TSA and Body Cavity Searches: A Look Inside in the Name of Safety

I recently heard a story of a female Irish citizen, married to an American, who claimed she was subjected to a strip search in the presence of several male and female TSA agents. She claimed that they used a camera to do a body cavity search.

https://izismile.com/2010/12/02/funny_tsa_comics_29_pics.htmlMy first reaction was bullshit, no way TSA agents would be using body cavity probes in an airport environment.

Wrong. Sort of. I’m not sure what happened during the search as for technology, but the TSA can do full strip searches, and the guidelines are a nightmare. Nowhere on the TSA site refers to using cameras in body cavity searches. However, one part of the policy is clear.  The search must be conducted in the presence of TSA agents of the same sex and the person subject to the search has the right to ask a companion to be with them to observe the process.  If the story is accurate, somebody in TSA screwed up.

But my guess is they don’t care.

This woman also claimed, after she explained she was married to an American and held a valid permanent resident green card, the TSA agent told her, “get used to it if you’re traveling here on a green card.”

That I do believe. Having both worked for an airline, and as one who travels frequently, the caliber of TSA agents in my experience, on the whole, is less than optimum. While it may not be a fair characterization of all TSA agents, in general, they are mall cops with a better pension plan.

The attitude toward intolerance of people from other countries and inconsiderate behavior coming out of Washington clearly plays a part in encouraging TSA agents to act in such a belligerent manner.

The change over the past year is dramatic.

Now, having been a police officer for 20 years, I heard wild and incredible (in the original meaning of not credible) stories of atrocious things done by cops.  It was clear they were made up, exaggerated fantasies of someone pissed off they got arrested or received a summons.

Not that some cops don’t engage in some egregious behavior, but it is easy to detect the bullshit stories.

So again, my first reaction to the body cavity search at an airport was one of disbelief.

A slight bit of research on the TSA site and other resources and I was proven wrong. To say I was stunned that TSA agents would be doing internal body cavity searches is an understatement. But the data out there, both anecdotal and reported in the media, is stunning.

Like most government agencies, the TSA website is as clear as mud. I couldn’t find a clear and well-articulated policy on the how and why of the TSA search policy. It leaves one to suspect their internal policy is not any better.

Body cavity searches approach the level of a medical examination. To think TSA agents can be trained to do such procedures is ludicrous. I’ve never encountered a TSA agent where I thought, “this person is wasting their talents here. They should go to medical school.”

Never mind medical school, some of these people wouldn’t be accepted as cadavers.

Now I know I will hear from agents, their friends, or family members about how dedicated and wonderful some TSA agents are. I agree, most are. The problem is, with the level of qualification to become a TSA agent, the position attracts some more enamored of the perceived power invested in the position than out of a sense of purpose, which casts a dark shadow on the good agents.

What the TSA needs is a better appreciation of how the public perceives them. They have no clue.

When most people are queued up at a security checkpoint they don’t see a level of protection for their safety; they see a roadblock to travel. An inconvenience to their getting to the plane.

For most people in line at a TSA checkpoint, the agents and screening process is the equivalent of a marked police car parked on the side of the road slowing traffic and making their commute even longer.

Combine this feeling with a TSA agent who thinks he is the Guardian of the Universe, snarling commands at the great unwashed masses, and you have an agency that serves an important function thought of as bullies and incompetent fools.

Add in the possibility they can take you into a back room and probe areas usually reserved for the most intimate of encounters and resentment will only grow. Until they work on their reputation and mold these agents to be mindful of the public perception, whatever they do, no matter how critical it is to safety, will be met with incredulity and ridicule.

funny_tsa_comics_640_08“You want to look where?  I don’t freakin’ think so…”

I don’t know about you, but that is the LAST place I’m hiding anything.



(Cartoons copyright by https://izismile.com/2010/12/02/funny_tsa_comics_29_pics-8.html)


An Open Letter to “American” Airlines

Dear American Airlines,

I tried to give you money yesterday but you refused to accept it. I wanted to upgrade my daughter and son-in-law’s flight home from their honeymoon to business class. Yet, no matter how I tried, you wouldn’t let me.

You just didn’t want my money.

First, I followed the advice of one of your customer service reps. She said that within the twenty-four-hour period before the flight, when I checked them in, I would be offered an opportunity to upgrade them.

That was lie number one. Not only was I never offered the opportunity to upgrade, I was only able to check-in one of them, my new son-in-law. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I like the guy. But I didn’t think I’d have to choose between him and my daughter having a return flight.

Such choices might make the holidays uncomfortable.

But I was hopeful. I called customer service. The first representative, located I believe somewhere on this planet but clearly not within walking distance, tried to help. He couldn’t. But he did connect me to someone he assured me would help me.

This was lie number two.

This person, also on a different planet, claimed she could not understand me. I thought she was being ironic.

She wasn’t.

After a number of “thank you too many for the privilege of speaking at you but my sincerest apologies as I do not comprehend you,” she gave up.

I am an optimist. I called back.

This time, I spoke to another individual. The accent sounded familiar, I was hopeful until I realized I recognized the accent from a Star Trek movie. It was not a crew member of the Enterprise.

They said, and I quote, they were “sincerely apologizing for the problem to fix my unability to accomplish my goal” but they could not provide the requested assistance.

On a positive note, they were very happy to speak with me and thanked me for using American Airlines. I began to have doubts.

Now I do not have an issue with globalization. As a matter of fact, I embrace the concept. But, since for the foreseeable future there will be language differences among humans, I don’t think it too much to ask that you offer some reasonable chance that I can speak to a representative that actually understands English, not parrots certain memorized phrases.

I suspect the problem would not have been any better had I been able to speak Spanish and “presione dos” as the accent was clearly not Spanish.

Either that or change the name of the airline. American Airlines does carry a certain expectation.

Needless to say, I never was able to give you my money. My daughter was left to her own devices to check in at the airport. I am sure she will make it onto your flight home from Chile. Cramped and squashed into seats designed for hobbits.

Thanks, American Airlines. You’ve made their honeymoon a most memorable experience.

Sincerely yours too many,

Joe Broadmeadow

Sleeping in Hell

If there is someone you truly dislike, wish for them a night in an airport during a blizzard, Baltimore, Chicago, or any large airport preferably.

The noises at night, snoring, crying, screaming, laughing, or complaining, coupled with the cleaning crews locking ALL restrooms (no changing of the plan regardless of the conditions), testing alarms, and leaving EVERY light on, make for an unforgettable experience.

Then there are the children.

I feel the pain of anyone traveling with small children, compound that with being stuck with them, overnight, bleak hope of getting out anytime soon, and they probably wish infertility was their biggest concern.

I have a solution, ban them. NO kids allowed to travel. Let them drive so the parents, grandparents, keepers can enjoy their hell privately. Just kidding, but maybe adult-only airport terminals might work!

As I write this, we are in the middle of what looks like (at a minimum) a 26 hour layover (yes 26, twenty-six, not 2.6) in Baltimore. Layover is too nice a term, involuntary incarceration is more accurate.

Parts were amusing, the aviation experts (who’s sum total of aviation experience came from riding in the back of planes, not flying them) sounding off about how the conditions aren’t that bad, I remember the old days when airlines flew in much worse than this, blah, blah, blah.

Or, the ones who come off a plane brought back to the gate after sitting for an hour and a half on the tarmac (along with 50 other flights), cheerfully calling for hotel reservations, then screaming because (lo and behold) every hotel from here to DC is sold out.

Or, the ones screaming at the Customer Service Agents that, despite the fight cancellation being outside the airline’s control, they MUST provide a room (see above).Having been on the other side of that counter for Southwest Airlines, I can tell you the agents want you on the plane and gone more than you do!

But we adapted. We’ve slept in mice-infested, smoke smelling, freezing shelters on the Appalachian Trail filled with hikers that haven’t showered in five days…

Oh, how I miss that luxury…anything is better than this.

If Dante needs a Tenth Ring of Hell, add a night in an Airport terminal.

Questions and the Answers I’d Love to Give

Have you ever listened to some of the questions people ask at the airport?

I am not talking about the ordinary ones, of course it is reasonable to be curious about the reason for delays; weather, mechanical, the arrival of Air Force One.

It is the following question, always asked while they are looking at an empty gate with no plane in sight, door to the jetway closed, flight scheduled and posted to leave 3 hours from that moment, that make me fear the path of human evolution.

“Have you started boarding?”

Every person that has ever worked an airline gate is so tempted to come up with some answer other than the polite, yet so obvious,”No not yet, we will start about 20 minutes before departure time, which is in two hours and thirty minutes.”

What they would love to say is….

“Hmm, generally we like to wait for the plane. We experimented with pre-boarding prior to the arrival of the aircraft but the Captains kept complaining about the speed bumps on the J-line created by the passengers falling out of the jetway.”


“The plane is in fact there but we are having a problem turning off the cloaking device. We could board but with this particular Aircraft the defect in the cloaking unit is specific to an area onboard. If a passenger were to use the rear lavatory, while the aircraft was still on the ground, well, the passenger, and just the passenger, becomes visible. We found it unnerved the other passengers that might see that. So we have to get that fixed first”.

The other favorite question is when a passenger approaches the counter, and in the interest of full disclosure it is generally a male, puts their connecting boarding pass for LAX from Chicago Midway on the counter and announces “If I leave Chicago at 2:00pm how can I get to LAX at 4:30PM when it’s a four hour flight?”. As if to announce they have discovered a flaw in Einstein’s theory of relativity or the universal limit, the speed of light.

So the agent smiles and says “The arrival times are local times and there is a time difference between the cities”

What they’d really like to do is look around conspiratorially, motion the passenger to come closer, once again make sure no one else is listening, and say “Shhh, don’t share this with anyone, there really is a wrinkle in time and we found it, saves us so much fuel we don’t have to charge for bags”

Most of the questions people ask are more a reflection of an unfamiliarity or nervousness about flying. They want to be reassured. I love making sure everyone who flies with us has a great trip.

But the next time you are at the airport, and you see someone walk up to the counter, speak to the agents at the desk, see the agents turn around and look at the empty gate, missing an airplane, you will know exactly what they are thinking.