I was asked to move into a private room (gulp) and the lady's female manager came in for another pat-down. They asked me about the hairspray, which I confirmed I was wearing, and they didn't seem surprised. I then watched as the original official wiped down my electronic items with fresh paper and scanned them for chemicals.

All told, it was an extra 10 minutes or so of my time, but it wasn't onerous or anything. I even said to the woman, "Thank you for being professional and courteous" to which she seemed taken aback; she responded with "Thank YOU for not being hateful!". Sounds like a stressful job....


I realise that everyone's experiences are different, and things like this can be so random depending on who is working that day, how busy it is, and what mood those TSA folks happen to be in at the moment. But even at Newark, where the line was mega huge and took FOREVER to get through, the officials were never less than courteous and polite. I never even got a "look" or huff when I told them I was opting out.

I was getting myself all freaked out by TSA horror stories, like retaliatory wait times or men performing pat-downs on women, but it never happened to me.

I didn't particularly enjoy choosing the pat-downs, and looked longingly at a few families that walked right through the metal detectors (like in Britain!), but oh well. That's a small price to pay to avoid all that radiation, I feel.


The pat-downs in the States are so much more... thorough... than the ones in Britain. I flew out of Birmingham airport and was chosen for a pat-down there, too. (hurray?)

It was a quick check for any suspicious gun-shaped lumps on my person, I'm assuming. In the States, every area subject to pat-down was checked at least twice. 

It was funny to notice the difference, although it didn't matter much in the end. I'm a placid mother of four for goodness sake. The most exciting thing I took on the plane was my very dangerous hairspray.

(speaking of which, what do they put in that stuff, to make it test positive for TNT?!)