The Resolution Pat Down

Stephen Checkoway

This year, I've been flying a lot. I'm over fifty thousand miles traveled since January 31st. This is more flying in two and a half months than I've ever done in a year before. One consequence of this is I'm really quite familiar with the procedure for refusing a full body scan. It goes roughly like this.

“I opt out.”

“I need a male assist on 3.”

At this point I'm directed around the metal detector and nudoscope. The pat down is different each time, but only in the details. Sometimes they reach inside my waistband, other times they do not. The screener uses the back of his hands (although why this matters to me, I haven't yet figured out) to rub my butt and either side of my groin. This is in addition to running the fronts of his hands down my back, chest, and legs. Sometimes they check the bottom of my feet, but usually they do not. On one occasion, the answer to the question, “Do you have any sore spots?” was different after the pat down than before. On another, I was asked if I had any internal medical devices. I refused to answer that question as it was not relevant to the pat down. (In retrospect, I think he meant to ask if I had any external medical devices.) The point is, the pat down is an affront to dignity, but not really all that invasive.

After the pat down is complete, they wipe down their gloves and put it in the explosive detector. After this, you collect your belongings and move on.

At least, that's what's supposed to happen. About an hour ago at PDX, I received quite a different treatment. Let me be up front and admit that I didn't keep my cool quite as well as I should have. What follows is my recollection of events.

My trip through security started off normally. I put my belongings through the xray and then opted out of the full body scanner. Shortly afterward, a friendly TSO comes to collect me and begin the pat down.

He asks where I'm flying and I respond that I'm headed to San Diego. He comments that there are a bunch of people flying there today and that he used to live there when he was in the Navy. He asks if I live there and when I say yes, he asks where. I respond that I live in Hillcrest.

By this point, he has completed the pat down and is running the explosive detection machine. I didn't hear anything, but he tells me the explosive alarm went off.

I'm not really sure what to do so I say, “I'm at a loss. I've been through this many times but this is the first time an alarm has gone off.”

A second TSO is called over for an “rp.” It takes me a moment to figure out what he means: They are going to do a resolution pat down. I've heard (apparently false) horror stories about resolution pat downs involving strip searches so I'm really not interested in such a pat down.

The two TSOs tell me that they are going to go through all of my belongings and they are going to take me into a back room to do another pat down.

I refuse to allow them to go through my stuff without me present and they agree to this. I'm not sure if that's standard or not.

“Why not just do a pat down with a different pair of gloves?” I ask.

“I will. These.”

“Will it be the same?”

“No, it's modified.”

“What is different?”

“I'm going to touch your genitals with the front of my hands.”

“Excuse me?”

He informs me that he's going to swipe his hands three times horizontally and three times vertically. In addition, he's going to place one hand on the inside of my thigh and one on the outside and move up until he “meets resistance,” seriously. Of course, I thought about the Atlantic article, but said nothing about that. Instead, I got shitty, “You must really love your job.”

“Actually, I hate it but it pays the bills.”

My demeanor does not improve, I'm sorry to say.

He asks if I'm okay with the pat down. I respond absolutely not, “it's a massive invasion of my privacy.”

Once again, they try to direct me to a back room. I refuse and ask what my options are. They say either I go with them or I can leave security. “And do what?”

“Whatever,” he responds while indicating that I'd be free to go.

“I can just come back through?”

“If you want.”

“What the fuck is the point then?”

He responds that there's no point to it, it's just what they have to do.

Finally, he calls over another TSO who says they can just do the resolution pat down in public and I agree. The first TSO rifles through my stuff, Ben Gurion style, bomb testing it all. The second does the resolution pat down. It's almost identical to the normal pat down but with more genital groping, well, swiping. Once again, the gloves were tested and this time there is no alert so I left to catch my plane.

I have no idea what would have happened if I'd gone to the back room, but I suspect nothing different. However, the fact that I couldn't get them to give me a straight answer as to what would happen back there without repeated queries made me extremely apprehensive. They also did not inform me that I could request a witness present during the resolution pat down. As far as I can tell, the whole process is designed to frighten the travelers into complying with their demands.