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5 Things I Learnt By Opting Out Of An Airport Body Scan



Airport security

With the recent reports that showed X-ray body scanners in airports “after testing produced dramatically higher than expected results” recently, and with more money set aside to buy more, plus my first ever X-ray ‘opt-out’ at Los Angeles Airport today, it seems a good time to pass along my experiences of what actually happened when I opted out, and some surprises I got.

There have been some horror stories of people being subjected to overly personal patdowns and being made to feel like criminals. Although the intention of these articles is good — informing people of what’s going on — it made me a little nervous about asking for a patdown myself, because I just didn’t know what was going to happen.

In sharing my experiences. I hope you find the courage to stand up for something you believe in and take this in your stride.

I’ve never been at an airport that uses body scanners, so when I arrived at LAX and saw these two big black scanners, I was relieved that they seemed not be in use.

I went through the normal routine of putting all my possessions in trays to go through the X-ray machine, to then see a TSA employee open up the scanner just as the person in front of me was due to go through.

I started to get nervous. I was hoping that I wouldn’t be selected, as it seemed to be a fairly random selection of whom they asked to go through the scanner.

But I was selected and said, “I’d like to opt out”. I was asked to stand to one side as the TSA employee shouted, “Opt-out”. She shouted this three times before someone came to speak to me.

I’m sure this is to make the process of opting out seem unusual and to try to make you feel in some way embarrassed. The TSA employees all have personal radios to communicate with, and there’s no reason to be shouting for help, certainly not three times.

Whilst I was waiting I noticed that between ten and twenty people were allowed to go through security (including Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) without going through a body scanner.

The next TSA guy then came with a clipboard and explained to me that I would be subjected to a personal search where a TSA employee would be using their hands to feel the inside of my thighs, my groin and inside the waistband of my jeans. He finished this little speech with “Are you sure you still want to opt-out?”

I said “Yes”.

By the time I was taken to the third TSA person who was actually going to be doing the patdown, there were three other people in line behind me who had opted out too.

Another TSA employee came up and said to one of his colleagues, “Ok, what’s the situation here” like it was some kind of problem that we all wanted to opt out. Again, I suspect that this was to make opting out seem unusual and to attempt to make us uncomfortable with our choice.

Let’s just stop and think about this …

If I was there for just a few minutes and four people including me opted out, it’s NOT unusual. There must be thousands of people opting out every day.

I did see one women making as much of a nuisance of herself as possible by opting out, telling the TSA that if her belongings were stolen whilst she was being made to wait, it would be the fault of the TSA.

She was also demanding to know why some people were allowed to go through without being scanned whilst she waited. I can totally understand her passion for this, and it’s that kind of passion we need to get these scanners removed from airports, and I love that woman for standing up for what she believes in.

But I made the decision to not get angry or worked up (actually, anyone who knows me will know that’s not my style anyway) and go about this with the best intention and energy possible.

One of the reasons I’m avoiding this body scan is to protect my health. The last thing I want to do is get angry and have those chemicals released in my body.

I also truly believe we don’t gain anything by pushing against this issue in that way. I decided to be pro-patdown rather than anti-scanner.

So by the time I got to the patdown, which was done in a public area, the guy seemed almost apologetic. He seemed like a nice guy, explained the procedure in a very kind way, and even seemed like he was ‘on my side’.

The actual patdown was very quick, unobtrusive in this case, not touching any of my ‘bits’. :)

Then I was on my way and into the departure gate, where I’m writing this.

Let’s keep opting out. As humans we work best when we come together, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we can inspire others to start opting out, eventually leading to the scanners becoming obsolete.

Here’s five things you can learn from this:

  1. Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare so you aren’t tempted to go through the scanner ‘just this once’ because of a fear of missing your flight. My experience was that it took five to ten minutes extra to get through.
  2. Know that you’re leading by example and you never know who might start asking questions, get inspired, and not go through the scanner next time.
  3. The procedures they have in place are designed to make you feel like you’re doing something out of the ordinary and unusual. I would even go so far as to say that they want YOU to feel unreasonable. Three people behind me opted out – know that you’re not alone in this decision and remember the points I mentioned in number 2.
  4. I feel completely confident about opting out now I’ve done it once. It’s not a horror story; it’s something I must keep doing until everyone has the confidence to opt out and realises the danger of these scanners. You’ll feel great once you’ve done it once.
  5. I felt good about making this opt-out a normal part of my day, holding good energy and intention right through the experience, knowing that I played my part.

Maybe you want to play your part too? I invite you to.

Safe travels.

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User Comments


  1. Alex

    I also opt out every time. I’ve never been through a scanner and hope to never be forced to in order to fly. While I haven’t opted out of the scanner at an airport like LAX, I do opt out often at the Phoenix airport in AZ. I have had no problems. And like Russel said, it only takes 5-10 minutes extra most of the time. Most of the time, the TSA agents performing the patdown are very friendly and even seem apologetic (or maybe they are embarrassed to have to be performing the pat down).

    There was one time while going through a smaller, regional, airport in Arizona where I opted out and after going through the initial patdown, the machine that the TSA agent runs their gloves through gave a negative response indicating residue was found. They took me back to a private screening area and re-performed the patdown. All the time they were very polite and professional. Yes, it took a few extra minutes, but I always arrive at the airport with plenty of time, so that was of no concern to me. I always thank the TSA agents for their professionalism and kindness. After all, they are just doing the job they were hired for.

  2. Sandy

    I opt out all the time too. You just have to allow a little extra time in case they are busy. My suggestion is to get an airline credit card and become a “preferred customer” Some times they don’t even make you take your shoes off. I find that if you tell the first TSA officer that checks your ticket and driver’s license that you want to opt out that he will send you over to an area that will process you quicker.

  3. cindy h

    I have done this numerous times. It gets less ‘embarrassing’ each time. (Although I have never truly been embarrassed.) The longest I have had to wait for someone to come get me for the pat down was 10 minutes. It was definitely not necessary to have to wait that long, but I had decided, as you did, to not take issue with the process and their tactics., but to calmly just do what I believe in and NOT go thru that machine. I am always polite. If everyone did this, maybe someone would get a clue. BTW I have done this in both large and small airports.

  4. guest

    Thanks for sharing this experience with us, Russell! Your experience was in a large airport, but I wonder how things would be in a smaller one. My family recently took a flight out of Albany NY and I was fortunate to have a child with me so I could opt out of the naked body scanners. The option is not even provided. If I didn’t have my child with me, I do wonder how the whole thing would have gone down. Thanks again for sharing this because you have renewed my resolve to opt out on any future dealings with airports and their naked body scanners.

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