In my last post I described my (mis)adventures of going through the TSA’s enhanced security screening process. A few hours after I wrote that post, I was selected for scanner screening at the Greater Cincinnati – Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG and yes, that’s the full official name of the airport, which is actually located in Kentucky) and flat-out refused, knowing that it would mean a pat-down. Honestly, I wanted to see how CVG handled the pat-down process. My verdict: TSA screeners in Cincinnati are some of the nicest, most professional people I’ve ever encountered in all my travels. Here’s my account.
Prior to leaving for the airport, I changed from my somewhat baggy work clothes to a black snug-fitting blogt-shirt from Mellow Johnny’s and my First Ascent climbing pants, which fit closer to the body than jeans or khakis.
I removed everything from my person except my wedding ring, LIVESTRONG wristband, and my hearing aids, and placed them in a small zippered travel bag I bought Friday over lunch, just for the occasion.
After refusing the backscatter scan, I successfully passed through the metal detector and my bags successfully passed the X-ray process and waited as a 1-stripe male officer (Agent Dollison) approached me putting on those blue gloves. He and a 2-stripe female supervisor explained the entire pat-down process in detail: how he would use his hands and where he would put them. Agent Dollison made sure I understood that he would run his hands up my legs to my groin area “until contact is made.”
“Are you OK with a public pat-down?” he asked.
“Are there any areas of your body that are sensitive to touch?”
“My entire body,” I replied.
Agent Dollison laughed and then proceeded with the pat-down, which was done with a gentler touch than the heavy-handed grope I experienced in Denver. Very professional. He then walked over to an explosive detection machine, picked up a swab pad, wiped the front and back of both his hands, and put the swab in the machine and started the explosive residue test.
Red lights. Alarm sounds. A 3-stripe supervisor comes running over.
[NOTE: You can identify a TSA agent’s rank by the number of stripes on his or her epaulets. 1-stripers are the agents most of the public is familiar with, with 2-stripers being the mid-level supervisors that are usually hovering around the edges of airport screening areas. 3-stripers are usually the team leads that oversee the entire scanning operation, and will get involved in a specific screening if there is real reason for concern.]
I’ve tested positive for explosives before, but always on my carry-ons. The TSA agents usually completely empty my laptop bag and re-swab it, and I always get the green light. This time, like the others, I expected my bags to be searched.
[NOTE: After looking back on my past positive explosive tests, I realized that I almost always have bike grease residue on my hands.]
The 3-stripe supervisor informed me that I would be subjected to an even more thorough pat-down search, and that it would be done in a private screening room. I told him and Agent Dollison that it was fine with me to conduct it in public, as the previous pat-down had been.
“I’m sorry sir, that’s not an option.”
At this point I didn’t know what to expect and I was a bit nervous. Agent Dollison’s gloves tested positive for explosive residue, and those gloves had just been all over my body. Was I going to be asked to strip? Was my luggage going to be emptied and searched?
A third agent gathered my shoes, suitcase and laptop bag, which had been set off to the side during my pat-down, and I was escorted to a private room just off the screening area. The brightly-lit screening room was 6 feet by 9 feet, or roughly the size of a jail cell. A plastic chair was in one corner, a long metal table was against one wall. An explosive detection machine identical to the one that recorded my positive test moments earlier was on the end of that long table.
The 3-stripe supervisor came in and explained that he was going to conduct a more thorough search, this time including an enhanced groin check. The pat-down was the same as before, with the addition of the supervisor running his hands left and right across the front of my groin, and then up and down the front of my groin.
Now I can say I’ve had my “junk” felt up, down, inside, outside and sideways by TSA. But hey, they were polite about it!
Once again, the gloves used during my second pat-down were scanned for explosives, and this time they returned a yellow “inconclusive” result. The 3 TSA agents said I was free to go. I thanked them for their professionalism and on my way to the terminal tram, I stopped by the elevated TSA supervisor’s platform and thanked them as well.
All together, it took me 20 minutes to clear security in Cincinnati last Friday, from ID check to being released from the second pat-down.
Truly, the TSA teams in Cincinnati are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Has my position on security screening changed because of my experiences last week? No. I disagree with TSA’s attempts to force everyone to go through scanner screening, and the pat-down process isn’t fun, no matter how professionally it’s conducted.
Many of you readers have encouraged me to continue my defiance, others of you want me to just shut up and go through the scanners.
In all journalistic fairness, I’ll go through the scanner tonight so I can get the full experience.
I do have some ideas on how to fix the entire screening process, and I’ll share those with you in my next post. But here’s a hint: Abolishing the TSA would be a serious mistake.