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What Its Like Refusing a Full-Body Scan: A Firsthand Account

October 21, 2010 at 5:01 PM | by | ()

The scanners at Pittsburgh

After we felt a little bit violated by our full-body scan at Buffalo, we vowed that the next time we came across one of them, wed refuse it.

Two days later (it was AYCJ time, you see) we were up against the blighters again in Pittsburgh, and we decided to make our stand.

There were no warning pictures that we were approaching the scan, so as it got close to our turn, and wed laid out our stuff on the conveyor belt, we told the TSA man wed like a patdown instead. His response? A loud groan and an epic eye roll. He told us they were busy, we apologized and said we just didnt want the scan. So he turned round and yelled at the female TSA agent who was checking people at the other end of the scan: We need a patdown here.

He then let us through a little gate to the other side of the machine and made us wait there. And wait. And wait.

After a couple of minutes, the regrets started. We were cutting it a little fine for our flight, our purse and laptop were sitting at the end of the conveyor belt with other stuff piling up on top of it, and we were stuck in the TSAs naughty corner on a time out.

It was then that we noticed that there were only full-body scanners in a couple of the lanes if wed chosen the neighboring lane, wed have gone through normal security. So we asked the TSA man if there was any chance of going through that one instead. He said no, but that we wouldnt have to wait too long. He also told us that we were only the third person to have turned down the scan all day (it was 5pm). Whether thats true, or whether three is the standard answer, were not sure, but staff at Buffalo had also told us three people had refused it when we turned up there at 11am and took it.

Anyways, our fussing about the flight made the TSA man take pity on us he called over his colleague, and the patdown began. And wow. Weve had a few, and this was the most civilized weve ever had, by a mile.

First she made us stand so that we could see our stuff, since being away from our laptop was making us antsy. Then she offered to do it in a private room, which we said we didnt need.

And then she strapped on her gloves and outlined absolutely every little thing that she was going to do before she did it. And at every point whether she was touching our arm, back, leg, crotch, whatever - she asked if we consented. Some choice quotes (yes, verbatim):

Now I'm going to use the back of my hand on your buttock, are you OK with that?

Now I'm going to move my hand in a swooping motion below your breast, are you still OK with that?

It was completely painless and astonishingly civilized. And although wed been were worried that refusing the scan would either mark us out as a threat or put us in the troublemaker category, being earmarked for strip searches and the rest, it was all fine. In fact, we even mentioned our fears to the woman and she laughed and said of course we wouldnt have been strip searched.

All in all, it took about five minutes more than going through the machine, but wed take that any day over a scan again and we even made the guy feel guilty for groaning at us when we said wed felt gross after wed been scanned the day before. From now on, well be requesting a patdown wherever we go.

Archived Comments:

Back to front

Airlines here in SEA just received word that they're now moving on to more "aggressive" pat downs. Specifically, no more back-of-the-hands, and they'll move "until meeting resistance". As in a body part. Not, like, you getting angry. Well, that may happen too.


Am flying through Seattle soon, will have some decisions to make!


You have the unconditional RIGHT to opt-out.
Google "DONT SCAN ME" or go to:
for important radiological safety and privacy information and actual images from this technology, not the lame images that TSA is propagating.

I get pat-downs all the time

I have a pacemaker, so I get a pat-down twice a week every week. You'll get used to it after a while.