Appreciate the Pat-Down: Airport Security Personnel Deserve Thanks

My Frenchmen gets grilled at customs on arrival in the USA, but with my American passport I usually glide through security with a warm, welcome home greeting. Oddly enough, I have more trouble getting out of the country.

On one return trip to Switzerland, I was halted for bringing a tube of nutritional gel in my carry on luggage. Another time, Delta airline personnel stopped me at the boarding gate after checking my passport.

« M’am I’m sorry, you are not authorized to leave the country. »

And so I learned you cannot fly internationally on an US passport if it is within 90 days of expiration.

Everyone knows that firearms, liquids, or scissors are forbidden aboard, but did you know that you may carry on antlers, artificial skeletal bones and air mattresses with built-in pumps? (see rules here)

I would also suggest do not wear dark glasses no matter how light-sensitive you are. Do not wear layers. The more you put on the more has to come off. Do not carry anything in pockets.

After waiting my turn at security, I stepped into the full body scanner and the TSA official insisted, “Empty your pockets.”

I pulled out my prescription sunglasses and Swiss residency papers. When she told me to raise my arms, a Swiss bill fell from the papers and I instinctively tried to grab it. Big no no.

“Do not move arms in the scanner,” she explained as she goosed me. “On the scan, it looks like you are trying to hide something.”

After the pat-down, the agent swabbed my fingertips with a blue tissue to detect explosives. An alarm went off again.

“Security check female passenger, “ she radioed backup into her armpit.

“Please step aside. Come with me. Bring your belongings.”

So as trays flew by on the conveyor belt, I scrambled to collect carry on possessions – Kindle, computer, tennis shoes, jacket, mittens, back brace, neck pillow, eye mask, and an ounce of toothpaste, body lotion, and lip balm in a quart sized plastic bag.

“Do you wear any medical devices?” another TSA official asked.

“Do toe inserts count?”

Apparently so. Off with socks. Out with my individually designed silicone toe separators.

While impatient passengers stared, I stood with my arms out at the sides, as another official felt me up again.

Some folks would be offended by such a rigorous investigation, but I commend the TSA and US Department of Homeland Security for doing their job well.

In the past, as an international traveler, I waited 6 hours with a team for a connecting flight in the Brussels airport, a week before the bombing. On the tarmac in Athens, I evacuated a plane due to a suspicious package and in a terminal in Paris I saw a bomb squad detonate an abandoned piece of luggage.

I am grateful for our security officials. Throughout my interrogation, the St. Paul/Minneapolis Airport officials remained polite, professional and patient.

I will gladly strip down to my skivvies and stand spread eagle if it helps keep our skies safe. Some consider it a violation of rights; I see it as assurance to travel freely in a society where so much has gone wrong.

Kudos to our TSA workers.

How many of us would be dedicated enough to frisk, irate strangers in overcrowded holiday airports without pay during a government shut down?

Posted in travel.


  1. I’m with you, Pat. It’s just part of doing business today. My experience has been varied depending on the personality of the TSA Agent but it does make me feel more secure. Happy flying!

    • I am sure each one can be different depending on their personalities, but in all the years I have been flying the majority of them have been polite and professional. Still wish we lived in a safer world.

  2. I get it, Pat, and mostly I appreciate it, but I do remember how slick and easy it used to be to travel, and I miss those days. I have been traveling for so long that I remember ashtrays in the airplane armrests (!!) The number of RULES we have now sometimes seem excessive: we saw a clear acrylic box in an airport that showed items which had been confiscated. So many measuring tapes were taken! I would never think of them as a security threat. Guns, knives, razors, box cutters – yes. It’s a shame that terrorists have negatively impacted the former joy of getting from here to there.

    • Nell, it is crazy what can be considered a security threat these days, but what is even crazier is to think of the deranged people using them to inflict harm on others. I, too, remember when the cross Atlantic flights had a smoking section, which was a real misnomer because of course the smoke didn’t stay in the designated areas with the smokers. I struggled to breath on those flights.

  3. I truly appreciate the timing of this article. Just today on the news they were reporting how unsafe things are right now with the TSA personnel calling out sick, which one cannot blame them since they aren’t getting paid. They may even be off at part-time jobs trying to bring in some income rather than just sitting around an waiting. I have five trips coming up in the next three months and it is terrifying to think about how unsafe it is becoming the longer the government shut down continues. Kudos to the people like our air traffic controllers who are accumulating expenses (money for gas. child care expenses, etc.) while working for no pay.
    I also truly appreciate the airport security teams’ attention to detail. It is for our safety. But I also miss the day of accompanying your loved ones to the gate before any such security measures had to be put into place.

    • Oh Tina, I don’t know how you and Jono can fly so much internationally and domestically. It is so exhausting with all the delays, security checks and other mishaps. I do hope for all the workers that they will receive a paycheck soon. I, too, miss bidding loved ones farewell at the gate. I remember when flying used to be a fun adventure.

  4. Are TSA agents even getting paid right now? For all that they do to keep our country safe, you would think the president would make sure the homeland security people would get paid, even with a government shutdown.
    This is good for thought. Thanks Pat!

    • Yes, it is crazy Joan. I hope that for so many hard workers paychecks will come soon. How can we function as a society with a government shutdown? It makes no sense.

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