Yesterday, I arrived at the airport to head from Houston, TX (IAH) back to Washington, DC (DCA). I am a frequent flyer – I know how the system works. I took off my boots and glasses, pulled my laptop out and went to walk through the metal detector. Naturally, I’d been selected to go through the scanner.
I always opt out of the scanners. It’s sort of a form of civil protest for me. It slows the process down. They get cranky. And I always do it publicly because I want everyone to see what the pat down is actually like. I also feel like they’ll be less invasive if people are watching.
I happened to be wearing a sleeveless cotton dress, a lightweight cardigan, and tights. I stepped aside for the invasion and they ask me to spread my legs.
She started by asking me to take my cardigan off. I said I’d rather not. She seemed put out, but didn’t make me remove it and began the pat down from behind. She made me lift up my cardigan to check my back, went into my sleeves, and touched every inch of my hair.
Then she got to my waist band. I had on black tights under my dress, which I’m certain is not uncommon. She asked me to lift my dress so she could check the waistband of my tights.
I felt my stomach drop. I said “I’m not lifting my dress for you. No way.” She was obviously irritated with me now and said that she would take me to the private screening area if I would like.
I said “No, absolutely not. If you can’t do this in front of everyone, you should not be doing this to me.”
She then called a manager over. The manager approached me and explained what they were going to do and that if I failed to comply, they would escort me from the airport. I told her I saw no reason that they should have to lift my dress to clear me to get on a plane. I would have, however, allowed them to escort me out of the airport before they got me to lift my skirt and stick their hands down my tights. I was bracing myself to spend another night in Texas.
She sensed the rebellion in me, and it was almost like they were punishing me for not just lifting my dress and making their lives easier. She checked every inch of my neckline, sticking her fingers between my breasts because she needed to “clear” the (very slight) ruffle.
They cleared the waistband of my tights through my dress, then made me put one leg forward at a time so they could get better “definition of my thigh.” She then proceded to pat down every inch of me, all the way up to my crotch. And yes, she used that word. Twice.
It reminded me of the time in Columbus, Ohio last November that one of the agents told me to think of the pat down as a “free massage from TSA.” I reminded her at the time that you needed to post a license for that.
The pat down in Houston yesterday was so vigorous I had to readjust my clothes when she was finished. Even my bra straps had been pulled down my shoulders in the process. I felt completely violated, immediately called a friend to recap, and took to Twitter to draw as much attention to the incident as I could.
Here’s the thing. If anyone else had done this to me, I would have decked them and likely filed charges. The fact that the person has on a TSA uniform is supposed to make it okay? It isn’t. Why should any person be subjected to this to get on an airplane? We’re supposed to subject ourselves to inappropriate touch for teh sake of “safety”?
I fly for my job. I travel frequently. I take trains when I can, but most of the time it’s just not practical. The fact that I have to endure this type of force just to do my job is horrifying. I don’t really have another option. Most of us who travel for work don’t have a choice.
I have to get on a plane to Denver tomorrow, and am honestly dreading the idea of going through the airport. TSA needs to go. This has gone so far beyond a security precaution, and is a clear violation of the rights of travelers. Showing my business to an airport full of people is not in the interests of safety. It is wrong.