Full-body scan or pat-down?
It’s a choice that hundreds of thousands of air travelers will make for the first time this summer.
Not willingly, mind you. Some passengers are even going so far as to change the way they dress in an effort to avoid the whole thing. Susan Jones, an executive from Bellevue, Wash., wears clothes that won’t set off the airport magnetometer, hoping to pass through the checkpoint quickly.
“I have a favorite underwire garment that gets caught going through the machine,” she says. “So I try to remember not to wear it when I’m traveling.”
The TSA policy of either frisking or scanning passengers selected for additional screening dates back to last fall. But the full effects are being felt just now. Airports are bustling with infrequent travelers who have never faced this decision. Many want to know: Is there any way out? Is it even possible to avoid the TSA this summer?
The answers: yes and yes.
If you decide to fly, you can steer clear of this modern-day Morton’s Fork by doing exactly what Jones does, according to the TSA. Remove anything from your person that might set off the metal detector, and unless you’re randomly chosen for the scanner, you can walk free.
You can even improve your odds of avoiding a scanner by looking up your airport online to find out where the machines are and sidestepping them. A new site called TSA Status allows passengers to report which airports use the so-called “backscatter” machines more frequently and which checkpoints have the most aggressive screeners.
For example, a recent report rated the Terminal D screening area at the Philadelphia airport “green” — meaning that there were no machines visible — adding, “It’s still clear as of now.” On the other hand, it warned that the scanners were being used on almost all passengers at Ontario International Airport in Southern California.
Air travelers have used other tricks to elude the scan/pat-down dilemma. They include traveling with the kids — TSA agents seem far less likely to split up a family or to pat down young children — and bringing along pets. The evidence that either of these strategies works is strictly anecdotal, but if it makes any difference, one of the anecdotes is mine.
Nigel Appleby, a reader who lives near Vancouver, used to cross the border to fly out of Seattle whenever he found a bargain. The TSA’s sometimes heavy-handed screening practices have stopped that for the most part. “We’re heading to Europe in September, and we’ll fly out of Vancouver International Airport,” he says.
Some travelers would prefer not to play the game at all, and for them, the decision is made before they buy a ticket.
Darryl Wolfe, who works for a consulting firm in Charlotte, chose a pat-down over a scan last year and regretted it. “I was shocked by the intensity and roughness of the pat-down,” he told me. “In my mind at least, some of it was retribution for opting out. It was more like an assault.”