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a couple of TSA data points

We were traveling this weekend, our first flights since the new security measures were implemented.  I was reluctant to step into a backscatter radiation box, not so much because I care if I'm getting ogled by a remote TSA agent, as I care that I'm stepping into a radiation box that the manufacturers assure me is Perfectly Safe.  I've received more than my fair share of radiation in my life, and I'd rather not add to my total any more than I need to. 

In Airport 1, we politely requested a patdown.  We were directed to walk through a metal detector and then wait for the next available patdown agent, which only took a couple minutes (it was a pretty quiet day at the airport, though.)  We both got trainees (mine even made a mistake and had to go back to an earlier part of the patdown.)  They used a show-and-go kind of approach, e.g. "I'm going to feel the inside of your waistband now," while making eye contact with me to ensure I'd understood, before actually feeling the inside of my waistband.  They used the backs of their hands on any sensitive bits.  There was no groping or violation involved - the whole thing was very friendly, very non-threatening, I would have no problem doing it again (or even having my kid do it, if I had a kid.)  After the pat-down was over, they ran a chemically treated swab over their rubber gloves and ran it through a scanner, presumably to see if there was any bomb chemical residue on my clothing.  The light was green, the traveler was clean, and off we went on our merry way.

In Airport 2, the line we got in had a backscatter radiation box, but it was shut off and they had us walk through a metal detector instead.  So no real data there.  By that point, though, I wonder if they were so worried about the backlash and just decided not to bother with backscatter scanning during the holiday - I didn't think to check if the other lines were also using metal detectors until after we'd left the area. 

So, that was our experience, FWIW. 


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 24th, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
I suspect the radiation from the backscatter machines is safer than the radiation you get from flying in an airliner at 30,000 feet. And roughly as effective at protecting the plane from hijackers.
Nov. 24th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
What really bothers me is that I don't know. The only reports on the radiation that I've seen are as follows:
(A) the manufacturers and/or the TSA saying, "it's fine, really".
(B) other medical experts who say, "it may deliver unhealthy levels of radiation to the surface of the skin, but independent study is needed."
(C) the manufacturers and/or the TSA saying, "pshh. No, really. It's fine."

If an independent study confirms that the radiation really is minimal, I will rethink my stance. But given that I'm already in a high risk category for skin cancer, I'm content to get patdowns until there's more data.
Nov. 24th, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC)
I'm not a scientist
but some scientists are indeed concerned, specifically about the amount of radiation focused on the skin, so ... yeah, if I had a high skin cancer risk, I'd be doing what tamarinne is.


Thanks for the data. Sounds like the TSA agents are probably more uncomfortable than the people they're patting down.
Nov. 25th, 2010 02:23 am (UTC)
I'm checking with my oncologist, but I think I'm going to go the pat-down route. I take 4 or 5 trips a year by play. An extra 10 scans on top of the ones I currently get for medical reasons can't be on the path to enlightenment.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )