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 scanner: Check 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.