How I made a TSA agent cry

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Okay, so, here's my tweet:

The short version of what happened:

The TSA agent goosed me with her thumb during an opt-out search, I jumped, she told me not to move, I retorted that she was not allowed to touch me there, a supervisor came over, I explained what happened, he observed the remaining opt-out, I criticized the TSA agent's technique and told her what she did wrong, she apologized and gave a lame excuse, I gathered my stuff, she came back and apologized again in tears, I left.

And here's the long version of what happened:

This is unedited for typos or grammar. The words used are approximations of what was said, as best I could remember them. If you get the video of this incident, send it to me, I'd love to lipread the exact words and update the post to match.

This morning, Kris dropped me off at San Jose International Airport for my flight to Chicago via San Diego. Everything that could go wrong, had started going wrong, from arriving 30 minutes past when I wanted to arrive at the airport (as I had bags to check), the check-in kiosk not printing out my pass (ignoring that they take two minutes on a good day to print out a single pass in the first place), to another passenger shipping wine through the express bag check causing a block that forced all of us to check bags through the long, main check-in line, to the security line being far longer and far slower than I had seen it in years. Frustratingly, they had only one guy checking IDs and they closed the metal detectors.

When I moved near the front, but not at the front, of the baggage x-ray screening line, my stuff in bins, my shoes off, my sweatshirt off and all, I told the woman manning the entrance that I was opting out. I did this well before I pushed my bags through because last time I didn't, my bags were both away from me and out of my sight for 12 minutes, and when I complained last time, I was told to inform the TSA person I was opting out before I pushed them through. Fine. I said I was opting out, she told me to push my bags through anyway, then called for a female assist.

I mentioned to her (let's call her TSAF1) that she just told me to push my bags through, yet I was separated from them, and this made me uncomfortable. She moved over, and offered the spot she was standing in, in front of the metal detector, so that I could have a full view of my bags. I thanked her, as I appreciated the gesture. I watched my bags, as she called again for another female assist.

Eventually, another woman TSA agent, let's call her TSAF2, came over, and motioned for me. TSAF1 went to move the webbing barrier in front of the metal detector. "Why are you bringing her in that way?" TSAF2 asked. "Because she's right here." "But my station is over there," TSAF2 responded, almost pointing to the X-Ray machine I specifically said I wasn't going through. TSAF1 to her credit said, "Her bags are over here," stepped to the side and motioned me through the metal detector.

As I went to step through, TSAF2 told me to remove my sunglasses, which were on top of my head, and put them through the x-ray screening.

Now, first of all, they are plastic. They aren't going to set off the metal detector. Second of all, people are not asked to remove their prescription glasses when they go through the metal detector. In a huff, I stepped to the side to put my glasses in a dish, put it on the belt, then stood outside the detector.

TSAF2 motioned me to come through.

I stood where I was. "My items are out here. I'll wait until they go through."

I stood there. TSAF2 motioned me again.

Now, the problem was that the belt wasn't moving because my items were in bins at the other end of the screening belt. They couldn't put anything else through, until I grabbed my stuff, but I couldn't grab my stuff until I went through the metal detector, and I wasn't going through the metal detector until all of my belongings were into the x-ray machine.

So, I stood there.

And thought, great, this is going to be another problem, and my flight is boarding in less than 20 minutes. Just great.

Eventually the owners of the other items on the screening belt made it through the people x-ray machine, and picked up their bins, giving room. My stuff moved a bin down, and the screener fired up the baggage x-rays, and my glasses went through.

[TSA people reading this post, THERE IS NO SECURITY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUNGLASSES ON A HEAD AND PRESCIPTION GLASSES ON A FACE. Insisting the glasses go through the x-ray machine when the person is going through a metal detector only gives the agent a power trip and a reason to be rude to the passenger.]

I stepped through, and WHAT DO YOU KNOW, NO ALARMS.

As I walked towards my stuff, she blocked me and asked which bins were mine. Yes, I know the drill, I sighed and pointed out the three bins with my stuff in them. She wasn't particularly careful with my items, which frustrated me, but at least she didn't try to carry everything herself.

She then pointed me towards the right and said, "Go that way."

I took a step then stopped. "That way" is too vague. She wanted me to go to her search station, but didn't tell me which was hers. She said, "Go ahead," and I took two more steps, and stopped. She said, "Ma'am, you need to go that way," to which I responded, "If I don't know where I'm going, having me lead isn't going to work."

She clued in and pointed towards the third station away from where I had gone through the metal detector.

The other guy carrying my stuff put down two of the bins with my stuff, TSAF2 put the bins she was carrying down next to them, and asked me if I knew about the opt-out process. Yes, I said, I always opt-out, I knew what was going on. So, you know that I'm going to touch you, yes, yes, I know. I'm going to touch you with the back of my hand. Yeah yeah. I'm going to feel up your thighs, yeah yeah. Did I have any limitations, no, I didn't, I then said, Thank you for explaining all of thing, while thinking just hurry up already.

So, she had me stand facing the wall, feet wide, arms out to my sides, palms up to ceiling.

I find facing a wall with hundreds of people behind my back to be vunerable. I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

I also didn't like being told my palms HAD TO BE facing up to the ceiling.

WTF? Who cares which direction your hands are facing? What, if someone's hands are facing down, they aren't going to find the explosives strapped to their wrists?

COME ON!

[TSA people reading this post, THERE IS NO FUNCTIONAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PALMS UP OR PALMS DOWN. Insisting on palms up just gives the agent a power trip and a reason to be rude to the passenger.]

She rubbed my shoulders and my arms, then went down my sides under my arms. When she was done, I halfway dropped my arms. She told me to lift my arms again while she reached around my lower back. My arms were not in any position to block her access to the areas she was checking. I lifted my arms again, and dropped them halfway again when she was rubbing down my back. She asked me to lift them again, then explained that unless there is some physical limitation, the arms are supposed to remain up.

Now, there are competitions to see who can hold their arms out straight, though they usually have a beer stein at the end of them, in their hands. It's not a position I practice frequently. My arms were tired, so I dropped them halfway, bending my elbows.

[TSA people reading this post, THERE IS NO FUNCTIONAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ARMS AT 90˚ AND ARMS HELD AWAY FROM THE BODY WITH ELBOWS BENT. Insisting on arms locked out at 90˚ just gives the agent a power trip and a reason to be rude to the passenger.]

Seriously, if I'm going to call this much attention to myself, and opt-out in the first place, the chances I'm planning on doing anything are exactly zero.

So, the agent moved to my legs, telling me what she was going to do, asking me to spread my legs farther apart. Okay, fine, I was already in a vulnerable position, what's a little more? I spread 'em, and she started rubbing my right leg from knee to crotch. She stopped quickly, and asked me to remove everything from my pockets, so I pulled my passport out of my back right pocket.

I came back, stood again, and she started at the top of my legs, went down, came back up my inner right leg.

And....

She goosed me.

She stuck her thumb into my cunt and I fucking jumped.

"Ma'am, you are not allowed to move."

I turned on her on that, anger rising up. "No, you are NOT allowed to touch me there. You just touched my vagina and you are not. allowed. to. do. that."

Okay, yes, I freely admit that in my shock, embarrassment, frustration, worry and anger, I forgot what the hell my girl parts are called. You let me know if I I need to turn in my girl card, right after someone else shoves her thumb up your hooch in front of a hundred people.

She immediately said no, she hadn't done this. I repeated that yes, she had, and she is not allowed to do that. Recovering only a little bit, I said, "You touched my clit and that is not okay."

YES, I KNOW, ALSO THE WRONG WORD. It worked.

"Okay, I can get a supervisor over here."

"Yes, let's do that. Look, I'm not trying to be difficult, but you are not allowed to touch my clit. Yes, get supervisor over here."

We didn't wait very long.

He came over, and just as she started explaining what was happening, I interrupted. "Look, she was going the patdown, when she went up, she touched my clit. That's not allowed. When I jumped, she told me not to move. When I told her what she had done, she denied it then called you over. Look, I'm not trying to be difficult, I just don't want her touching me there."

YES, I KNOW, she touched my labia and vulva and whatever, but she also went up far enough to go into the vaginal opening. I wasn't thinking clearly, there was some penetration, and I wanted the most offensive word I could think of so that the guy would listen to me. Yes, I know, I know. Offering girl-card again...

The supervisor offered a private room. As I don't give a rat's ass who sees me in public, and that includes even if I were naked, I didn't want a private room. I do care when people try to cover up objectionable actions by hiding it from the people who would also be outraged IF ONLY THEY KNEW ABOUT IT. I want everyone to know what's going on and I want them to care about the retarded, stupid charade about security that is going on. I want them to stop being fucking sheep and demand some change. Fuck.

Right.

I said no, and went back to standing with my legs too far apart, arms not really at 90˚, facing the wall, waiting for her to try again. She asked the supervisor to move from where he could see what she was doing, around to the left side of me where he couldn't see what she was doing, and started the lower body patdown again.

This time, she kept her thumbs where they belonged and put proper pressure on my legs. She went up my right leg, and touched the top of my leg close to my inner thigh and not in the middle of my crotch. She did the same for my left leg, then came around to the front.

When she reached for my waistband, I lifted up my shirt, and she grabbed it and pulled it back down. "You don't need to lift your shirt when I check your waistband," she said, as she reached down the inside of my pants. I find this one just as stupid because if I'm carrying anything, she'll be able to feel it on the outside and not reach down into my pants.

TSAF2 then asked me to sit down in a chair while she repeated the rub down on the lower parts of my legs. She didn't look at or touch the bottom of my feet, so I have no idea why the second search on my lower legs.

[TSA people reading this post, THERE IS NO FUNCTIONAL NEED TO GROPE THE SAME SPOT MULTIPLE TIMES. If the techniques you use aren't finding issues the first time, doing it multiple times isn't going to help, figure out a better technique. Multiple gropings just waste time, and give the agent a power trip and a reason to be rude to the passenger.]

She stepped away and said she was going to test her gloves, holding them up and moving to the sensor to my left. I looked at her, then said, "Okay, look, I'm going to give you feedback about your technique. The second time you did it, you did it fine. You kept a firm pressure on my legs this time. The first time you didn't, and you jammed your thumb too high, touching me where you weren't supposed to. Be sure you keep pressure on the leg and your thumbs in and you won't have people mad at you."

She looked at me and said, "Oh, it was probably my gloves that did it. They are too big," holding up her gloved hands. I looked at her and the flimsy gloves on her hand, and said, "No, probably not."

The supervisor looking at her gave her the same expression I'm sure I had on my face, "No, and that's the stupidest excuse I've ever heard."

The sensor went off, and, of course, it was negative, so she said, "Okay, you're free to go."

I looked at her for a big longer, so she pointed to my stuff and said, "You can take your stuff."

I turned away from her at that point, to put my shoes on, when she approached me from behind and apologized. I turned slightly to look at her, and she continued, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I really want everyone to have a good experience. I don't even like doing these pat-downs. I'm sorry."

I continued to gather my stuff, putting on my shoes, shoving my laptop into my bag, followed by my utilities box, and putting on my sweatshirt. I said something like, yeah, well, it's a sucky job, isn't it, but not quite those words, and turned my back on her to continue dressing. She moved away and I continued dressing.

Eventually I had my sweatshirt and shoes on, and everything packed back up: my phone in my pocket, along with my passport and my boarding pass. I slung my backpack around to my back, feeling slightly uncomfortable with just one bag since I normally carry two, and turned to walk out of the area.

As I turned, she approached me again. She reached out, but didn't touch me, and said again, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that. I want people to have a good experience, you know. I'm sorry." She was crying, but not bawling, tears in her eyes. She was clearly upset, but, seriously, I didn't really care. She was the one who touched me inappropriately.

"Yeah, well, have a nice day," I said, and turned to leave. My thought as I pulled out my phone to tweet, however, was, "You shouldn't have apologized. It shows weakness."

While I regret that I didn't check for her nametag, and that of her supervisor, I suspect it wouldn't be hard to figure out who they are. I certainly fly Southwest enough that I suspect if she stays with the job, I'll see her again.

And if I do, I'll be sure to remind her to keep her thumbs in.

Of course, I'm also thinking of wearing just spandex shorts, a running bra and socks through the security farce next time, too.

Comments

Reminds me of the scene where the Bassist in Spinal Tap gets flagged by airport security for wrapping a cucumber in tin foil and sticking it in his pants.

Reminds me of the scene where the Bassist in Spinal Tap gets flagged by airport security for wrapping a cucumber in tin foil and sticking it in his pants.

I empathize with your experience but you come off as extremely rude as well. I know that what happened was wrong, but I almost feel sorry for the agent who seems to be a pawn in a big machine of mind control. Maybe she does hate her job, or maybe she was having a bad day. No excuse for what happened to you and they definitely need to change their procedures, but clearly if she was in tears, she doesn't want to be "that agent" and it was probably accidental.

You know, I find it interesting the number of people who think I came off as rude.

My inner dialog and my outer actions are different. Other than dropping my arms 30˚ _when TSAF2's hands weren't any place close to my arms_, and rolling my eyes, there was no rudeness. To be perfectly straight here, there were no external actions that were out of line for any reasonable person doing the search. Is the search really going to be less effective because she's touching my calf and I dropped my arms while she did it?

I provided feedback to the woman so that she didn't goose someone else. I was calm. I never raised my voice. I never stood over the woman. I didn't intimidate her. Hell, even my interruption to explain what had happened to the supervisor was during a moment she paused to take a breath. I did not report her actions through official channels, as I believe that my feedback and her reaction will mean that she won't goose someone else.

So, no, I wasn't rude, and I find that some people think so to be a sad commentary on just how far people are used to the TSA's actions against the general public.

That all said, the key point of your comment that I took away was, by the way, "they definitely need to change their procedures." To which I say YES.

That, and I recognize that you're Canadian, which means you are probably predisposed to think just about every American is just rude redneck.* I get that, but really, the whole thing of "innocent until proven guilty" and "reasonable cause" and "illegal search and seizure" and "right to privacy" and "the right not to be assaulted by a member of my government" are all pretty important to me.

They may not be to you, but a big reason that you can have some of those liberties down here is because people even more outspoken than I am are pointing out the abuse of the system and working to change the degradation of civil rights and personal freedoms.

I appreciate that you took the time to read my post. It was long (and <a href="https://kitt.hodsden.org/about">really for me, not you</a>). I also appreciate your sharing your opinion, though I disagree with much of it.

That star * up there, that's a signal that gross generalization was made tongue-in-cheek and that I'm being facetious (which means jocular in an inappropriate manner), in case it wasn't obvious.

Disagreeing with the previous poster. Being firm and insisting on correct, respectful procedure in the face of unprofessional behavior isn't rude. If my firm insistence on my rights leads to someone else's tears, then it's the system's/boss's job to provide me with proper service and hire and train agents properly to prevent screwups and tears.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Kitt.

Thanks for reading, Sumana, and thanks for responding. I very much appreciate both!

I had been luck until recently not to have to make a choice on body scanner or pat down. The last 2 trips out of Dallas Ft. Worth they've pointed me thru the body scanner. Once was random the other they were putting everyone thru it.

I of course opted out both times as I refuse to go through them. I also make sure to wear a nice think sanitary napkin every time I have to pass through security. The first time I opted out I asked to have it done in private as I've heard of them lifting shirts up, etc. and I don't like showing my middle in public. So two white ladies and I go off to the private room. Very mild pat down, no touching of the crotch - they didn't even find the large sanitary napkin. Back of the hands around the perimeter of the breasts. I'm not a person that likes being touched by strangers but thankfully this wasn't offensive.

Second time also at Dallas Ft. Worth Airport. This time a black lady doing the pat down. I told her hey if you are going to be lifting my shirt up I want the pat down in private. She said no she wouldn't need to lift up my shirt. She was pretty nice, joking around a bit. Again wearing the big sanitary napkin - she didn't touch there. Nothing offensive.

I think that the issue is they are not consistent in their training, etc. If you are a woman just wear a think sanitary napkin and dispose of it later in the ladies room. This way they can't feel up your crotch. If they ask you to remove it for screening then you ask for a supervisor, police, etc. And then act incredulous that someone would ask you to remove a sanitary napkin and soil yourself and that your upset they're asking you to embarass yourself and ruin your clothes. This should shame someone into some common sense. I think you always have to make sure to remain calm and polite, don't raise your voice, but also be firm on what you will and will not do. Keep in mind the TSA cannot touch you unless you give them permission. Worst case you don't fly that day - you can always walk away from the screening no matter how far it has gone and no matter what the TSA say.

"Okay, you're free to go."

When she apologized, the 20-20 hindsight response would have been.

"Okay. Thank you for your apology. You're free to go."