The Low Down on the Pat Down
Our annual family adventure to Guadalajara, Mexico is never without incident. We travel with a minimum of twelve bags, more than half of which contain computer related equipment, including five laptops, two portable printers, a projector, a PA system and at least 40 PDA’s (mini computers). “We” are four people. Two of which are under the age of thirteen. If you are starting to get a rather bizarre mental image right now, you’re on the right track. My husband works at FIL, the largest Spanish language book fair in the world. He works for an American publisher, aiding librarians from all over the world choose books by zapping their ISBN numbers into one of his hand-held PDAs. He then downloads hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of orders back to the U.S. on the spot. The work is intense and requires every piece of equipment he brings. This makes it impossible for any bag he brings containing equipment to be “checked” for fear of loss or damage. We have been doing this for eight years now. My kids are old pros. They know the drill. No bag gets left behind! The PDA bag alone is worth about $10,000. At every stopping point a baggage count is conducted and at any point, when you come up one short, lets say the one holding the PDAs for example, there’s no time to be calm and think. Panic and hysteria set in immediately! But that was last year and while we eventually recovered the bag in Dallas, I am trying to erase that whole incident from my memory completely.
As you can imagine, getting there is the most stressful part of the trip. Going through Security is the biggest issue both ways, in both countries. We always get “pulled” to the side, for further scrutiny even though we carry a letter from the Mexican Consulate granting us permission to bring our electronics into Mexico. This year I was especially curious about all the hullabaloo surrounding the “body scan” vs. the “pat down“. I had heard that if you were “tapped” or the red light blinks when you pass under the metal detector, you were given a “choice”. Considering what happened to passenger John Tyner and his now famous warning “don’t touch my junk” to the TSA agent performing his pat down, I started mulling over which form of personal invasion I would prefer; radiation or an inappropriate squeeze. I was leaning toward the squeeze.
Honestly, I was expecting Cruella de Vil and was quite surprised at how pleasant TSA Agent Hurdley actually was as I passed underneath the metal detector at Newark Airport the day after Thanksgiving. In fact all of the agents we encountered at Newark were friendly and courteous. Agent Hurdley was even patient with my questions and didn’t seem bothered by my asking whether or not it was true that travelers were given the choice of a pat down vs. the body scan if stopped. So, here is the low down, in Newark anyway, according to Agent Hurdley, there is NO option. If the red light blinks while going under the metal detector, you get the pat down. Period.
Now, what about how close they actually come to touching your “junk”? Well, I witnessed two pat downs while putting my shoes back on and waiting for my family to come through (inevitably at least one of us gets separated from the rest during the “screening” process and I really don’t mind if it’s me). TSA Agent Johnson performed both pat downs and while I admit to wincing slightly at the “snapping” sound of Agent Johnson pulling his blue latex gloves onto his hands and despite the obvious awkward facial expressions on all parties involved, truth be told, no one’s “junk” was even close to being touched. One of the pat downs I witnessed was to my husband. In addition to the expected full bag search, this year he was treated to his first official pat down (which I am actually being suspected of having quietly requested but I won’t get into that now). In any case, I can attest to the fact that no “junk” was touched. And the body scan machine which looked quite impressive, wasn’t even being used that day.
So travelers relax. While you may not have a “choice” be comforted in knowing that at Newark Airport anyway, and with TSA Agent Johnson, your “junk”, at least for now, is safe. I know that’s not the case everywhere however, so please, tell me if you’ve had a different experience and what your thoughts are about all of this hullabaloo.