Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do I get the pat down because I crave human contact?

The indignities of flying are nothing new. Historians can neither confirm nor deny that Orville Wright pantsed Wilbur immediately prior to take-off at Kitty Hawk, saying, “What goes up, must come down.” Whoosh.

So perhaps it’s in this spirit of degradation* that I willfully submit myself to the infamous “pat down” every time I’m chosen for enhanced security screening. That and I like to be difficult.

Look, I understand the need for increased security. Actually, that’s not true. I understand the need for increased security FOR OTHER PEOPLE. Like everyone, I think I should be exempted. Can’t you see that I’m a good person???

To be fair, I do myself no favors when, after four days of not shaving, I look like a remote mountain man who has accidentally wandered into the security area. What do you mean I can’t take my muskrat blood on your strange flying machine?

All that aside, if you haven’t been through enhance security screening before, you’re in for a treat.

First, you get to send all of your belongings ahead of you through the x-ray scanner to sit out in the open, free for anyone. Does this help stop terrorism? Sure. Does this stop someone from walking off with your laptop, shoes, phone, wallet or muskrat blood**? Not really.

Then there’s the prolonged wait by the metal detector with the gate agent. The topics of conversation are so limited that you’re better off not saying anything.

Me: “Looks like it might rain.”

Agent: “Rain? Like ‘Reign of Terror’??”

Me: “NO!”

Agent: “Sir, we’re going to have to probe you, alien-style”

Me: “Moo.”

Next, when it is your turn to get the “male assist”, they don’t even take you through the metal detector. That’s right: LESS security.

And finally, there’s the pat down itself. Much has been made of this procedure, and maybe it depends on the agent you get, but I’ve had to go through it twice now and, while not comfortable or desirable, it was not the traumatic experience I’ve been lead to expect.

Basically, they read a description of what is involved and then get your consent at various stages. If you’ve ever gone to a concert or a football game where you’ve been patted down, it’s like that, except that they grab a bit higher on the thigh and run their hands over your privates using the back of their hands—no cupping or hefting. And they give you a running dialogue of their actions the whole time—“I’m going to feel along your waistband now.” It’s as awkward for them as it is for you. Or at least for me.

Do they get a good sense of your body composition? Yes.

Is that kind of the point? Yes.

Is it a violation of your privacy? Probably.

Is it as bad as all that? No.

Do you wish you had hit the gym before going through it all? Kind of.

*It’s not.

** Don't worry, it's under 3 ounces