My One Night Stand

My travel experiences have always been like a Seinfeld episode, the widely popular comedy sitcom from the 90’s.  The episode that always comes to mind is the one entitled “Soup Nazi”.  “No soup for you!”  Yes, bizarre things happen to me when I travel. I could fill a book with my experiences.

I can recall a United airlines flight that I was almost kicked off of in 1998.  I am still thoroughly embarrassed by this but let’s suffice it to say it was all about an airline attendant having a bad day.  When the pilot came back (yes, the pilot), he shook his head at the attendant (thankfully in agreement with me) had me resume my seat and returned to the front to fly the plane.  Yet, I still travel!

Recently I flew from Qatar to the USA via Washington D.C.  I had heard about the total body scanners being installed as a result of a Nigerian passenger flying from Amsterdam to Detroit who had sewn explosives to his underwear in an attempt to blow up the plane.  And, I had read a smidge about the controversy:  the radiation and the invasion of privacy.  As a fan of just in time information, unfortunately, I had not read a lot.

This was my third trip to the USA in 6 months and until now; I had not even seen a total body scanner.  Leaving D.C., I was “selected for a full body scan”.  As I had not read enough about the safety, I opted out for an “enhanced pat down”.  I did not know what I was in for.  The security guard smirked when I opted out; I should have known that I was in for something “special”.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) female agent who did the pat down was very professional.  She gave me the option to have the pat down “in private”.  Next time, I would pick this.  She described everything she was going to do to me just like I describe how I am going to perform a pap smear on a patient for their first time.  She was true to her word and pat she did!  She said she was going to outline my breasts with the side of her hand and she did.  Not so bad.  She said that she was going to pat down my bum. This was not so bad either.  And then she said she was going to pat all the way up to my inner thighs.  After she completed the pat down, I felt like a “one night stand”.  At least she could have taken me out to dinner beforehand.  Seriously this was nothing short of a public molestation.

The other option would have been to undergo the total body scan.  The scanner produces a naked 3D black and white image that resembles a film negative.  The images are not supposed to be stored but images have been leaked on the internet

As a woman, one of the first things I would want to know is can the scanners visualize a tampon?  For more fun on traveling with tampons read my good friend Kirsty’s hilarious blog.  OMG, I think I would die of embarrassment if someone behind the scanner could see my tampon. Yes, I am a doctor but I keep my womanly stuff to myself.  Rest assured, the scanners can only see through to the skin not into body cavities.  Although, some feminist groups will have you believe otherwise. Sanitary pads are visualized however.

I have inserted some photos so you can see what “they” see.  Please note how fat rolls and butt cheeks are nicely outlined.  Buns and Abs of Steel workouts are in order before we all fly the next time.  The scanners can also detect breast implants, colostomy bags and body piercings that you may not want anyone to know about.

Now, onto the safety.  There are two types of scanners.  One uses extremely high frequency radio waves to produce images and produces no ionizing radiation.  The other uses a technology known as “backscatter”, which does produce ionizing radiation.  According to the TSA, with the later scan, you will be exposed to as much radiation as you would during two minutes of your flight

One scan with the backscatter scanner and you are probably fine.  It is the cumulative scans that worry me.  It was said best by Dr Michael Love from John Hopkins who said “They say that the risk is minimal.  But statistically, someone is going to get skin cancer from these x-rays.

I missed out on “Opt-Out Day” which was scheduled for November 24, 2010, the day before Thanksgiving and the busiest travel day in the USA. I can only imagine the chaos this would have caused in regard to delays.

Then there are those who question is the Total body Scanner even necessary. If you are a true terrorist you will find other ways to smuggle items.  And as the body scanners cannot identify body cavities, the items will only be hidden in these cavities… I know eeewww!

So what would I do next time?  I think I would opt for a private pat down as there is no real good choice just the lesser of two evils.

Have you had any similar humiliating experiences?  Love to hear your stories!

7 years ago by in Travel/Expat | You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
12 Comments to My One Night Stand
    • Elyn Jacobs
    • Great post….really makes you want to avoid flying! Still, I would opt-out. and btw, you are so right, the pat downs and screening are awful and really will not protect us…..there will always be away around things, sad but true. thanks much, Elyn

    • Jarge
    • These pat downs and body scans may not be total protection, and there is always a way around them – but they certainly make it much more difficult for these evil people to execute their schemes. Its better than no protection at all.

    • Heather
    • Great post. And yes, I agree; it’s the accumulative amount of radiation that we are constantly being bombarded with in daily life. But here’s another thought, – do we know if the people running those scanners have calibrated them correctly? What if we happen to hit it on a day when the “not so bright one” was responsible for setting/testing levels? I’ll continue to opt for the pat down, as unpleasant as it is.
      Health & Happiness,

    • Keith Davis
    • Hi Rajka
      “After she completed the pat down, I felt like a “one night stand”.
      At least she could have taken me out to dinner beforehand.”

      Still laughing at that line.
      Great piece of writing.

      I’m too polite to go into details about body cavities… ugh, but thanks for the info about cumulative scans.
      Worth knowing.

      • Rajka
      • Hi Keith!

        Thanks for stopping by! And thanks for the compliments on the piece. Being mildly conservative, I was emabarrassed then when I walked away from this very public pat down. At least now I can laugh.

        Can you imagine I just saw that they have My Best Fit Scanners at Malls now to tell you what size you are in different brands; what happened to just trying on clothes?

        Hope you had a great weekend!

      • Expat Doctor Mom
      • Thanks for your reply and your post link. I love the internet for the ability to share information, opinions and ideas.

        I however still stand in my decision to not expose myself or my family to any unnecessary radiation.  There is no reason why they cannot install the non-ionizing machines instead of backscatter.  However your post and my post will allow the readers to decide for themselves.


    • Lisaann518
    • I travel quit a bit by airplanes and depending where you depart, it can be such a hassle now, I am old enough to remember checking your bags and walking to your gate. We dressed up because the airline may upgrade you to first class! It did happen quite a few times and I truly enjoyed flying back in those days: the flight attendants dressed for their jobs and wore support underwear and did their hair and were real friendly, willing to help make your trip an enjoyable trip. Not anymore! I realize times have changed and there are wackos who wish to kill innocent people but the whole experience is such a hassle from when you enter the airport. People are not polite anymore in lines or anyplace (even the vendors are pissy). I had my first experience before the backscatter machines, with having my number come up to feel up. A big black woman explained she’d be using the back of her hands, blah blah blah… So I stood there and let her feel me up and put her hands in the top of my pants, when I said to her “well, since we got to know each other so well, did she want to go to a dinner and a show so I could get to know her better?” luckily, she had a sense of humor, she said she wasn’t available and I had a plane to catch and then she tested my bag for bomb remnants or powder. They are grumpier now and are suspicious of people asking how their day is going or how much longer til they get to go home. Bellingham, WA is a little airport 75 miles north of us and the used to just fly to Vegas and Reno but now they fly to Honolulu, Hawaii. What a small time airport with nice people working there! Seattle’s airport has grumpy people overall. Phoenix has a nice group of workers there, I guess at least they appreciate having a job! Any way, I’ve shared enough and I thank you for reading what I wrote to Rykes Beautiful Blog! Hi Rykes, miss you!

      • Expat Doctor Mom
      • Where did the good old days go? My MIL said this recently about “What happened to the days where you dressed up to fly?” 

        Loved your story about your experience with the pat down. It does feel like you should at least go to dinner with them!

        And I hear you on the cranky staff. It is better flying internationally on the airlines we tend to fly. I am only reminded of this crankiness when I am back in the USA…

        Thanks for the compliments on the blog. 

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