So, I did a lot of traveling over the holidays and throughout January. Coming back from Tampa I wore my Sabres Jersey to the airport and that was enough to get me pulled aside. They asked me to step into the scanner and after doing extensive reading I’ve decided not to do this. So here’s how this conversation went:

TSA: “Sir, can you step into the booth please?”
Me: “Oh is this “the scan?”
TSA: “(Condescending) Yeeeees.”
Me: “So don’t I have another option?”
TSA: “Um, yeah.”
Me: “So can I take that option?”
TSA: “Um yeah, but it will be awhile.”
Me: “That’s fine!”

So I waited no longer than three minutes for a young guy to come over and I have to say, was more than polite. Much more than the woman who was staffing the scanner.

TSA Guy: OK sir, I’m going to pat you down now.
TSA guy: When I get to your backside I will use the back of my hand.
Me; That’s fine, thanks!
TSA guy: Ok I need to run my hand up your thighs now, is that OK?
Me: Yes, sir. Thanks for asking.
TSA guy: I know you don’t have your belt on, so feel free to hold up your pants if you think you need to.
Me: Sure, thanks.
TSA guy: You’re welcome and thanks for cooperating, sir. You’re done.

He was very polite and I didn’t feel like he should have bought me dinner first. He was professional and I didn’t feel violated. Most importantly, he was polite unlike the woman who wasn’t even going to give me an option of taking the pat-down had I not asked.

However, a guy last summer in Cincinnati took the prize. I emptied my pockets of metal, etc. I always keep my wallet since it only has paper in it and had a small piece of paper in my front pocket. Here’s how that went:

TSA: (Aggressively) “Sir! Do you have something in your pocket?”
ME; “Um yes, just a piece of paper.”
TSA: (yelling) SIR! You need to take EVERYTHING out of your pockets except the lint!
Me: “Ok, Rambo!” (I remove everything and go through)

After I gather my things, I went back over to him and replied:
“Sir, why do I not have to take EVERYTHING out of my pockets in every other airport in the United States?”

He replied, “I don’t care about what they do at other airports, only this one.” as he puffed his chest a bit larger.

A friend travels to Israel often and notes how courteous the agents are at the airports there–which are the most secure in the world. One agent had to search his girlfriend’s long and curly hair. The whole time she apologized: “I’m really sorry to have to do this. I hope you understand that we have to do this to insure everyone’s safety. Thank you for cooperating.” And none of it had an ounce of “fakeness” to it–where it sounds like you are just reading a company line because you have to. I think our transportation agents often default to that and have lost the art of really communicating and empathizing with their customers.

I reflected back on how welcoming and simple courtesy sometimes are the first vestiges to leave an otherwise civilized society. It is no surprise to me that a personal welcome is what keeps people coming back to church and that discourteous comments from clergy or parishioners, or a clique mentality is what drives new people away all too easy. “We know what’s going on here and you don’t, so buck up and do what we do.” That’s a nice tagline for failure.

And the same is true about travel. I know I won’t fly through certain cities and often I won’t use certain airlines based on their lack of courtesy. My mother recently mentioned that she’s finding that people are less interested in taking care of other people and that they remain merely self-concerned. I’m not sure I share her thoughts on that. People want to be concerned about others and people want to be courteous, it’s just not a priority of the systematic society that values production over people, profits over philanthropy.

That’s where we’re called to change. We can be concerned about others even when we’re prioritizing the security of our airways. In fact, it’s what Jesus modeled for us. And so, we too, are called to do so as Christians.

0 thoughts on “I’ll Take the Pat Down”
  1. I worked in the airline industry for 7 years. I know how stress-inducing the security process can be. I also know that passengers likewise lose their own sense of care and courtesy when they travel. I remember that after a 12-14 hour day (and consecutive days like this) of passengers demanding private-jet treatment at Southwest prices and refusing to say “please” and “thank you,” I could get gruff. I regret that I wasn’t always the most courteous person, and there are a couple of moments I get embarrassed remembering , but I also know that I’m only human.

    I don’t want excuse the gruffness of anyone, but front-line TSA agents have taken their own share of it, especially since the “enhanced security measures” have taken effect. I’ll be you weren’t the first guy that day or that week who had a snappy retort or questioned his instructions. He might have just been tired of it by the point you got there. The guy’s just trying to do his job he was assigned to the best he could, according to rules made by people somewhere else. I have no doubt that you try to be the best person you can when you’re in these situations, but could you have had a different response than “Ok, Rambo”?

    Recently, I was travelling out of Seattle airport. Every single passenger who went through security had a pat down on either their upper or lower body. No one was given another option, and no one was given the option of which part of their body received the pat down. It was uncomfortable for me. I am not comfortable with a stranger reaching up to my groin area in front of other strangers. But I tried to remember that the TSA guy was doing the job he was told to do.

    Of course, this was a different procedure from every other airport. But I remembered that the TSA announced that security measures could be changed and modified without notice and at any single airport. They believe that they need to keep people guessing, and never let potential threats get used to one way of security procedure so they can never find a way around it.

    I guess my point is that the TSA agent may not have been trying to just be a jerk. Maybe he was just tired of having his job questioned. That’s not an excuse for him, but another explanation. Modeling Christian behavior when we travel may be a simple as following instructions without getting snappy, even when they seem onerous or petty. Extending courtesy–and Christian behavior–needs to come from both sides–customer and provider.

    On a lighter note, I read this essay the other day, and thought it was pretty funny. It’s called “How I learned to stop worrying and love the full body scan”:

  2. After the enhanced “security measures,” I’m done with flying. Period. That crosses my line, and it doesn’t really do anything to make us safer. No way am I subjecting myself to sexual harassment/molestation. (And that’s exactly what those techniques are. let’s not sugar coat this.)

    If others are fine giving their civil liberties away, let them. I’m not.

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