For women going places

Diary of a body scan virgin


I wasn't sure what to expect as I headed through security at O'Hare this morning. The new scanner is at security checkpoint 1 - and since there are 5 checkpoints it's easy to miss. I had read that the scanner was operational today and I didn't want to miss my chance, so I asked the security guard where it was and went searching. For those of you that don't know terminal 1 at O'Hare, security checkpoint 1 is almost hidden by the international check-in gates.

I've probably been through security 5,000 times in my travel career and with each new process it takes awhile to learn the drill. Much is the same -- Stand in line with ID and ticket in hand - check; Remove 3-ounce 1-quart bag and computer - got that one down; Shoes off - check. Hey, I thought that wasn't going to be necessary.

Get in line and wait - The wait time before going through the scanner is a little longer than a busy Monday morning full of travelers. But this was Tuesday at 9am. Oh well, new process, let's move on.

The security checkpoint I was at allowed passengers to go through the traditional or the body scan security line. I had come this far and I wasn't turning back. For purposes of my experiment, I asked if I could try the new process. The TSA agent was more than accommodating - although I must say, there were a lot more serious looking agents, supervisors and personnel mulling around watching the process.

My turn, I moved into a narrow passageway and faced what seemed to be a blank blue wall. This type of scanner had two square blue boxes that you couldn't see around or over, but could see through the narrow passage that separated the pieces of equipment. The TSA attendant instructed me to raise my arms over my head and bring my hands together, but not touching. I asked if I should smile - after all I was getting my picture taken. It's the same question I face when getting my drivers license picture.

When I was instructed to step out of the machine I was told to wait - WAIT - this is supposd to be quicker! Knowing not to bring a lot of attention to myself, I did as I was told.

The attendant communicates via radio with the scanners behind the curtain (or wherever they are located) as to whether or not the traveler needs further screening. I DID. For the first time in years a female attendant patted down my arms and took a close look at my watch. This process added maybe 4 minutes to the entire screen - minutes that I hadn't planned for.

My watch, what's up with that??? I have no qualms about going through a body scanner but the pat down made me uncomfortable. Is this what the future holds?

Having had time to reflect I realize that with the old way the traveler walks through a piece of equipment and the TSA agent can see one's watch, jewelry etc. But when you've got an individual looking at a picture she is making judgments without looking at other circumstances.

So the lesson learned? Don't be surprised if your watch or jewelry comes under further scrutiny and add delays to the process.

For all you other body scan virgin's know that the process is virtually the same as before. You'll need to do a stretch (hey, exercise is good) while in the scanner, your accessories may come into question (I recommend you remove your watch with your shoes) and you still might have to endure a pat down. Although 9/11 is not part of my daily conversation as a fequent traveler I am always conscious of the threat and grateful for any added steps that insure security. Faster would be good too.

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