It seemed like a routine day at the airport. Coat off, laptop open, shoes and bag in the tray. None of those onerous new full-body scanners at this location, thank goodness! Just zip through the metal detector and… “Step over here, Ma’am. I need to pat you down.” Excuse me?
“Why?” I asked, incredulous.
“It looks like you have something under your sweater,” she responded, pointing at my midsection.
Well, okay. I just spent 12 days on a cruise ship. I probably have about five extra pounds of jumbo shrimp cocktail under my sweater. But it’s on the inside. I lifted my sweater so she could see. “Nothing but skin,” I told her as I showed her my tummy and turned around.
“I have to pat you down,” she repeated. “Step over here.”
“But there’s no reason for this,” I protested. “I showed you that I have nothing under my sweater.” I turned down the waistband of my jeans as well, for good measure, to show I had nothing hidden there.
“Either I pat you down, or I have someone escort you from the airport,” she stonewalled. Now there were three of them surrounding me, insisting on touching my entire body while everyone in the security line stood watching. “Are you sensitive on any part of your body?” one of them asked, reaching for my chest.
“Yes!” I replied. “I am very sensitive to having strangers touch my body.”
“Where are you sensitive?” she asked again.
“To having strangers pat me down in public? Anywhere!” I said.
Now the manager arrived. “Ma’am,” she said politely, “Either you comply, or you don’t fly.” I love it when they come up with cute little slogans. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Justice wasn’t served in that case, either.
She was right, however. I could argue, I could complain, I could make a scene. But if I wanted to fly home, I had to submit to being patted down. When I objected to being patted down in public, three women took me into a closet where one explained, another observed, and a third conducted the search. It was just like being at the gynecologist’s office. “Miss Smith, would you come in now and observe the exam?”
The woman then rubbed her hands all over my body, all the way up and all the way down. It was aggravating and humiliating. The manager acted professionally, but I watched the observer and patter exchange knowing glances and withhold smiles as they observed my discomfort. How many closet perverts are going to be applying for jobs at the TSA now that they can cop a grope or watch faceless nude pictures all day long? This is simply outrageous.
Most of all, on a personal front, it was discouraging. I am probably going to have this happen for the rest of my life. Leaving Tucson recently, I was patted down because I was wearing a long skirt. “You could be hiding something under there,” was the excuse. Okay, I get that. I won’t wear comfortable flowing skirts on planes any more. But when I wear tight jeans and a tight sweater to let agents see that I’m not carrying a bundle, they still pull me out of line. I suspect it has more to do with my coloring than my waistline. People often ask if I’m Filipino, although my ancestry is English, Irish, German and Swedish. I can’t change the way I look, so I am probably going to be a target forever.
Americans are not the terrorists, but we are being treated that way. Hundreds of thousands of honest Americans fly every day, and most of them are in compliance mode, shuffling along into the porno-scanners like sheep to the slaughter. Couldn’t all this be resolved with a special traveler’s passport that includes a security clearance? Such a card was introduced a few years ago (with a fee, of course) but it seems to have been withdrawn. There is no reason to treat Americans like terrorists, when a simple background check and frequent-flyer identity card could do the trick.
Jo Ann Skousen teaches English literature at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and has served as the entertainment editor of Liberty Magazine since 2005. She is the founder and producer of Anthem Film Festival, which will premiere at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas next summer.