General Question

bookish1's avatar

Recent experiences with TSA? Patdowns vs. scanners?

Asked by bookish1 (13040 points ) May 29th, 2012

I checked and the last question on this topic was started in 2010.

For those who have recently traveled by plane in the U.S., what have your experiences been with the “enhanced pat downs” and/or body scanners at the security checkpoint? Which do you opt for when given the choice, and why?

I’m going to be traveling very soon, for the first time in years, and I am pretty anxious. I am transgendered; my anatomy does not correspond to either what one would expect based on my appearance, or my gender marker on my passport, and I fear this might earn me extra scrutiny or harassment.

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26 Answers

tedd's avatar

You have to ask for a pat down, but you are allowed to get one rather than the full body scan. The scan is quick and pretty easy… though frankly I’m not at all a fan of them.

Given your gender issues, I would suggest phoning the TSA at the airport/s you’ll be using and explaining the situation to them. I tutor an autistic boy and his family went to Disney World last year. They talked to the TSA at our airport and were able to come in through security a couple times in the weeks leading up to their actual flight, to get him used to the process and make the TSA staff aware of him.

gailcalled's avatar

Can you bring a note from your doctor, or will that raise the alarm even further?

Wear a lightweight girdle

If someone were to actually grope you, could he notice the slightly different feel to the stuff?

bookish1's avatar

@tedd: Thank you for your input. Maybe I will call them.

@gailcalled: Thanks as well. I have a carry letter from my doctor which explains that I have a medical condition and requests that I be treated respectfully, fwiw.

And thanks but no thanks, I’m not trans like that and I ain’t wearing one of those girdles. I’m a trans guy (female to male) :-p

And yes, if someone groped my junk, they would feel a difference. >_> I don’t even know if it would be better for me to ask for a male or a female screener…

JLeslie's avatar

I always ask to be pat down, because I am freaky about radiation.

I don’t think being transgendered will matter at all. Can your describe how you look? Do you have breasts and a penis? Do you want to be pat down? Or, are you willing to be scanned?

They use the back of their hands for “sensitive areas.” Wear jeans so you have heavy clothes on and you won’t feel they are so close to your skin if you are pat down. The go up to your crotch on the inside of your leg, but as a woman I never feel like they are going up me. But, some jellies have been very upset that it seemed that way, they felt molested, but the one I am thinking of had on a skirt if I remember, so thay means the TSA person have their hand on her underwear. She also had in her past a rape or molestation which makes her more defensive, understandable.

They will tell you where they are about to touch, and they will offer you a pat down in a private room if you prefer.

Some airports still use the old metal detectors, they randomly have peoplego through the other scanners. What airports are you using? At Laguardia I still only get metal detected usually, in Memphis I get pat down, in Burlington it was a metal detector, etc.

rob89ed's avatar

Well in this case I would tell you that the best thing for you to do is. 1. Get your passport gender changed to your current gender. 2. Follow tedd’s advice and let TSA know about it. 3.The scanners are not as bad as you think, plus they are not suppose to register genitalia
4.Remember they are looking for bombs and weapons not transgendered people.

JLeslie's avatar

Sorry for the second post, I just saw you are female to male. Do you wrap your breasts so they are flat?

bookish1's avatar

@JLeslie: Thanks for your response. And nope, I am not transgendered like that. I am going in the other direction. Trans guys exist too :) I was assigned female at birth and still have all the associated equipment.

I’d rather be patted down, because I feel that “inconsistencies” related to the gear I wear will show up on a body-scan anyway, and then I will be sent to a pat-down. So I feel that asking for a pat down will just save time and trouble, but I’m not sure, hence why I asked for people’s opinions here.

@rob89ed: Thank you. I should have written in my OP, I did get my passport gender marker changed already. And bless the U.S. State Department for making it much easier for trans people to do this now. But my anatomy is not what one would expect given that my gender marker now says “M”.

JLeslie's avatar

Are you uncomfortable with a male patting you down?

bookish1's avatar

@JLeslie: No problem, I think we were posting at the same time :) Yes, I do bind. I’m not willing to go through the checkpoint without wearing the binder, which is made of stretch fabric and no metal. I am resigned to the fact that they might ask me to take it off or lift it to check underneath or something.

gailcalled's avatar

@bookish1: Are there not some males who are below average? Given the definition, I would think so.

bookish1's avatar

@JLeslie: I am more nervous about being patted down by a male, yes. I feel like a female would be less likely to be suspicious or harass me, but I have no way to know.

@gailcalled: Not sure what you mean. Don’t really want to talk any more about my genitals on a public forum like this, but you can learn about ftm hormonal transition on google.

JLeslie's avatar

@bookish1 I don’t believe they will make you remove anything. I don’t think you will have a problem at all. I suggest you wear an undershirt or t-shirt below another shirt when you go through. They will make you remove anything resembling a jacket. Anything with a zipper, snap, or button, like a sweatjacket, cardigan, blazer, or coat, but not a regular man tailored button down shirt. This is typical clothing for men, and should not cause any curiosity by TSA, and the added layer will mask the feeling of the binding I think. Would that be right. They are looking for unusual bumps like weapons and guns. Breasts are not unusual even on some men. If they make you remove the binding (again I reall doubt it, I doubt your chest will feel that unsual) then I believe the will still let you pur your clothing back on to be pat down.

After they pat you down they will make you wait while they test their gloves. I think they are trying to detect explosives. And, then they will let you go.

Oh, also, once you ask for the pat down they will no longer let you touch your carry-on items until the pat down is done. What happens is once they direct you to walk into the scan machine you can ask at that point for a pat down, they will make you wait for the pat down person to come get you (the wait is never very long, usually less than a minute). She will take you to the carry-on belt ask what is yours, collect everything for you in bins and walk your stuff and you over to wear the pat downs are done, unless you request a private room. I recommend you do it out in public.

syz's avatar

If it were me, I’d probably go through the scanner and see what happens. There’s plenty of gender neutral individuals about, and they may not even say or notice anything (especially since I assume they’re looking for metal and plastics).

If they wind up pulling you off the line for a pat-down, then that would be the time to present your doctor’s letter and explanation. (I got pulled and patted down last Saturday, but I think it may have been because of my under-wire bra since she only touched the sides of my upper chest.)

JLeslie's avatar

I see. You could call and see if you can arrange for a female to pat you down. Explain you are “physically” a woman. I assume they may request it is done in private possibly. That would probably be worth a call ahead, because requesting an opposite gender at the airport would be tough for them to deal with maybe if not expecting it. I think if it were me I would just go through as a guy and let the guy pat me down. But, I completely understand if you prefer a woman.

I also think you could just try going through the scanner. Put on boyish underwear, I bet you sail right through. As @syz said, you can deal with the pat down or doctor’s note if they ask you to do a pat down.

bookish1's avatar

@JLeslie: Thank you for the detailed explanation of the process. Honestly, I’ll probably submit to a pat down by whatever person they hand me over to; it’s just that the prospect of being groped by a guy makes me more nervous.

@syz: Thanks for the tip about when to proffer the doctor’s letter and explanation. I’d still like to avoid the body scan on principle if possible.

geeky_mama's avatar

Hi @bookish1

I travel nearly every week for work and I have TSA horror stories that could curl your hair (er, or straighten it, if it’s already curly).
It really depends on what city you’re going through because TSA varies in “interpretation” or attitude very much. My personal sh*t list of most hated TSA agent locations includes Philly and Newark (EWR).. My home airport (MSP) TSA is typically much more pleasant – and not only because I’m TSA Pre✓™

Here are a couple tips to help you (and by the way, being transgendered should not cause you to be singled out any more than usual. Go through the scanner – they aren’t looking at your private parts to correspond to your ID – really—it only becomes an issue if you get pulled aside for a “RPD” = Resolution Pat Down. Then they’ll select a supervisor to pat you down—and you can specify wanting a female agent.)

1. Wear your simplest clothes without any adornment. I had a sweater that I loved that had sequins on it and every time I wore it I got “randomly” selected for a pat down. Finally an agent clued me in that the sequins were probably causing some interference in the scan—now I NEVER wear that sweater on trips thru the airport. Simple clothes with the least amount of rivets, adornments or anything that might interfere with the x-ray scanner. Make sure you don’t put stuff in your pockets. Then….sail right thru the x-ray machine and never have to be patted down.

2. If you go online to your air carrier they have a section where you can enter your date of birth and any CBP (passport details, etc.) info you have. This can help a bit..it makes you more of a “trusted traveler”. You want to do this BEFORE you print your boarding pass because those details you give to the airline get into the barcode that is scanned by TSA.

Happy Travels.. don’t worry.

bookish1's avatar

@geeky_mama: Thanks alot for the tips. I’ll be traveling out from Raleigh and Charlotte, NC (multiple stops in an international flight).

JLeslie's avatar

I never feel groped. I feel touched, and it never feels sexual. They use the back of their hand as I said, they are not holding your body parts in the pal of their hands.

Oh, going international. If you wear make-up don’t wear dark red lipstick, and don’t wear a black shirt.

thorninmud's avatar

The TSA website has a page specifically for transgendered travelers.

bookish1's avatar

@Thorninmud: Thank you. I had seen that page already, and I wanted to ask for flesh and blood people’s opinions :)

geeky_mama's avatar

@bookish1 – I’ve been thru Charlotte a few times this year – and their TSA seems just fine – but perhaps understaffed because it takes an unusually long time to get thru the line there at peak times. (But the TSA aren’t over-the-top militant or making up their own rules like some places).
Haven’t been to Raleigh in a while..so can’t comment there—but it’s your initial departure point that matters, at least within the US. Once you’re through security at your departure city you’re good until you land internationally.

Same thing on your return – if your first point of entry is Charlotte, even though you’re just getting off a flight (say from Amsterdam or Munich) they make you go back through a security line once again after clearing customs.

Internationally, CDG (Paris-Charles de Gaulle) is the worst from a TSA perspective. They and the Tokyo TSA are the two that I’ve observed that like to make up additional new rules that aren’t even enforced in the US. Crazy crazy stuff.

If you’re headed to AMS or Munich you’re in very good shape from a TSA perspective. Efficient and highly professional folks in both of those airports.

Rarebear's avatar

Yeah, recently I’ve become convinced that they go to classes in how to become assholes.

JLeslie's avatar

@geeky_mama I found Tokyo to be no problem at all. I was there 3 or 4 years ago though, so it might have changed. In fact, JAL, TSA Tokyo I guess, let people with liquids and other items not allowed to carry on put the items in a box, rather than making people throw things out. It was one box for all passengers, no guarantees nor tagging their names on the items, but at the other end when we landed the box was there in baggage open and everyone who had out items in their could reach in a grab their stuff on the honor system. I thought it was so nice and reasonable.

I don’t think I have been in any other airports outside of the US going through TSA more recently? The last time I was out of the country was Canada and I crossed back into America riding a bus. That was the toughest immigration I have seen in a long time, maybe the toughest I have ever been through; at the border of Quebec and Vermont.

I used to fly out of Raleigh a lot, but it has been years. I lived there before and after 9/11, but left before the liquids became a problem. The airport employees in general were very nice and reasonable. Memphis they can be jerks. Not all of them, but enough of them. Detroit tends to be extremely strict. Metal detectors are turned up high to detect every little thing. It is the only airport I ever have to take off jewelry and my belt. New York City airports are less nutso than Detroit.

bookish1's avatar

Update: I wanted to thank all of those who were helpful on here. It really with my anxiety to hear other people’s experiences and advice.

I am very relieved to say I had no problems at all. I watched all the other people go through the scanners to have their genitals scrutinized, and I asked for a pat-down. I was in the Raleigh airport. They read me as male and gave me a man to pat me down, and I went along with that because my documents say male and I was presenting as male. He was very professional and made sure that I understood the process before we began.

According to him, for the crotch area check, they are supposed to raise their arms until they “meet resistance.” And, fwiw, he used only the back of his hands. He also offered me a private pat-down but I refused.

JLeslie's avatar

Thanks for the update! I’m so glad your experience was basically uneventful.

bookish1's avatar

@JLeslie: Thanks again to you :) Uneventful is the best as far as traveling goes!

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