Sunday, November 21, 2010

Airplane Screenings: What's The Big Deal?

Well, for many travelers it *is* no big deal. They don't mind the enhanced pat downs or their naked bodies being seen on X-ray scanners.

But for millions of others, it is quite a to-do.

It's traumatizing to have someone put their hands on you. Or to find that your body scan has not been destroyed but rather saved and on display for others to see. It can be acutely distressing and humiliating to be submissive and under someone's control. Read here about a pilot who didn't feel fit to fly after an enhanced pat down. It can trigger flashbacks of abuse or feel like a sexual molestation. It may reveal more than you want others to know, like if you've had a mastectomy, wear a colostomy bag or are in the midst of gender reassignment, for example. Read here about a bladder cancer survivor's urine-soaked pat down. And if you witness another person's traumatic experience during an airplane screening, you can be emotionally effected. This is called vicarious trauma.

I understand the need for safety and security in this day and age. But these new security measures feel wrong on so many levels. I don't blame the TSA for following their orders. We need to appeal to those in charge, who clearly need to consult with trauma experts. The TSA has a job to do, but needs to appreciate the impact of trauma and to incorporate more sensitive measures.

Tips and Recommendations

1. If you are someone who is going to fly, head over to Dr. Kathleen Young's blog for links, tips and grounding techniques to minimize trauma.

2. Make sure you know your Passenger Rights.

3. Consider accessing grassroots movements like Opt Out Day and We Won't Fly.

4. Write to your US House of Representatives by clicking here.

5. Write your US Senator by linking here.

*** Trigger Alert for Video and Photo ***

Photo from John Wild/


Julie said...

Although I understand trauma and PTSD, after having been raped and violently abused, I have no problems with being scanned or a pat down if necessary. I have traveled to Europe frequently in the past three years and have gone through security measures that are much more enhanced than anything in the US.

My fear is that there are too many people considering it an "inconvenience" instead of trauma (which can be dealt with under preparation for the event).

To me, it seems that a HUGE deal is being made of something that shouldn't. Do we want security or just the illusion of security that we lived under before 9/11?

Additionally, if and when the TSA is privatized perhaps we should bring in El Al and Mossad for training. Or would Americans be "inconvenienced" to have a fully armed soldier on the airplane too? El Al security measures are the best in the world...and just as "invasive". Yet they have every passenger scanned and boarded within 30 minutes....along with very low "incident" rates.

Dr. Deb said...

I am not talking about inconvenience at all, but appreciate the point you bring up. I also don't have an issue with TSA agents or the job they are doing. The issue here is trauma and retraumatization - and how to minimize their impact.

Because of your history, you may not find this so invasive. But there are many who've never been abused who find this extremely traumatizing. Some survivors of abuse/rape report feeling fine with the pat downs while others are significantly re-traumatized. The issue here is looking at this new trend to try to find ways that keeps everyone feeling safe. We all want the same thing, integrity and safety when we travel.

BTW, what more enhanced security have you experienced?

Thanks for commenting here. It helps to get different points across.

Tracy said...

Yes, being a survivor of rape and incest this would horrify me and not sure I'd fly because of it.
My eleven year old is flying from Ohio back home and it is something he is already concerned about.
When is enough enough?

Wanda's Wings said...

I too have PTSD, and would freak out by a pat down. I having a knee replacement in December so I don't think I can be scanned. It scares me to be very truthful.

Battle Weary said...

I'm very nervous about the prospect of flying in a couple months for grad school interviews. I'm really not sure what I am going to do.

And I too want to know what security measures are being used that are more enhanced then being groped repeatedly!

Julie said...

Dr. Deb,

While I understand concerns about invasiveness and being traumatized by the new screenings at airports, the explosion of media coverage and immediate protests over this is overwhelming.

In the past year, I have been through Heathrow and Schipol airports for trans-atlantic flights. Departing from the US (bound for Europe) I was asked to take off my shoes and x-ray my carry-on bags while walking through the metal detector. Typical.

However, I wear an insulin pump for type 1 diabetes. I must carry supplies with me that cannot be x-rayed. When departing from the US, these supplies were not even searched. I was not asked anything about the insulin pump.

Leaving Amsterdam and London, to fly back to the US, the typical x-ray, metal detector, remove your shoes happened BUT they also did pat downs, searched my medical supplies piece by piece and removed and scanned my pump and supplies in the robotic "explosives sniffing dog".

Additionally, BOTH Heathrow and Schipol have their individual militaries surrounding the airports as well as soldiers, fully armed and with bomb-sniffing dogs, marching around the airports inside and out.

These things can be unsettling as well if you haven't gone through it before. However, these countries have gone through terrorist attacks much more frequently than the US and they provide this security to prevent such things from happening...just as El Al and Israel.

It is my own personal feeling that the media in this country gets a hold of something and, at times, blows it entirely out of proportion. Throwing FEAR in everyone's face 24/7. This past week with the coverage of the scanners and pat downs has been just another example of this.

As far as I am's the best we've got until they come up with something better. I know these same people would be screaming very loudly (via the media) if the scanners were not in place and a terrorist took a plane down. Then, the TSA wouldn't have done enough!

Also, for the record, I have been through rape and domestic violence in my recent past. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and deal with it daily.

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

As someone who has suffered from a violent attack and now deals with PTSD on a regular basis, it isn't as much as an "inconvenience" or something "blown up" by the media as it is an uncomfortable situation that puts me back to the day of my trauma. This fact has nothing to do with media and inconvenience but the fear of panic and anxiety that may result from a flashback. I'm also stuck between a rock and a hard place in that I had a pre-cancerous tumor recently removed so going through a full body scan x-ray is putting me at greater risk for the cancerous tumor to reoccur. Which evil do I now choose?

Julie said...

also, this is a different *Julie* than the original post - for clarification :)

MyThought said...

There was a test screening at a german airport a while ago and the pictures that are shown are totally diferent from the ones that I saw in your post.
Here is the link:,templateId=renderScaled,property=Bild,height=349.jpg

Still a lot of people are against it. To be honest I wasn't sure about all this until they mentioned that the alternative would be a 'more intensive' pat down especially in the genital area. So I really hope the scanners are being implemented everywhere! I wouldn't be able to cope with a 'more intensive' pat dowm.

OHN said...

I completely empathize with the people that feel violated during screening, (I can't even imagine how I would feel having my naked silhouette viewed by anyone, or have a stranger put their hands between my legs or around my breasts) ...but, I would imagine that they also hope that the same screening is performed on the man at the end of the line that may have a political agenda with a plan of destruction.

The world has changed. If you want to travel by air you need to prepare yourself in any way necessary (speak with your counselor, doctor etc) to assure your own safety.

The thing I DO have a serious concern about is the quality of staffing at the TSA. Wearing a uniform does not make them professional and I have heard from law enforcement officials that many of these employees are barely trained. I would actually feel better if I saw dogs and military presence at the screening stations. Yes, that might sound extreme, until the next time someone is caught with explosives, then it doesn't sound too extreme any more.

Lily said...

In all honesty, this is something I think about daily in preparation for flying out to see my Dad for Christmas in a few weeks. The thought of being "patted down" is enough to make me hyperventilate. It very well could send me into a flashback or panic attack right on the spot. Much less has in the past. I will be in line for the scanners, and while I don't really like the fact that I am being violated that way too, at least I won't see/feel/relive it this way...

Dr. Deb said...

If you want to ensure that you *only* go thru the scanner, do not wear a bra with underwire - or pants with a zipper or metal buttons. Essentially, you have to be "metal free" to get a pass from the pat down. A pt. of mine talked about choosing to go thru the scanner, but still needed to be patted down, which upset her terribly. She had on an underwire bra. The TSA agent told her the metal-free tips for her return trip home.

TK Kerouac said...

Understandably, people with PTSD would be more uncomfortable with pat downs.

I think it also comes down to personality types to. Being laid back, the pat downs wouldn't bother me, especially knowing there is nothing to hide. However, I would have a problem with the strip downs.

The question is, whats the alternative solutions?

east village idiot said...

This stuff scares me.

S'onnie said...

I am forever glad that I live in a country that has laws that still protect our privacy. Its funny that America makes such a big ra ra about being the land of the free but from what I see its a fantasy of something that is long gone.

funnily enough just prior to reading your blog I read this article about a NZ'er who refused the body scan in heathrow

Barbara said...

SO WELL SAID (as always). I wrote about it on my blog but wish I would have seen this first I could have just said READ THIS!

I asked a trans gender friend today how she (former he) would feel about being scanned since he has not been completely gender re-assigned (i think that's how she phrased it). There are so many PRIVATE things that people do not want made public. I really think it is a big deal for all the reasons you mentioned.

lightfeather said...

Dr. Deb, this is quite a topic! I personally don't feel comfortable with these prcedures more for others that cannot face them than for myself. Thank you for your wisdom and "putting it out there!"

So glad you received Little Bird for your niece. I hope she loves it and sees her own divine perfection in the story. Blessings to you on this Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

I'm not too sure how I feel about this yet. I'm actually flying to to Orlando, Florida on Thursday Dec 2nd. I'll most likely be subjected to this scan at some point during my arrival to or departure from Florida. I think I'd be more traumitized by a full body pat down over a full body scan and thus if I had a choice I'd go through the scanner.

Dreaming again said...

I had an opportunity to go half way across the country, at no cost to me, to a conference, but more importantly ... see one of the best friends I had in high school that I'd not seen in 30 years.

A few days after the new guidelines allowing for a more invasive pat down or the xray machines I got 3 calls ..all from my doctors ... each telling me I'd already had too many xrays in my life and I'm not go through those scanners ...period.

With my history of being the target of more than one persons violent fantasies ... I can't even handle getting a manicure done ..or a massage by a trusted friend am I to allow them to do the invasive pat downs .that aren't pat down but rather ... deeply intailed searches that stop just short of a cavity search!

When our rights to travel without being traumatized or medically put in danger ... the terrorists have won ..even if we never have another attack.They've won.