How body scan at airport left me feeling exposed
Published 07/07/2011 | 08:00
They may finally have sorted Osama - but a quick trip through an American airport is a reminder that the US is not easing up on homeland security anytime soon.
They're not alone, of course. It's hard to think of any corner of the globe where they take security at airports lightly these days - and would you wish to fly from there if they did?
Which is precisely the conundrum. We all want to feel safe. We just don't want to be overly inconvenienced by all that palaver put in place to ensure that we are.
All that hassle of removing coats and accessories, displaying your cosmetics in see-through plastic and being frisked after you ping as you pass through the metal detector thingy.
Then, as your tray of personal effects spews from the screener, you're granted approximately 2.6 seconds to scoop it all up, get your shoes back on, refill your pockets, put the laptop back in its bag and return tray to authorised position.
It's the men I feel especially sorry for, as they kick their shoes on ahead to a quiet spot where they'll be able to lace them up again, grimly clutching their belt-less trousers and trying to juggle their wallet, small change, car keys and dignity.
Nothing exposes the full extent of the male inability to multi- task like those few final moments in the airport security queue.
Could the X-ray body scanner make the process more civilised?
Not according to eye specialist Tony Aguirre in Manchester who refused to pass through the thing on health grounds and was then told he wouldn't be allowed to travel.
(He was even escorted from the airport by police, which seems like a bit of overkill)
The good doctor is also concerned about the invasion of personal privacy since the X-rays produce a 'naked' image of the traveller.
"You shouldn't be forced to expose yourself," he insists. He points out that, while the scan is compulsory (if you are picked for screening) at the three UK airports trialling it - Manchester, Heathrow and Gatwick - in America you can choose between scanner or traditional frisk.
At a US airport last week I got my first taste of what the fuss is all about.
Actually fuss is not the word. It was all very swift and efficient.
Having said that I still had to take my shoes off, put my belongings in the usual tray and then take an earful from a bossy guard because I'd apparently positioned my handbag the wrong way. (I didn't argue. I wanted home.)
Before passing into the X-ray scan itself, we, passengers were made to queue before a poster showing what an 'average' body scan image would look like.
Not pleasant. Although not outrageously graphic either.
The poster reassured us that the images would be viewed at a different location (oddly comforting) and that they would not be kept.
The procedure itself involves standing in a sort of yoga position, arms up, palms out.
"Stay still," commanded the guard. Which is a bit like being told to stop smiling. After they order you to, you never can.
Out the other end we were held for another brief moment to ensure that our pics had turned out OK and that we didn't have Semtex or heroin or an illegal immigrant strapped about our person. And then off we went.
Ummm, I have no idea.
In the US you do get a choice to decline the X-ray.
(I'm not sure what the alternative option entails. Being frisked and grilled by guards wielding cattle prods?)
But I imagine that if you were passing through the system daily the doc's radiation fears might well be a concern.
Increased security - it's making us all feel ever more anxious.