What to do when random airport security screening isn't all that random

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/12/12/what-to-do-when-random-airport.html


Under Bush Jr, I registered locally as a member of the Green Party, and immediately noticed that every single time I flew – for about two years afterwards – I was pulled aside for enhanced screenings. Sometimes at the gate as well as the security area.


I flew a few days ago and was dismayed to see the security folks trying to make an elderly, non-English speaking woman get up out of her wheelchair for further inspection. Reminded me very much of this scene:


Airport security screening has always been Kabuki theater to keep people flying now it’s also a means to segregate, assault, and demean passengers.

I was pulled into a room for 2+ hours on returning to the US from Mexico several years ago with no explanation, council or reason whatsoever. I still have no idea what the issue was and I my efforts to find out have failed. Regardless of whatever steps you might take to mitigate searches or delays TSA, CBP, ICE, Homeland Security, et al will do what they want, when they want, on who they want.


My wife is “randomly” selected at every airport. She’s 6’2" tall and is a transgender woman. We’ve done everything right, got the TSA PreCheck thing, and she still get’s selected.

I am also transgender, and was “randomly” selected every time, until as a transgender man, I got top surgery and could sport a beard.

We went through Phoenix last month, and she was once again “randomly” selected, and I started making mad jokes about how not random it was. Not mean, but just light ha ha kind of jokes. Suddenly, when I got the gal waving me through laughing, she shot a look at the guy at the button, and they no longer needed to pat my wife down. Just look at her keyboard in her bag. I’ve never seen them back out of a pat down before.


It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


From the horses mouth: a woman I know used to work for the TSA. She is white. One day they were discussing Islam and she mentioned that she was married to a Muslim and was, in fact Muslim herself. She was fired. Immediately.


Nine times out of ten, the full body scanner believes there is something suspicious just below my left shoulder blade, so I almost always get a full pat down, even when I’m wearing nothing but a 100% cotton t-shirt and denim jeans.

It’s so frequent, I actually asked my doctor to check out that area to make sure the machine wasn’t alarming on some undetected medical issue. Nope.

The TSA procedures seem to say that if a machine alarms, they have to find a plausible explanation for it. I’ve experienced this in a past with metal detector alarms, including a TSA person who had me unzip my jeans in public and show her my underwear when the handheld metal detector alarmed on my zipper.

With the body scanner alarms below my left shoulder blade, they have a hard time finding anything to blame the alarm on, so it usually involves getting a supervisor involved and subjecting my carryon to extra scrutiny before I’m allowed to proceed.


I had this idea that on the weekend after Thanksgiving EVERYONE should have a foil wrapped cucumber in their pants for security. EVERYONE. (Fun for the whole family!)

Imagine piles and piles of foil wrapped cucumbers at air ports making a mockery of this security theater.


It’s been a while but there were quite a few years when i would without fail get “randomly selected for additional screening”. It always happened and i don’t have any shady affiliations, any journalistic background, or anything. I’m a boring person but i am brown. I always took it in stride and never got impatient or upset, but it was never a surprise when i got picked out of the line.

These days i haven’t had it happen the last few times i’ve traveled though so that’s something.


Did she sue them?


Nope. She’s skint (sorry, Yankees, very short of cash). She moved states in search for another job.


Most of the pre-screening tactics mentioned…paying with cash, one way tickets, etc…are what produce the infamous ‘SSSS’ on your boarding pass. If this happens to you every time you fly then it’s a good bet you’re on some watch list somewhere. Good luck finding out the details though.

What I find infuriating is the the “random” setting off of the metal detectors. It happens so often to me that I could be used as a random number generator.

I fly a ton so I’ve bought into all the trusted traveler options - PreCheck, Global Entry, Nexus, Clear, etc. It’s worth it to me to minimize my airport time as much as possible. I take everything out of my pockets ahead of time, I don’t wear jewelry and I’m a white middle aged male and still I set it off almost every time. I do have an artificial joint and some rods in my back but they are non-metallic so I can’t figure out why I’m always setting the damn thing off.



Just get a packer. Trans guys wearing prosthetic stand-to-pee devices go through this a lot. Ymmv depending on how funny you think it is when they ask if it’s a medical device.


We bought all the precheck options two just to try to get my wife away from the full body scanners. They zero in on her crotch and then it’s off to the races with a terrified TSA agent having to pay her down. Apparently they are more scared of trans folks than bombs.


Cucumber are cheaper, but hey, if you got one, wrap it in foil. Protects against government microwaves!!!


9/11 changed everything for me. Before that, I would get search every single time. I was traveling for work a lot and would tell coworkers traveling with me that we would need a few extra minutes while I got searched. The streak was at least 35 searches in a row. I became quite the connoisseur of pat-downs and luggage searches.

Then 9/11. I flew less than a week later. I was totally freaked that I wasn’t searched. Since then, I’ve only been searched overseas (some airports check everyone) or when I opt out (and with TSA-Pre, that’s very rare).

My wife, on the other hand, has been searched as many as 3 times between check in and boarding! The only time she isn’t is when traveling with our kids.


I’m a white cisgendered male, so of course I have no problems with being randomly selected. Except - up until 2007 I had long hair, kept in a ponytail, and during those years I got “randomly” selected Every. Single. Time. that I flew. After I cut my hair to a conventiional length I never got selected again.


I’m curious about how they choose which gender screener they decide will do the pat down. I can see why a minimum wage TSA agent would be terrified of trans people.