Last week when I was returning to Vancouver from Las Vegas I had to clear security at the airport, which thousands of people do on a daily basis in the US. One component of the security clearance is the body scan. This is when you enter or walk through a device that attempts to detect the presence of harmful or restricted materials. It’s fairly well-known that you can opt out of the scan and get a manual search instead. For the first time since these scanners were introduced, I decided to opt out and get hand searched instead. This was something I only decided on as I was entering the security lineup. The whole opt out thing didn’t even enter my mind until that point.

After putting all my crap into the plastic bins, one of the TSA agents asked me to step into the scanner. I politely told them I was going to opt out. Apparently in some cases, people have been met with disdain from TSA agents when they ask to opt out. This was not the case with me. The TSA agent in front of me called out to her co-workers that I was opting out. This caused them to call for another TSA agent would be doing my manual search. I was politely asked to step around the body scanning machine and down to the end of the line, where normally you’d collect your stuff being x-rayed. I was told to step on comfy and soft black mat. The new TSA agent met up with me there. I initially was facing away from my belongings but he told me it’d probably be a good idea if I turned to face my stuff, just in case. I appreciated that bit of assistance. The TSA agent then described how the manual search would go. He was going to use gloved hands to search my body. On the “sensitive” areas, he’d use the back of his hand. He also told me he’d have to inspect the inside of the zipper area of my jeans. All of this seemed reasonable to me and he was professional in relaying the info. He even repeated parts of it twice to ensure I wasn’t going to be surprised by anything. Before he started, he asked me if I understood what was going to happen and even wanted to know if I would feel more comfortable having the search done in a private area. I told him no, doing the search right here was fine.

With that he asked me to hold out my arms with palms up and he began the search. He used his hands to basically feel for anything out of the ordinary that might not be part of my body. A lot of it was just what you’d expect from a police officer frisking you when you’re detained. He ran his hands up and down my legs and did the same for my chest. Did he touch the “sensitive” parts of my body? You bet he did. He felt my buttocks with the back of his hand, patting them down to see if I had anything other than a fat ass. When it came to my junk, he also used the back of his hand to feel for anything out of the ordinary. He then used his fingers to examine the flap over the zipper on my jeans. The whole thing took less than a minute to finish. My TSA agent was clinical and professional the entire time.

Once the search was done I was asked to remain in place because the TSA agent’s gloves were then taken off and then placed into a machine. This machine most likely detects explosives and probably drugs as well. I was told the machine would finish its detection sequence in less than thirty seconds and that was indeed the case. Not surprisingly, the machine came back with a negative reading and I was informed everything was done and I could collect my belongings.

My first TSA opt out experience was a pleasant one and based on this single point of data, I will continue to opt out in the future. Now there have been some very public stories about how opt out searches have turned out very bad for the traveler. This wasn’t the case with me for a few reasons. First, my TSA agent was very professional and courteous. Like I mentioned, he told me in very clear terms exactly what going to happen. During the search, I never felt like he was fondling or molesting me. Second, I’m not that sensitive when it comes to my body being searched. The dude said he was going to touch my junk with the back of his hand. So when he actually touched my junk with the back of his hand, I didn’t get all offended. If you’re going to opt out, expect to be searched and that means being touched. Third, the manual search took just fractionally longer than the body scan. I wasn’t in a hurry, so this didn’t even register as a problem for me.

Having returned, I’ve read more about the opt out searches and there’s a possibility I might have lucked out a bit. I’m lucky in that I don’t have any medical devices on my body. There have been a lot of TSA horror stories where people with various ailments get their medical devices ripped out or broken by the TSA agents. I’m also lucky that I didn’t get caught by the “retaliatory wait times”. This apparently occurs when TSA agents get annoyed at opt outs and then decide to delay the passenger as retaliation. I’ve read that opt outs are then forced to wait in a separate room for their search. TSA agents can then keep the passenger there for as long as they deem necessary.

The video above shows what an opt out search looks like. The passenger in the video is a woman so my search was slightly different because I have neither breasts nor a vagina but it was very similar.

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