My recent encounters with airport security

I want to write about my recent travel experiences with airport security.

I flew from Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Schipol, Amsterdam (AMS) and then a second flight, a few days later, from AMS onwards.

In EWR, I as I always do declined the body scanner and asked for a pat-down.

One of the operators tried to persuade me the scanner was safe by saying it was “like an ultrasound”, which is a shocking claim – utterly untrue. An ultrasound is like sonar. It uses sound waves which pass physically into the body and bounce around. A body scanner is like an x-ray machine. It uses ionizing radiation, which rams into the body and damages cells and contributes (in what is hopefully a tiny fashion, but the research is not clear) to the risk of cancer.

No one working with these machines should EVER say that. It was disgraceful.

So then I was “patted-down”.

Except it wasn’t a pat-down. That phrase is for when you stand up and someone pats you. I was “patted down” with such physical force I was actually staggering backwards and forwards – I was unable to maintain my balance standing. This went on for about five minutes.

So that was EWR.

Then in AMS, when I departed, again, I declined the scanner and was patted-down – actually patted-down; but this time, I was also taken into a privacy booth, and asked to unbutton and lower my jeans, which I did, he visually checked the buldge in my underwear and that was it.

That hasn’t happened before. I’m wondering if there is a connection between these two (EWR and AMS) events. Has there been globally a directive to make non-scanner checks more… more, what? more effective? presumably effective? while at the same time of course making them more intrusive, more intimate, more and more unpleasent – and remember here, there’s no evidence I am hostile; these are just routine, generalized checks.

The TSA recently stated passsengers no longer have the right to decline the body scanner – they can, at the TSA’s discretion, be required to go through, or, of course, be refused their flight (and what else? then coming to the attention of the FBI? who have the power to make a warrentless entry in all kinds of situations – including, shockingly, living within one hundred miles of the US border, which includes of course all of say NYC, which is where I used to live. Congress and the Senate are useless – these kinds of powers should not exist, but they do).

So, what do I come away from this with?

If EWR pat-downs are like that normally, I am not longer going to fly through EWR. I’d have to go through EWR again to find out if it is so, and the experience was unpleasent enough I have no wish to experiment to find out – so that kind looks like EWR is now on *my* no-fly list.

I already no longer fly through Gatwick, not for that reason, but because of the awful, awful experience of the cameras as you queue for immigration.

If US airpot pat-downs are like this in general, then – believe it or not – I’m no longer flying to the US. I’ll see if I can get in by ship in a more peaceful manner.

What of Schipol? I don’t know what to make of that. The TSA (the American airport security organisation) being abusive I know about. They are culturally like that and it’s not being fixed – indeed, I’d say it’s getting worse. (They’re also expensive – eight billion a year – and no good; the detection rate for explosives and guns is about 8%) – but Schipol? I thought the Dutch would be better. I will give them a second chance, and see what happens.