I had one of those worst ever travel days yesterday, with three separate you’ve got to be kidding incidents. Okay, by the end of event two I wasn’t at my best, but at least my belief in trying to put myself in the other person’s shoes got me through the first, and potentially most serious of the three.
You see, I’m not a person who likes to be told what to do. I’ve had a problem with TSA and airport security since the start of this millennium, largely because of what I considered petty enforcement of rules taking priority over common sense. (You’re going to take away my tube of mascara? Why? Oh it’s a 3.6 ounce container and 3.4 is the limit. Right.)
Yesterday I got the full body scan thing and it showed something suspicious around my chest. Turns out my shirt had sequins there. None-the-less, the lady had to feel around my boobs. Okay. Protocol also required her to check my hands for explosive-making residue. Much to my surprise, and hers, I came up positive.
“Have you been around fireworks? Fertilizer?” she asked. I hadn’t. I was taken aside, and two other women were found: one to do a considerably more thorough pat down of me and the other to make sure the first one adhered to policy.
This is the point where I normally would have started to loose it. But for some reason, I noticed the person doing the patting was as nervous as I was. This was all happening at a little airport in South Carolina, and I bet they don’t get a lot of women setting off alarms. This woman was being so careful, trying so hard to do it right. I started to see the incident through her eyes. What exactly was she supposed to do? Say “Oh you seem like a nice person, so just go ahead and get on the plane?”
You know, they don’t have the greatest job in the world. I don’t want people with bombs to get on planes either. It’s good they have some protocols in place, and good they’re trying to do things right.”
I started to talk to both women a little, even joke a tad. They weren’t exactly chatty back (protocols, right) but the situation became less tense. I figured out the one woman was not only checking me for devices (of which their were none), but her gloves themselves were part of the process, as they would be checked at the end for suspicions residue, too.
The gloves were checked, and they triggered a second, more serious alarm. I was baffled, but it was clear to me the TSA people realized they had “A Situation.” All of my carry-on luggage was emptied and closely examined. All my electronic devices were wiped with cloths designed to detect … something. Once all my possessions were cleared, I was taken away to a small room with three women. My entourage was growing.
One began asking me the sort of questions I’d ask if I was trying to figure out if someone was lying. “Who are you going to visit? How long has it been since you’ve seen him?”
Then we began the serious pat down. The patter had obviously been told to explain everything before she did it. “I’m now going to run the inside of my hands down your buttocks.”
“You don’t have to tell me. Just do it.” Actually, hearing about it first was creepier than having it done.
“No, I do have to,” she said. That’s right. Protocols, partially designed to protect suspects like me. I should be glad they’re being followed.
“How about I just take off my shirt and pants,” I offered. “Seems like it would be a lot simpler.”
Three sets of eyes widened. “Oh no. Please don’t do that. That’s not the procedure.”
Luckily, this third exam was deemed to be negative, so I’ll never know what the next step in the procedure was.
They were very polite as I gathered myself back together. The whole incident took about half an hour. Had I cut it closer, I could have missed my flight because of this. No one apologized to me, but I guess they had nothing to apologize for. They were doing their job. Their job has a noble goal.
Also, no one could tell me why I’d set off a residue alarm twice. I haven’t a clue.
I do know that if my fascination with empathy hadn’t led me to try to see the incident through their eyes, it could have gone quite differently. That particular headline reads “Woman Ends Up in Federal Prison Because of Incident Caused by Sequins on Shirt.”
Of course, if they’d been belligerent or mean, all that empathy stuff on my part could have fallen by the wayside. Lucky for me, all three of them seemed to be trying to see it through my eyes too. Funny how well that works out.