The TSA Opt-Out – My Experience & Why I Did It

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TSA Opt-Out
The TSA Opt-Out. JFK Terminal 1 TSA Security.

The TSA Opt-Out

I am currently at JFK International Airport on my way to Luxembourg via Milan. Lately I have been reading about the Advanced Imaging Technology scanners that are used at TSA security. ¬†While I am not convinced they are harmful, I have decided that it probably isn’t a good idea to keep going through them considering how much I travel.

Since I do now have Global Entry, I usually am blessed with TSA Precheck, however that isn’t always the case. Tonight was one such time, so I did it. I opted out.

According to the TSA website, 99% of travelers go through the scanners. They say, “Since imaging technology has been deployed at airports, more than 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures.” I have never been the 1% before, perhaps now is the time.

Opting out is a personal decision and one I am still not 100% sure about, but perhaps it is better to be safe than sorry. Tonight after putting my bags through the xray, I told the TSA agent I was opting out. From there, it took about 10 minutes for a male screener to finish what he was doing and come over to “inspect” me.

TSA Opt-Out

He was very professional and asked whether I wanted the screening done in private or right there at the checkpoint. He also made sure my pockets were empty and I had to remove my belt.

The screener made sure to explain exactly how he would check me and described how he was using the back of his hands. (As if that makes much of a difference.) During the process I was instructed to look straight ahead and the entire screening took about two minutes.

After the screening was completed, the agent checked his gloves for gun powder residue and then sent me on my way. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but it wasn’t too bad. (Okay it was pretty bad.)

The TSA Opt-Out Pros & Cons

Here are the pros and cons of the TSA Opt-out as far as I can tell.

Pros:

  • You are not exposed to the radiation of the scanners.
  • No nude images are being taken. (They have new privacy software which supposedly blocks your image. This isn’t my main concern.)

Cons:

  • You may have to wait for an available agent to do the screening.
  • The screening can be embarrassing if done in public. (People stare, but you have the option for a private screening.)
  • The agent will thoroughly touch EVERY PART OF YOUR BODY.

For me, the worst part was waiting for the screener. Since there is no dedicated waiting area, I had to stand near the scanner I was trying to avoid. I was also in the way of the 99% trying to get through security.

Conclusion

At this point I am not sure if I will continue to opt-out, however the pat down is nothing worse then what I went through in both China & India earlier this year. I am sure the screener enjoyed it just as much as I did.

Have you ever done the TSA Opt-Out? Did I miss any Pros & Cons? Let me know in the comments? I’m interested to hear your take on it!


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10 COMMENTS

  1. I have not personally been through the pat down, but my mom has had to do this every time she flies. She is unable to lift her arms high enough to go through the screener, so she is forced to do this. I have to say, she does not complain about it, and it has not been a reason for her to stop flying yet. Personally though, I am appalled to stand and watch my 85 year old mother receive that screening. She is touched in every fold and crevice of her body, has to remove her shoes, and use the clear plastic cane they provide instead of her own. I am simply humiliated for her just watching.

    • Wow. That has to be tough. I’m glad she doesn’t complain, but that can’t be any fun for her. Perhaps she should consider Precheck or Global Entry. That would make sure she almost never has to go through that process.

  2. I *ALWAYS* opt-out.

    It is important to plan ahead and go through security a little extra early if you plan to opt-out as it does take extra time.

    As a “Pro” you can list exercising your rights. It is kinda like voting, individually it might not make a difference, but it still something worth doing.

  3. I have Global Entry and TSA PreCheck as well, which is great for domestic flights, but doesn’t work when leaving the US. I don’t mind the scanners, it is just another part of the “travel experience.” As for radiation, I’m not too worried.

  4. You don’t know me, Shawn, so I’m certain this will seem much more harsh than I intend it to be but I think you’re sensationalizing a non-event here.

    There’s nothing invasive about these patdowns. I’ve been through a lot of them and have never felt uncomfortable in the least. They do not, as you say, touch every part of your body.

    I’ve never had a screener make more than tangential contact with sexualized parts of my body. You say that it was “pretty bad” but what was so bad about being touched? There was certainly no sinister, sexual, or malicious intention present.

    I’ve had seatmates on planes who made more contact than TSA screeners, at least in terms of duration, and while not something I enjoy I recognize it’s just another human living their life beside mine not someone trying to make me suffer for picking the wrong seat. It doesn’t even move the needle in terms of annoying.

    Perhaps I’ve had to deal with more discomfort in my life than you have, but if an airport screening is what you consider pretty bad I think I could sleep peacefully through your worst nightmare.

    I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

    DC

    • I think perhaps I came off in the wrong way in this post. I meant it is pretty bad as in uncomfortable. My screener moved through in a very regimented way, however by the time he was done, the only part of my body not touched was my groin area.

      I definitely agree with you that it wasn’t a huge deal and I didn’t mean to sensationalize it. I can definitely see where you would get that impression though, so perhaps I should have disclaimed it a bit more.

      Like I said I have undergone searches that have been the same or worse in other countries and they are just part of travel life. Thanks for the input. I appreciate it and I don’t think it was harsh!

  5. On my last two flying experiences, I had to be patted down. Why?, because, I have a new metal knee replacement. I am also unable to use the scanner, because I cannot lift my left arm, due to a childhood bout of polio. Prior to my knee replacement I had been given pre-check status. I even had pre-check when I was patted Down. Having been semi-handicapped all of my life, I am very sensitive about my body and who touches it. The airport pat down was so personally humiliating, that I cried. You see I cannot lift my left arm, and the women, (I use the term loosely,) kept telling me to raise my arms, which increased my humiliation. I could feel the eyes of the croud watching me. I used to fly several times a year, but I have made a decision to never fly again.
    It is unconscienable that we have moved to this police state.
    As long as the public herds through these unconstitutional search lines like sheep, we are apt to have more freedoms taken away. If more people would refuse to fly, perhaps the airlines would take action, and design a more rational approach to screening. After all, are we really safer now? If you think so, you are a fool. If people want to terrorize our country, they will find a way.
    My decision to not fly was a difficult one. My husband now has to travel without me, and my children and grandchildren who live 1600 miles away, will only see me when I choose to drive there. At least I know that the airlines will not get one more penny from me.

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