I just went through security at TF Green Airport in Rhode Island. I was coming from a conference and planning to fly home to Washington, D.C. I fly regularly for business and rarely have had a problem with security. In fact, I have TSA Pre, for expedited screening through security, but today it did not show up on my boarding pass, so I went through regular security like everyone else.
My bag was pulled for some reason as it went through the Xray for additional inspection. They wiped my bag for explosives and the alarm went off. This was not a good thing. That alarm triggers a whole process that the TSA must step through. As the TSA agent said to me, the bureaucrats who write the rules never have to do them, and they are detailed and take time, and people get really upset.
First, the explosive scanning machine had to be cleaned and reset – 7 minutes. My bag was then gone through in minute detail and wiped multiple times for explosives — each time negative – 8 minutes. Then I emptied my pockets, took off my jacket and removed my shoes and I was patted down —- nothing – 2 minutes. Then a supervisor was called over and a conference ensued, and the supervisor walked away for additional instructions. – 5 minutes. When he returned, I was advised that they needed to do a more detailed pat down including of my groin area. Was I ok with that, they asked? Sure, I said. I’m a gay man, I thought. I’m comfortable with a man touching my groin, so touch whatever you want. I was told I would be taken to a private room for the pat down and had visions of never coming back. Too many movies, I thought.
I was taken to a small room with two men, the original TSA agent that inspected my bag and his supervisor, and the door was closed. The first TSA agent observed and his supervisor, a big overweight rough looking guy, had me spread my arms and legs and patted me down. First the backside in great detail, including the inside of the waist band of my slacks. Then the front. At each step he told me what he was doing. “Ok, now I need to pat down your groin area.” The groin pat down was really a few gentle swipes across my front, but nothing terribly intrusive. If this was El Al, I thought, and this was Israeli security, it would have been a strip search and my body cavities examined. But this was the USA, so a few gentle swipes, and I was told I was good to go – 10 minutes. I was able to pack up, get dressed – 3 minutes, and I headed off to my gate. The entire process, about 35 minutes.
I will say the TSA agents were absolutely professional and respectful at all times. They apologized repeatedly for delaying me and kept thanking me for being so respectful and calm. They confided that this process made some traveler irate. They were both also uncomfortable with the groin pat down, but I guess that it’s part of the job.
Luckily, I was early at the airport and my plane was delayed, so no harm, no foul. My feeling in these situations is this: please TSA, do the job we’ve entrusted you do, even if it inconveniences me.
What triggered all this? I learned at the end from the TST agent: a glass paperweight in the shape of a tear drop, which the conference had given us as a gift, was flagged. The TSA agent looking at the Xray couldn’t tell what the paperweight was, so they pulled my bag for additional inspection.
So I wrote that this had a gay ending. My secret thought was this: I wanted to ask the big burley TSA agent, who was clearly uncomfortable with the whole touching my groin thing, ‘how do you feel about patting down the groin of a gay man?’ I didn’t of course.
I’m now happily on my flight home.