Is “Opting-Out” Really Opting-In?

Getting ready to go!

What’s a parent to do? Tickets are purchased, bags are packed, and kids are all fired up to board the sardine can in the sky for a Thanksgiving trip to Grandmas. Now the Transportation Security Administration starts announcing something called an “Enhanced Pat-Down” for travelers who refuse to enter the scary-looking metal Borg Box for an Advanced Imaging/Naked Body screening.

I’ve waited until now before commenting upon said screenings/alleged gropings; mostly because some people won’t care what I say and others might misunderstand my motive for arriving, family and body parts intact, to my chosen destination. This misunderstanding and uncaring is, indeed, indicative of TSA, when you think about it. The poor Administration flew from a few employees to a few thousand in under a year and now feels as if they are just trying to do their jobs and the American people just don’t undersstttannnnnnd <insert whiny voice here>.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not convinced any of this is going to deter any terrorist from doing what he or she has trained exhaustedly for, and pledged their very life to cause; killing people. In fact, I would hazard a guess that while we Americans are pounding podiums and firing up the Twitterverse with all sorts of civil rights proclamations and “Don’t touch my junk” announcements, terror-minded individuals are right now hiding in their dark and stinky caves, laughing. That’s right, laughing, because they have accomplished part of their mission; to make us absolutely terrified. The other part is already planned and we don’t know it yet. Airplanes? Passe’ in terrorist circles. I’m sure they’ve moved on to some other form of macabre death-causing activity. TSA just has to make it look as if they are on top of them, but I don’t think they are, given the inconsistency I’ve found at various airports. Yes, small amounts of liquids. No, no small amounts of liquids. Yes, medications. No, medications. Please. I’d believe the intentions of TSA a lot more if they were all actually on the same page.

So, what’s a concerned mom or dad to do? Exercise your rights and your gut feelings, no matter which side of the safety and privacy coin you feel most comfortable knowing, of course, there is no perfect answer.  The key lies in appropriate preparation of our children.

Delicious Baby, one of my favorite travel blogs, talked about a conversation to have with kids while entering the Security Area (which to me looks a lot like a DMZ). Among other important points, this sentence hit me right in the center of  my crumpled up, already-wrinkled forehead: “(talk about this) when we are calm and have the time to be really present…” Meaning, parents, the time to announce to your kids that they will either be groped in areas previously accessed only during bath time or at a doctor’s appointment, or stuck inside a metal contraption so radiation waves can sweep their tiny bodies, is NOT when you are entering the Security Area. Bad idea.

The best time is a few days before you leave home. Like at the family dinner table, where you can give information, receive feedback, and instruct everyone in acceptable behavior (including yours). Be clear on who can touch, and how, and when, and why; and what to do if it feels uncomfortable. Reassure your kids that you will not leave their side for even a second during the pat-down.

Do not lose your cool. If something strikes you as wrong, write down names and badge numbers, talk with supervisors, but do it in a professional, calm, adult-like manner. No flight is worth the violation of a child. My sons have been drilled and drilled and quizzed ad infinitum over people touching their bodies. Doctors count, government employees of whom their parents know NOTHING about, not so much. Name names, if you must. Watch dilligently. Be vigilant.

If you choose the Advanced Imaging Technology, either the Millimeter Wave type (spinning around you like a gyroscope) or the Backscatter (the Borg Box),  explanations are still needed, as the box emits a funny noise and a flash and then they’ll see their body up on a screen (which they probably will think is cool). Spare them the radiation-speak, though. They don’t need to know that.

For those considering National Opt-Out Day, held on Wednesday, November 24, consider also that you may miss your flight. With little history behind this protest to radiation, travelers must assume there will be back ups and horrendous lines of people choosing the pat-down, leading to a whole lot of cranky people.

Arrive way, way early (2 hours at LEAST). Feed kids before you hit the Security area, use the bathroom, empty pockets, take off shoes, take on some deep breaths. Pack some books and plan to sit on the floor and read if lines are unbearable. Play I Spy. Ha.

My cohort in travel, Scott McMurren  and I will be talking more about Opt-Out Day tomorrow on the Alaska Travelgram Show at 2 p.m. on KUDO AM 1080. Give a listen and feel free to email us with comments and questions during the show. My email is e.kirkland0@gmail.com, and we’ll be happy to converse via the internet during the hour.

But, ultimately, parents, I’m leaving this call up to you and your personal values and beliefs, because, obviously, mine are not yours. But please send a message to all families traveling this holiday season that we are responsible parents who love our children more than our lives, and will do what we have to in order to keep them safe.

Posted in General Travel Info, Logistics With Kids.