First of all, I would like to say that I am by no means a novice where it comes to airline travel and TSA security. I have been navigating checkpoints and security lines for years, and have flown during some of the highest security levels possible both within the US and abroad. My first commercial flight after September 11, 2001 was within a week of the WTC 9/11 tragedy, and throughout all the periods of upheaval in security protocol changes over the years I have never let it effect my flying habits or my attitude. To some people’s aghast, back when I smoked I would even go outside at a Chicago O’Hare layover to have a cigarette, knowing full well it was going to mean having to go back through security again on my way back to the terminal. No problem. Follow the rules and if they wanted the shoes on the belt I would put them on the belt, or if they wanted the shoes in a bin I would put them in a bin. Coat off and into a bin. Everything from my pockets including my cell phone went into my laptop case after the laptop itself was removed (that was the rules), and even though in most of the past 8 – 9 years I have flown upwards of 50,000 or more miles a year through trips to Hawaii or visits to relatives in England, I don’t think I have even as much as tripped a metal detector buzzer. Airport security? Piece of cake……. Until this last trip back from Hawaii that is.
The actual trip home from our 2 week vacation actually started out pretty normal. We returned our rental car, sent our bags through the agricultural inspection without a hitch, found out that both of our bags were within weight limits when the United agent weighed them, and arrived at the check-in lobby with literally hours to kill. Checking in at the kiosk rendered 4 gold stock boarding passes for my wife and I because of my Premier status in United’s Mileage Plus program.
Next we dropped off our checked luggage at the inspection point, and since I no longer need to go back outside to have that “last cigarette (or two)” before heading into the airport proper, we headed for the security gate and got into the “Gold Lane” (which carrying United’s gold stock boarding pass affords a person). Ok, so yes, membership does have it’s privileges, because that is exactly what the “Gold Lane” is supposed to do, speed things up for United’s First Class and Premier & above status travelers in going through security. Well, this was where the problem started.
While there were only probably a couple dozen of us in the Gold Lane, there had to be close to a couple hundred (that may be slightly exaggerated but…….) in the regular lanes. The regular lanes wound back & forth and back & forth like cattle stalls and for some reason just didn’t appear to be moving. All of a sudden, the TSA agent doing the initial ID inspection (and also directing lanes alternating between the Gold Lane and the regular lanes) started to bark out that “IF YOUR BOARDING PASS DOES NOT SAY ‘GOLD LANE’ ON IT, YOU BETTER NOT BE IN THIS LINE”!! What? “Say” Gold Lane on the boarding pass?” I don’t think United has done that in Honolulu since they went to the automated Kiosk issuing system. They used to stamp them with ‘Gold Lane’ back when it was all done by hand, but to my knowledge since the automated system was integrated, the machine either spits out a Blue Stock boarding pass for a regular passenger, or a Gold Stock boarding pass for those who meet the criteria. But the TSA agent was not accepting that, and even a couple people in line tried to point all this out to the agent when they reached him, they were sent packing over to the back of the regular line as were all the rest of us.
So…… by this time there had to be upwards of 250 of us in the regular lines winding our way though the cattle stalls, and of course absolutely NO ONE in the Gold Lane. My initial thought was “it sure is a good thing we have lots of time”. It didn’t take long though before there were lots of “other” thoughts going through my head besides just being glad we had arrived at the airport early. And those thoughts were “Where am I?” Am I actually still in the United States of America, or am I in 1970s Russia or 1940s Germany.
Why? Because parading along side the lines of passengers waiting to go through the security check point was yet another TSA agent bellowing at the top of his voice “DO NOT TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF UNTIL YOU ARE AT THE CHECK POINT!” “PLACE YOUR SHOES FLAT ON THE BELT AND NOT IN A BIN!” (or maybe it was in a bin and not on the belt, I really can’t remember right now) “YOU MUST TAKE EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR POCKETS!! “AND THAT MEANS EVERYTHING!!” “YOU MUST TAKE OFF YOUR BELT” “IT DOES NOT MATTER IF YOU ARE WEARING A METAL BELT, A LEATHER BELT, A PLASTIC BELT, OR A CLOTH BELT!!” “IT MUST COME OFF!!!” “IF YOU ARE WEARING A COAT, A HAT, OR ANY OTHER OUTER GARMENT, THAT ALSO MUST COME OFF AND BE PUT ON THE BELT TO BE X-RAYED”. And on and on and on………….
At this point if you are having any trouble at all visualizing what the situation looked or felt like going through that security check point, just think back to any movie you have ever seen where the Jewish people were being funneled through the concentration camps by the Nazis during WW-II. As I related to my son, it was TOTALLY intimidating! And this was taking place right here in the good old United States of America.
Ok, so after I don’t know how long of winding through this cattle line and listening to this spiel over & over & over again (always at the top of his lungs and parading like the Gestapo agent he evidently figured he was), we finally get to the actual check-in point. As normal, I pulled my laptop out, put all the stuff from my pockets into the laptop case, and once I was sure things were heading up the belt toward the X-Ray machine normally I headed through the metal detector (or so I thought). But as I reached it, another TSA agent all of a sudden yells “STOP RIGHT THERE WITH YOUR FEET ON THE MARKINGS! TURN TO YOUR RIGHT. PLACE YOUR HANDS OUT LIKE THE PICTURE!!”. When I kind of looked at him and gave him a “WTF is going on” look, he bellowed it again, so I of course turned cause I didn’t have a clue what was happening. I mean like I have already mentioned, I haven’t even set off a metal detector alarm in probably 10 years or better.
At that, the sides all closed in around me, a whirring thing went around, and lo-and-behold I had just had a nude picture taken of me by one of their new “Full Body Porno Scanners”. Never set an alarm off. No reason that I knew of for that type of screening. But before I even knew what was happening (much less have the opportunity to say “I OPT OUT”), boom, it was done. I’m telling you all right now, I have never felt so violated in my life. And now even a week later, that feeling has NOT gone away.
During a discussion about this experience the other day with a close friend, the question was posed by him that “Other than maybe a little embarrassment to have to think of a picture being taken of yourself basically in the nude, there really was no actual harm done was there?” My response…… “To me as far as the way I feel right now, that would be like asking a woman after she was raped that if she didn’t get pregnant, and didn’t contract VD or Aids, there really wasn’t any harm done was there?” Because that IS exactly the way I feel. Violated!! I feel like my civil liberties were violated. I feel like my 4th amendment rights were violated. And I feel like I was treated like NO American should be treated in their own country. And to think they are doing this to thousands and thousands of people everyday and we are letting them get away with it. Needless to say, this is something that burns me to my very core!
I guess It doesn’t matter how many of us, our fathers, our grand-fathers, uncles, ants, brothers, sisters, etc. fought for the freedoms of this country, if we allow this kind of treatment to continue, the terrorists have already won, and you and I as American citizens have let them.