civil disobedience: the refusal to comply with certain laws or to pay taxes and fines, as a peaceful form of political protest
Recently, I took my first plane trip without the Vachette. That meant, for the first time since our return to the US, I was herded through the security line that led to the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machine as opposed to the old-school walk-through metal detector* at the family-friendly security line at SFO. And thus, my official opt-out stance was born.
Officially, AIT screening is optional for all passengers. Thus my opt-out policy may not technically be an act of civil disobedience. Regardless, my intent for peaceful protest (my explanation follows) fits the definition.
AIT is the current term to describe the notorious machines that use millimeter wave and backscatter technology. While these machines no longer display virtually naked images, there are still lingering questions about the amount of radiation travelers are opposed to. I have two beefs with these machines: 1. the ridiculous waste of money – they cost roughly $170,000 a machine! – and 2. the security theater that comes with their implementation. As you know, I’ve flown all over the place, both domestically and internationally. The “security” measures employed by the TSA are not practiced universally across the world. In Zurich Airport, whose security is run by the Cantonal Police, travelers only have to go through a metal detector. If the law-and-order loving Swiss don’t see the need for AIT machines, then I don’t either.
To opt-out, I had to proceed through security as if I were going to go through the machine. Then, when it was my turn in line, I had to tell an agent I wanted to opt out. The male TSA agent directing travelers through the machine made a point of telling me I could have to wait fifteen minutes before a female agent would be available to do the pat-down. I don’t know if he was just being honest or trying to discourage me, but I had plenty of time so I said “That’s fine”.
Less than five minutes later, a woman agent appeared. She took me to the other side of the AIT machine while my carry-on bag went through the x-ray machine. Based on all the stories you hear about pad-downs gone wild in the American media, think “Don’t touch my junk”, I expected a serious molestation. I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the agent felt up and down the length of my limbs, but it didn’t come close to the violation that I was expecting. Perhaps, my own extreme politeness defused the situation. Maybe my medical disclosure of having recently weaned my baby helped. Who knows? I made the same disclosure and was equally polite at the start of my pat-down for my return flight at PDX, and the professional experience I received was comparable.
Obviously, my data set is limited. However, since I doubt TSA will change its stage production any time soon, I will surely have many more opportunities to civilly disobey, i.e. enjoy more pat-downs, and peacefully protest against such taurine excrement**.
*According to the TSA’s guidelines for traveling with children, a parent carrying a child cannot go through the AIT machine. So far in our travels with the Vachette (at 60+ hours of flying time, we’ve done our fair share of family travel), I have been the parent to carry the Vachette through security.
** If ZRH changes its screening procedures, then I will consider retracting this statement.