The Choice Less Frequently Chosen

I have been in a lot of airports recently and all the newly installed TSA X-ray machines are getting a lot of use. Very few people ask for the pat down option instead of the low dose radiation bath. I understand their choice in terms of time. It does take about 5 minutes longer to get the pat down version of a security check. And you have to be comfortable with someone of your own gender touching your body, outside of your clothing, from head to foot.

Thus far I have opted for the pat down for every flight. The TSA people are polite, but perplexed as to why I would go to the trouble (or cause them more trouble?) I tell them that I have already had my safe lifetime dosage of radiation for medical reasons and that I prefer the choice less frequently chosen.

The thing that goes unspoken is that most of us have already received the safe life time dosage of radiation if we have flown frequently (love those heightened radiation belts at 35,000 feet around the planet when we are flying in daylight), had annual mammograms for several decades, and/or had any medical procedure that required advanced levels of radiation for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. I don’t think they actually want us to know this, but there it is.

So I am kind, but firm about wanting the pat down. They are required to do it if requested, so a female TSA person comes out (always after a slight delay) and says all the right words about my right to have a private pat down, asking if I have any sore or tender places, and then telling me where she is going to pat next, etc. I let her know that I am okay with whatever is the most efficient route to doing what she is required to do.

But interestingly enough, when I walked away from the TSA pat down today, I realized that for me it actually changes the whole high-tech experience of flying. It introduces an element of touch that is miles away from that machine that everyone else is standing in with their arms raised high over their heads until that X-ray picture is taken.

So far the touch has been respectful, non-sexual, and almost friendly in some cases when their frosty, professional veneer melted a little. And, in each case (five flights since the first of the year) I have been almost the only person asking for a pat down. Three flights ago, another woman behind me in line also asked for “the choice less frequently chosen.”

While I deplore the fact that the TSA has chosen this new X-ray route to keeping us safe, and I hope they can find something more body friendly eventually, I have to admit that I kind of hope the pat down thing does not catch on big, so I can continue to get through with a minimal time delay (and no extra radiation exposure.)

I actually think I am pretty likely to remain one of the few to choose this option because we live in a time-pressed, touch phobic culture. With those two major issues against it, the pat down is likely to remain the choice less frequently chosen. However, for those of you who do travel a lot, you may want to consider it. If you do choose it, let me know what your experience is!


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