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Greater Boston Suburbs

Boston Area Suburb & Visitor Guide

Airport Security Screening

The uproar of the day is over increasing security measures at Airports, including the use of FULL BODY SCANNERS and the required pat-downs for those who choose not to be screened. Before, I give you some thoughts on this subject, I will admit that I personally do not have any prosthetic body parts or any anatomical surprises which make being seen without clothing on a scanner humiliating. So, I do realize that my opinions expressed herein are coming from someone who is not particularly shy or bashful and that other people might have reasons to feel that way.

The first thing however, that you need to realize is that air travel is not your right. While you have many rights to be secure from intrusion within your own home, you waive many of those rights when you step outside. You can walk buck naked through your living room, but you cannot do so on the street or in a public park. You can stare a photo of your worst enemy, lie about them, tell them that you hate them and tell them that you wish they were dead, but if you do so to their face, you may get into trouble. If you happen to live on a private road, you can drive as fast as you like, but as soon as you enter a public street, you must obey the traffic laws. You have the option to move around on foot, by car, by rail, by bus or by private plane and so as difficult as it is for some people to accept, air travel is a private decision that you can opt out of by choice. The farther you step outside of your rightful sanctuaries, the more you waive your rights.


The second thing that you must understand is that commercial air travel does not occur in lanes which are considered to be public throughways. This really has two parts: The first part is the airplane itself. You have limited rights on an airplane because you are actually just inside a vehicle of sorts, that is owned by a company such as Delta, AMR Corp or United. The government does regulate many of the safety standards that must be adhered to when you are on the plane and it has a substantial amount of jurisdiction, but the plane is still owned by a company, it is theirs, and they can choose whether or not they want you on it [with some restrictions]. The second portion to this is that by choosing to travel through a commercial air company out of an airport, you are surrendering certain rights to the government. Specifically, you must show IDENTIFICATION, you must be willing to submit to unwarranted searches, you must be willing to have your luggage inspected (which is why you must put a TSA lock on your luggage or the TSA can cut your lock) and finally, you must be willing to be screened before you step on board the aircraft. Once in flight, you remain in a private vehicle but under government control and while the airline submits a flight plan, the government has complete authority to modify it. By choosing to fly, you waive certain rights and if you do not want to waive these rights, you have the option not to fly.


One caveat to this is that you do have rights to be treated with fairness, with dignity and without discrimination by the government. To this end, portions of your air travel which involve the government, do entitle you to feel that you are not being taken advantage of. However, the government realizes that air screening is intrusive and for this reason, they continually upgrade their training systems to minimize this. They are not perfect, but they do try quite hard and the number of cases of unfair treatment by air passengers is quite small.

The third thing that I think is quite important is that you waive your rights to be 'seen' by others when you step outside of your house. Not to be crass, but using a public mens room (especially at Fenway Park) pretty much has no dignity whatsoever. Going to the doctor you can expect to be seen intimately, touched in places that you prefer not to be touched (except perhaps by your spouse or s.o.) and probed way beyond your normal comfort levels.

So, a momentary view while stepping through an airport scanner, to me just doesn't seem to be worth getting upset about. No security person is going to remember you five minutes beyond your screening time (unless you are a supermodel and in that case, you have little to be embarrassed about).


The last part that I think that people miss is that the purpose of these measures is to keep all of us safe. As much as we can complain about all aspects of air travel (and I do plenty of that complaining myself) the reality is that the government is doing a terrific job of keeping us safe. Millions of passengers fly through our air system each year and the government's ability to minimize safety risks to those in the air and on the ground is really outstanding. There will always be a balance between safety and privacy, but giving up a little privacy for safety should you choose to travel by air, is really worth it. And if privacy to you is MORE important, then by all means, hop in the car, on a bus or on a train and accept the fact that you can have your privacy if it means that much to you.


I hope that people will realize over time that airport screening is just one of those necessary evils in our society that comes with air travel (just like prostate exams come with doctor's visits if you are male) and while we can protest and complain about them, consider just enduring them and thinking about the excitement of your trip ahead.

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