Hands On: SPM Gets TSA’d

Ana Anguiano has flashbacks to her previous TSA patdown. Photo illustration by Anthony Sandoval.

If readers recall, the Internet was a flurry of rage a few months ago when the Transportation Security Administration announced the introduction of full-body scanners at airport security checkpoints across the nation. The scanners quickly became unpopular and a hot topic to weigh in on.

As journalists will, I decided that nothing beats first-hand experience. So, pumped full of courage, I headed to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport ready to turn down their bulky machines and opt for the pat down. Sadly, I never got the chance. I was sent through a regular metal detector and went on my way to spend break with my family.

When it came time to pass through security at the El Paso International Airport in Texas, I saw it again — the giant black box of danger. El Paso International is a small airport and everyone had to go through the scanner. There was seemingly no way around it, but I knew better.

Being the only one in line, I felt confident in rejecting their silly device and opting for a physical pat down. I figure if they want to know what’s in my pockets, they should look for themselves and not resort to highly expensive scanners.

The very professional TSA worker tried to talk me out of it. She mentioned that she’d have to run her hands up my thighs and it would be a lot simpler if I went through the scanner. I said thanks, but no thanks. And that’s when it got real…

“One female opt out! We have one female opt out!” she yelled to her fellow TSA workers. She might as well have yelled, “We have a special snowflake that is too precious to go through our scanner and is making my day just that much more annoying!”

In her defense, I was messing up her flow. It’s understandable that she would want to get me out of the way as soon as possible, but this is El Paso and they did seem highly over staffed. Plus, the woman in charge of patting me down was 15 feet away, so I saw no reason to shout or be testy.

I waited for the TSA employee to get a new box of latex gloves and deal with the surge of people that appeared after me. I was offered the opportunity to be patted down in a private area, but that seemed a bit much, so I stayed next to the security line.

As I stood there, barefoot, legs spread apart and being watched by everyone around, I figured it would be a walk in the park. The TSA woman was a lot larger than me, but I thought she would be quick about it.

That thought quickly dissipated.

All the touching was extremely professional (don’t get me wrong, she did her job perfectly). However, maybe it was the height difference or her way of keeping me from misinterpreting the procedure, but somewhere during that pat down, she honestly karate chopped my, ahem, lady parts. Hard. Not just once or twice, but four times. I was so thrown off the first time that I actually let out a little yelp.

I don’t know if she was looking to dislodge something or expecting a certain reaction, but it startled me. I kept my composure while she finished feeling the lining of my underpants and everywhere else. I quickly gathered my things and sat quietly at my gate, no longer feeling smug about denying the scan.

It must be awkward to work for TSA and have to run your hands all over strangers, so I could never take it personally. But despite the media coverage on the scanners dying down, the principle of it all still matters to me. After waiting for my plane, I eventually got over the slight embarrassment and realized why there was such a backlash over the new security measures — it is very uncomfortable.

I am neither for nor against the scanners, but as a frequent flier, I think I will stubbornly keep opting out.

Reach the reporter at apanguia@asu.edu