I stepped inside the Plexiglas enclave and raised my arms in the manner prescribed by the diagram. The translucent doors closed, there was a click, and then the doors opened and I was beckoned out.
I was experiencing the new millimeter whole body imaging machine, using technology developed at Los Alamos National Laboratories, and available in eighteen airports, including one security line at the International Sunport in Albuquerque.
According to TSA, the machines will speed up the screening process while thoroughly detecting weapons, explosives and other threat items.. The magnetometer that passengers currently walk through detects only metal objects.
The machine took an electronic picture of me “without clothes.” Some have referred to the procedure as lewd, and other critics have decried the machine as overly-intrusive. However, they are undoubtedly people who don’t get patted-down routinely.
While some people might object to having security technicians view their body, this old body doesn’t mind. It is far less intrusive than the pat-downs I experience each time my knee replacements set off the buzzer.
To deal with privacy concerns, TSA provides protections on whole-body scanning, including blurring the faces on images of passengers being screened, examining the images in a remote room and assuring that images will not be stored, printed, transmitted or reproduced.
I was motioned to stay momentarily until the technician gave the signal to the screener waiting as I exited the enclave.
Instead of motioning me on, she asked, “Are you wearing something around your knee?”
I raised my pant leg to show her the compression wrap I wear around my right knee where the tendons must have been misaligned during the replacement procedure.
“I need to pat down your knee,” she continued.
Still, a knee pat-down is better than my normal security experience where the hook on my bra triggers an upper body pat down, and new screeners sometimes are intrusively thorough.
And then I was free to gather my belongings and put on my shoes.
Just one more hurdle. Another screener had taken my CPAP machine to be tested for explosive residue. This is normally a routine experience.
When I approached the Explosives Trace Detection station, I was informed that my machine had ‘failed,’ and the technician would have to pat me down. I lucked out – the technician was a woman. I didn’t need to wait for a ‘female assist.’
“Oh, no,” I replied. “What would be on it that caused a reaction?”
“I don’t know,” she responded.
“I thought that for once I could go through security without a pat-down,” I said.
The pat down was not intrusive, only symbolic of the on-going hoops I jump through to travel during these uncertain times.
Next time I will remove the compression wrap before going through security and clean the exterior of my CPAP machine prior to putting it in my carry-on bag. I might even be able to wear pants with a hook and zipper closing, rather than an elastic waist!
I am grateful for the work of scientists that will make travel safer for all of us and easier for those of us with bionic parts.