Holiday Air Travel: Getting Yourself and Your Geeklings Through the New TSA Procedures

GeekMom Travel

Provision_xray*Note: Use discretion when clicking the links to read the discussion and viewing images produced by the TSA scanners as some material is inappropriate for children.

As a frequently flying GeekMom, I’ve flown under the old and new guidelines, had my very first aggressive pat down, and learned a few things through the friendly and not-so-friendly skies as a business and leisure traveler, a domestic and international vacationer, a single woman alone and a single mom with an infant-toddler-kid-tween. As a criminologist, I travel with a professional eye as well. It’s easy enough to plot the inverse relationship between new security measures and ease of travel, but there are ways to minimize the fuss.

To full body scan or not to full body scan: That is the big holiday travel question. The controversy over full body scanners, now deployed in many airports throughout the United States and abroad, is well-documented. So what does the savvy GeekMom need to know to make an informed decision?

If you go through the full body scannerCheck out the images produced by the machines that are viewed by an agent, who may be of the opposite sex, in a separate location. Learn about the radiation issues, and decide whether the possibility of stored images is too much for you. But there’s more to consider. First, your belongings will be out of your view, albeit for a short time, while you are in the scanner. This probably matters more to you as a person who is more likely to be traveling with awesome expensive gadgets. Most importantly, you need to know that going through the scanner does not exempt you from one of the new aggressive pat downs. If the viewing agent spots something or there is some question about items in your personal belongings, you will get the new pat down even though you’ve just been through the scanner. Take absolutely everything out of your pockets to minimize this possibility.

If you opt out of the full body scanner: State your preference for alternate screening calmly but assertively. TSA’s clear intent is to make the pat-downs so uncomfortable that passengers will feel coerced into the scanner. And the new pat-downs are more aggressive. The touch is definitely more firm and there is more contact with genital areas. The search is always conducted by a member of the same sex. The stance you will adopt is actually pretty similar to the stance in the scanner, both of which may make some women feel vulnerable. Make sure you tell the agent if you have any medical equipment, or even just mildly sore spots and bruises. The pat down involves a certain amount of squeezing that could be painful if you have an injury. You absolutely have the right to have your children and your belongings in your view at all times. Ask to have each family member patted down one at a time rather than simultaneously so that you can keep an eye on things. Don’t hesitate to assert these rights.

Victims and survivors of any kind of sexual abuse or assault should weigh their options very carefully, and prepare themselves or their children for the potential emotional difficulty of having the genitals handled in this manner. All parents and kids should talk about appropriate and inappropriate touch. Children might come away with the impression that it’s OK for other people to touch them in this way after they see what happens in the patdowns.

Decide before you get to the airport whether or not you will go through the scanner, but always be prepared for the patdown given that you may wind up doing both. Your Geeklings most certainly need to be educated about what to expect and how to act. If your child is 12 or under (carry proof of age), they are exempt from the new aggressive patdowns, but they can still experience the a modified patdown which can be unsettling for a young child. Ask a trusted adult to pat you down in front of your children to give your kids a preview. You’ve seen enough CSI and YouTube footage to know what to do.

All of the security theater may also make your Geeklings fearful about air travel, especially if they are old enough to understand the connection to 9/11. If your child responds to the Spock/Data brand of logic, statistics demonstrating the safety of air travel are easy enough to find.

The issues and considerations are complex. Read the links in this post and try to devise a plan that works for your family. Regardless of how you feel about the new procedures, you’ll have to deal with them if you are flying this holiday season. More than ever before, it’s important to get to the airport early, be knowledgeable about TSA rules and policies, be prepared to respond if something goes wrong, and approach stressful situations with a positive attitude. Safe and happy travels to all, and to all a good flight.

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13 thoughts on “Holiday Air Travel: Getting Yourself and Your Geeklings Through the New TSA Procedures

  1. I have not flown since the new procedures went into effect but being an amputee, it makes me a bit nervous. I’ve had nothing but respectful service in the past, although I’m always pulled aside and wanded, then my leg is swabbed for explosives. I have heard the horror stories from other amputees (some I believe, some I do not) and wonder if I’m destined for both the scan and the pat down.
    Maybe by the time I have my next flight, the kinks will be worked out..


  2. I’m an Ex-Pat living in the UK. We had enough to go back to America for Christmas. I refuse to allow my family to be put through the kind of searches discussed above.

    The enhanced pat downs ammount to sexual assault as they are not required for the safety of air passengers. It is better to not travel than to have my family sexually assaulted in the name of security theatre.

  3. Thank you for this conscientious article discussing the very poor alternatives the TSA is offering travelers. I must say that I think the TSA endangers children and adults with these outrageous and unnecessary procedures.

    Many people who have undergone a patdown described it as akin to a sexual assault. My experience was that it felt worse than a sexual assault, because when a stranger grabbed me like that on the street I fought back. At the airport I had to just stand there and take it for fear of being arrested if I objected to what was happening to me.

    I do not think it is safe to fly anymore because of how the TSA is abusing people. I’m taking Amtrak – 24 hours each way – because my body is my own. I will fight this with everything I have, and I will never let those people put their hands on me again.

  4. has anyone heard anything about pets and the new scanners? (like is it too much radiation for them since they’re smaller? I mean my dog is only 9.4 pounds!)

    Luckily I know the airport we’re flying in and out of do not have the new scanners yet – but I’d really like to know for future reference. (As it is I’m trying to prevent as many problems as possible – I bought a leash collar combo that had the least metal on it possible to stick on her to go through the metal detector so her normal collar and leash with more metal (and her tags) can go through the xray machine with her crate)

  5. As a science geek, I appose these ‘enhanced techniques’ on the grounds that they aren’t affective and that even if they were the likelihood of dying in a terrorist attack is infinitesimally small making such time consuming and costly procedures a waste of time.

    But as a woman who is both a sexual assualt survivor and a cancer survivor I appose them on the grounds that they are a violation of our rights and most likely a health hazard based on the lack of unbiased peer reviewed study.

    Either way, it’s a bad thing and my family won’t be flying until it’s abolished.

  6. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I’m sorry for those of you who have had negative experiences or fear them – you are not alone. I have heard many reports “from the field” about the problems that survivors of violence have faced with the new TSA procedures.

    @Ally – I don’t know about pets, but did find this link:

    My next TSA encounter won’t be until January, but I’ll let you know if I get any new information.

  7. Thanks for the article. I’ve been tracking this TSA issue very closely for about 2 months now, and everything appears to be just as you say it is. It is good to have one place where all the information is distilled like this. Unfortunately, we bought tickets in the summer to go home for Christmas to visit my family (long before the pat-downs became an issue). Wife and kids will be in tow. The airport we are flying out of does not have a scanner yet. However, there is at least one at my home airport. Then there is the issue of the pat-down, irrespective of whether there is a scanner or not.

    I am very uncomfortable with all of this. Things seemed to have quieted down a bit since just before Thanksgiving, but I am really suspecting that this will be my family’s last flight unless and until this nonsense stops. Knowing our government, I don’t think the nonsense will stop. The Republicans started this with the scanners. The Dems have gone off the cliff with this with the pat-downs and the scanners, and we are to believe that the Republicans are going to come back in and stop this? Not a chance. I have no faith in our government to do the right thing by the American citizen. They are truly out of control, and it is now us against them. Sad.

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