Earlier this week, coming off a wonderful visit with family in Northern California, I was about to board a flight home from Sacramento, my two kids in tow. We walked through the metal detector without a beep. Better yet, no Rapiscan in sight! Our luggage rolled right through the x-ray machine without a glitch. But then, just when I thought we were home free, I was summoned for a pat-down.
Aside from my principled objections to invasive and needless patdowns, I feel an extra layer of anxiety when I’m pulled aside while traveling with my kids, especially as a (temporarily) solo parent. What if the officers decide to separate you from the kids? This had happened to us once in Berlin, when my husband was hauled off to the bomb-detection room; fortunately, the whole family was traveling that day, so the kids were never left alone.
The TSO who conducted the search informed me that the kids had to stay with our luggage and I couldn’t touch our bags or, for that matter, my kids until she was finished with me. I have to say that she was warm and reassuring as well as professional. I have no beef with the Sacramento TSA personnel, who acquitted themselves well. My gripe is the TSA’s silly policy, obsessed as it is with security theater.
I asked the TSO why I’d been singled out. She said, “Because you’re wearing a loose skirt.”
Behold the skirt of terror!
The astute reader will have already noticed that this skirt contains four of the five colors from Homeland Security’s sadly defunct terror-threat color chart: blue, green, yellow, and orange. Logically, the red must be somewhere, too … perhaps under my skirt?
No, the TSO didn’t inspect my underwear, and the patdown stopped just short of the “enhanced” standard. She did not move her hand up my thigh until she met “resistance.” My ladyparts were left undisturbed. She also didn’t search above my waist.
But the patdown was still an exercise in foolery. Being separated from my kids would have been stressful if my younger son were still of the age where he routinely ran away in public. The delay, too, would’ve been irksome if we’d been short on time.
I spoke to the supervisor on the way out and asked him why long skirts weren’t listed on the TSA website as objects of interest. I said that if travelers were forewarned, we might choose to wear clothes that didn’t trigger a patdown. He, too, was warm and professional, but his response just floored me:
“Because we don’t want to let the bad guys know all about our methods. They might find someone who looks just like you and use that person to try and sneak through a bomb.”
Leaving aside the extreme shortage of blonde female terrorists since the demise of the Red Army Faction, what purpose does this faux secrecy serve? Blogger Bob at the TSA likes to emphasize that different methods are used at different airports to keep the terrorists off balance. That’s always been a transparent excuse for TSA excesses.
My own personal theory is that searching passengers with long, loose skirts is a way to target women who appear to be Muslims. Inclusion of a few blonde gals creates a smokescreen of plausible deniability in case anyone charges the TSA with racial or religious profiling. I’m positive the policy is motivated by xenophobia, but you can’t prove it.
All you can do is wear jeggings (eek!) the next time you fly.