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20 years

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another View on the TSA Full Body Scanner: A Silent Minority Speaks Up

Since Thanksgiving, the debate about TSA scanners has simmered a bit. It's guaranteed to pick up in the next couple of weeks during the Christmas/New Year's rush. Missing from the vehement discussions about scanners, privacy and intrusive TSA pat downs, is a multi-million member silent minority - The Metal Body Part Packing Nation who prefer full-body scanners. Some of us proudly walk-up, others roll-up, others limp to the airport security posts. The media wrongly portrays us as senior citizens on leave from Leisure Village; in fact, a growing number of us are well below the minimum age to collect social security.

We are the millions of Americans with metallic replacement body parts - hips, knees, ankles, pacemakers. We always set off the alarms at those primitive initial airport metal scanners. Once we trip these alarms we're automatically shunted aside and designated for the wonders of the TSA massage.

How big is our "nation"? Approximately 500,000 knee replacements are done each year in the US, 300,000 hip procedures. The ankle folks are the minority of our group, let's say a few thousand. It's hard to get an accurate count of our movement. Problem is that some folks have had multiple replacements - both knees, a hip and a knee. I don't know the number of metal body part folks who actually travel on planes. Let's conservatively say there are between 10 and 20 million people in this country who are capable of setting off the initial metal detector. That's a lot more than voted in several state primaries this fall.
I love the full body scanners. I seek them out in every airport terminal. I'll skip the 20 person line for the 50 person line when I spot a scanner, then hope that the device is up and running. Scanners promise freedom and time. They let me walk through airports, instead of imitating OJ Simpson (perish the thought) running through airports to the plane because the time used for the TSA body rub can make the difference between making and missing a flight.
In any given year, I might take 250+ flights. That's 250 navigations through the TSA security gauntlet. Like all other travelers, I pull out all of my essentials, wallet, cell phone, belt, laptop and liquids, change - and throw them into the bins. But I can't take out my hip, so it's either full pat down EVERY TRIP or look for the scanner.

Let's do the math. In my experience, the average wait for a "male assist" aka "Alarm Blue" is 10-12 minutes. If you're at an airport with many senior citizens (read Florida or Arizona), the wait time for a TSA body check could be 15 minutes. This is the time it takes to alarm, call for a TSA massage therapist, have him don the blue gloves, collect the bins, walk over to the screening area, instruct me on the procedures, do his magic, tell me I'm ok to go and then dress again.
Add up 10-12 minutes per frisk and we’re somewhere between 1.5 and 2 days a year consumed in airport security pat downs. I'm figuring about 35 more years of life expectancy and you get the picture. I can look forward to two months of life in pat down mode. Remember the scene in "Up In The Air" when George Clooney advises his young colleague not to ever check bags because the time waiting for bags can rob him of years off his life. Well, Mr. Clooney, meet your traveling TSA cousin.

Each time you get caught in the glass enclosed limbo zone waiting for the TSA friskers, there's another potential risk. If I can't stand next to my possession, there's a chance that a fellow traveler will pick up my wallet, cell phone or lap top. With the full body scanner, I'm usually in and out as fast as normal people and can pick up my items as they come through the screener.
Make no mistake, the most recent TSA frisking procedures are rude and offensive. The wands are gone; touching of sensitive body parts is de rigueur. And not all TSA friskers are equally as subtle with their movements. It's just the latest escalation in the metal group's pre-existing battle with airport security. For information about the scanners try these links or just Google TSA Scanners.

I'm a life-long supporter of several privacy and civil rights organizations. But as long as we have the current two security options, pat down or someone in a back room viewing my metallic (titanium to be specific) hip, the choice is easy. Bring on the full body scan. Biometric readers sound cool, why not a permanent implant for the silent minority that identifies our replacement parts and allows us to go through security like any other traveler?

What are your thoughts? Are you or a friend part of the silent metal-part-packing minority? Do you agree that a scanner beats the pat-down every time?

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