My First TSA Frisking (Trip Report)

We had a wedding up in wine country this past weekend, and it was a typical trip on JetBlue from Long Beach, for the most part. It was, however, my first pat down courtesy of the TSA. That happened at SFO on the return, and though it didn’t bother me, it was VERY thorough. I’ll have more on that down below.

We were staying right near Santa Rosa Airport, so we thought about flying on the LAX nonstop on Horizon, but it was double the price. Not worth it, especially since we could pay half and fly from Long Beach instead. Tickets were bought on September 5 for $181.40 each into Oakland and back from SFO because it was cheaper (even with the small drop charge on the car).


October 7, 2011
JetBlue 248 Lv Long Beach 315p Arr Oakland 435p
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 3, Runway 30, Depart 6m Early
Oakland (OAK): Gate 9, Runway 29, Arrive 8m Early
N552JB, Airbus A320-232, Windowpane Tail, “Blue Jay”, ~90% Full
Seat 14F
Flight Time 56m

I got to the airport a little early and my wife met me there later. I parked myself in front of the always-packed wine bar and watched the beginning of game 5 in the Dbacks-Brewers series. As a die-hard Dbacks fan since day one, I was very glad to be flying JetBlue so I could continuously watch the game on my way up.

LGB Wine Bar

Boarding started about 45 minutes before departure, and we were the last couple people on. (Had to wait for the inning to end, of course.) There was plenty of bin space despite the full flight, and I quickly flipped on the game. Not sure how I got lucky, but there was some glitch that had the TVs working in the “F” seats without interruption. PA announcements didn’t freeze the picture, and we didn’t even have to endure the long “welcome on board” video after takeoff. The only downside was that my wife’s TV (and many others around her) didn’t work. The tried a “partial reset” but it didn’t work. Go figure.

Watching the NLDS

We weaved through what seemed like a busy day of traffic in the LA Basin and landed in Oakland on time. This felt like a fast flight since I was riveted to the game the whole time. I even made my wife wait a couple minutes until the inning was over to get off. Then we ran to the car and listened as the Dbacks lose a great one in extra innings. Sad, but I’m really glad I got to watch what ended up being a great game.

On Sunday morning, we headed back down to SFO, and I got a little nervous as we sat in fog on our way down. SFO + fog = suck, but not that day. It cleared out nicely and we were right on time.

At the TSA checkpoint, they were using the backscatter machines. I’d used them before, and it doesn’t bug me, but I figured this would be a good time to suffer through a TSA pat down since I hadn’t done one yet. I opted out and was told to stand to the side. They let my wife go right through the metal detector (and nobody else). Maybe pregnant women aren’t sent through the advanced imaging machines?

The worst part was waiting and then being grilled. It took about 10 minutes before a guy finally came over. He asked why I was opting out, and I told him I didn’t want to do it. He pushed me again and asked why. I couldn’t believe I was getting this kind of pressure, and just told him that I didn’t know much about the effects of the machine and wanted to get a pat down instead. He marked something in a book, apparently explaining why I opted out, and then we went on.

Like I said, that was the worst part. The pat down was incredibly thorough with long, lingering strokes over all parts of the body, but the guy doing it was very professional and explained everything before he did it. Probably the most invasive part was when he ran his fingers inside my waist band, but again, didn’t really phase me. After, he told me to sit while he tested his gloves for what I assume was trace explosive residue. That was it, and we were off to the gate.


October 9, 2011
JetBlue 1435 Lv San Francisco 1225p Arr Long Beach 147p
San Francisco (SFO): Gate A10, Runway 28L, Depart 4m Early
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 1, Runway 30, Arrive 5m Late
N665JB, Airbus A320-232, Windowpane Tail, “Something About Blue”, ~95% Full
Seat 19A
Flight Time 1h00m

The gate agents were apparently in a very happy mood as they first congratulated a couple (via the electronic sign) that I assume got married. Their electronic boarding announcements were also punctuated with emoticons.

Fun with SFO Monitors

The guy taking boarding passes wasn’t nearly as friendly as the signs were. I asked him who Jeremy and Kerry (the couple receiving congrats) were, and he grumbled “I have no idea. This isn’t even my flight. I just came over here to help them out.” Ok.

As you can see, we got out early but landed late. What happened? It’s fleet week in San Francisco so they’ve restricted airspace to make room for all the demonstrations (Blue Angels and all). So we couldn’t take off from the usual runway 1L and instead had to taxi all the way out to 28L. That’s why we were delayed.

The flight was completely uneventful with beautiful views the whole way. My only complaint was around the TVs. As usual, the second we took off, they went into a long-winded welcome video. Then, as we sat off the coast, we couldn’t get a signal. There were a lot of agitated guys on the plane as the early NFL games were finishing up. Maybe 20 minutes into the flight, we got the TV signal back and a collective sigh of relief was heard.

After the early games were over, I flipped back to baseball. My favorite team after the Dbacks actually is the Brewers (picked them up when I moved to Chicago back in 2004, for some reason). So I found myself in the odd situation of rooting for the team I was rooting against just two days earlier.

LGB Trailer Terminals

We landed and taxied back to the south boarding lounge for the very last time. That’s right. The old JetBlue gates are being retired this week in favor of . . . more trailers. Seriously. They had to clear out the current one to build the new concourse, so there’s a brand new trailer park that you’ll probably see if you fly out of Long Beach on JetBlue in the next year or so.

31 Responses to My First TSA Frisking (Trip Report)

  1. So is keeping a log of why people opt for a pat down normal or something like a survey going on? Is Homeland Security looking at the video of pat downs and checking them out since now you must be on their radar of suspicious people? Do they now you are crankyflyer?

    Oh no, do they see me commenting here and will start checking me out?

    Hide hide, everyone hide…………..lol

    • James says:

      If they took his boarding pass or ID? Then yes, or possibly. Sounds like they were just taking their own notes.

      Search CNN’s Drew Griffin, who was put on a watch list possibly due to his criticle TSA articles.

    • CF says:

      They didn’t take my boarding pass or ID at that point – just asked me why I didn’t want to do it and then marked something down.

  2. James says:

    Along the “long winded video” note: I’m not a regular complainer and love flying, but one of my few annoyances is cabin crew that drone on and on endlessly on the PA. (And usually at a volume far higher than necessary.) Not just the required security and service details, but credit card offers, miles, weather, irrelevant promotions, then more chatter preceding every portion of in-flight service.

    When the pilot gives a quick “seat belts are now on-check ‘em” mention it’s always followed by a minute analysis of the pilot’s directive.

    On one 5:30am flight I was sleeping and was woken up by a “Here we come selling snack boxes” annoucement. I drifted off, then five minutes later heard “SNACK BOX??!!!” barked out next to me. Wouldn’t the first annoucement have sufficed?

    Then upon landing more prattling all the way to the gate…

    I have my earplugs and laptop for movies, but if I was paying for live TV and it was interrupted as much as my usual flights I’d by annoyed. (Not to mention it blacks out the best of portions of UAL Ch 9)

    Just my peeve – of course I always think waiters at all but the highest end restaurants in the U.S. interrupt meals regularly and lack decorum on being available at a distance versus bothering you every five minutes.

    • FRANK says:

      On one 5:30am flight I was sleeping and was woken up by a “Here we come selling snack boxes” annoucement. I drifted off, then five minutes later heard “SNACK BOX??!!!” barked out next to me. Wouldn’t the first annoucement have sufficed?
      ———————————————————————–

      First announcement sufficed? NO. You get the cart out in the aisle at that time of morning and alot of people have their eyes CLOSED. So, should I assume you’re not interested? I’d get three or four rows BEHIND your row, only to hear, HEYYYYY, arent you gonna offer me a box??? ::whiney voice::

      • James says:

        I prefer a quiet as possible environment and relaxation over being verbally prodded to ensure I absolutely don’t need a $5 can of Pringles for breakfast.

        And if I wake up and missed it? My fault.

  3. Oliver says:

    I always opt out. One airport (DEN) asked for the reason for a log (similar to yours). Another airport (LIH) recorded by boarding pass information in a log. Most of the time it doesn’t take very long for the “opt-out agent” to come for the pat-down.

    • I also believe that the log is kept for legal reasons. If a passenger files a complaint or lawsuit (or goes to the media) after alleged misconduct by TSA agents during a search, the local security director can readily ascertain who conducted the search, when it occurred, etc. so that they can promptly investigate any allegations.

      • CF says:

        That makes sense, but it still doesn’t explain why they need to know why I opted out. I assumed that it was some sort of “market research” so they could figure out what the objections were and then try to address them. But I figure I’m probably giving them too much credit for a scheme like that.

  4. Xnuiem says:

    I always opt out, but since I usually fly out of DAL, I dont often get stuck having to deal with it. (DAL doesnt have the new scanners).

    The only time i have been subject to a pat down was at BWI, and other than the first guy trying to pressure me to do the scanner after I already requested a pat down, it was no big deal. Growing up on USAF bases I have been given a pat down or two (I often found myself in places I techincally should not have been). But the TSA at BWI (Bell it said on his name tag) was professional and didnt give me any cause for concern.

  5. Bill says:

    Brett, I would have asked the smurf why we are treated like terrorists. Nothing but security theatre and a waste of taxpayer money.

    • BW says:

      That sort of antics is a good way to make everybody else late while they hold up the line to get a crew to backroom you. Write your congressman and/or drive your car if you can’t handle it and leave the rest of us out of it. And while you’re at it, stay away from trains, cruises, sporting events, concerts, amusement parks, fairs, graduations, and border crossings. They might treat you like a terrorist there too.

      • James says:

        That’s called retaliatory screening, and it’s illegal.

        If the person ahead of me needs a moment to assert their civil rights or educate a screener on policies they themselves don’t know (bags in line of sight, medical devices, not needing to provide additional IDs, etc) I have absolutely no problem with that,.

        • Rob says:

          But asking “the smurf why we are treated like terrorists” isn’t anything about civil rights or policies. That’s just being argumentative and isn’t constructive at all.

        • BW says:

          Any $50/hour lawyer could argue that a hostile attitude to the TSA agent warrants a full body search.

          I’d wager that a lot of us are not interested in waiting because you want to try to prove a point to somebody that can’t do anything about it anyway. Like I said, that sort of thing should be taken up the chain, the person in the screening area is not the person to blame. Opt out, take your groping, and move on.

    • Fred says:

      It isn’t the actual officers there that make the policies – it comes from much higher up in the TSA, and the actual officer(s) you interact with probably know nothing other than what their supervisor is telling them to do.
      Besides, intentionally annoying them like this is just stupid.

  6. CJH says:

    Brett, since it became obvious that I’m pregnant, I’ve been waved over to the metal detector about 75-80% of the time. The few times I haven’t, it was usually because the metal detectors weren’t being used at all, in which case I got the pat down when I refused to go through the backscatter machine. There definitely seems to be a different standard for pregnant ladies.

    • CF says:

      That sounds logical, but then again, if there’s a terrorist, it wouldn’t be that hard to force a pregnant woman to do your bidding. Of course, the idea should be that intelligence gathering beforehand would mean they’d catch a pregnant terrorist before she got to the airport.

  7. Diane says:

    I always opt out too. Sometimes they scan EVERYONE at DCA, not just randomly. It ALWAYS takes at least 10 minutes for someone to come over and run their fingers over my body. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    HUGE waste of tax payer dollars. I wish more people would opt out.. there are always at least 4 TSA agents per traveller at most airports I get to.

  8. So I’ve yet to get the body scanner, but when I was going to meet CF to do some plane watching, I jagged to the left when I saw the body scanner was in use. (Also the line for the scanner was longer.) I very promptly got picked out for a “random” screen where the agent swabbed my hands, and ran the swab through the bomb sniffing machine.

    He also asked me for my boarding pass, which was one of those barcodes on my mobile phone which was still in the scanner. BTW, I’ll hold off on using the mobile boarding pass again. It took the agents a good three or four minutes to scan it at the ID check stand…

    • BW says:

      Most airports I have seen will send people through the metal detector if there’s more than 3 or so people waiting for the backscatter X-ray. I assume they noticed you trying to get around the scanner?

      I’ve also had bad luck with mobile boarding passes. If it won’t scan, they send you back to the counter/kiosk.

      • Heh probably.. I’m actually amazed that Starbucks can get a mobile phone scanner working 100% at all sorts of stores, but the TSA can’t get a mobile boarding pass working…

        • Xnuiem says:

          heh, not me. Private industry always gets it right at least a decade before an over-funded unfocused government entity.

          • True. Although, if the TSA really wanted things secure they’d scan every boarding pass.

            I just hoped they’d actually put performance standards in the scanner vendor’s contract.

        • BW says:

          Actually mobile boarding is moreso the airlines than TSA. The airline generates the barcode and sends it to your mobile device. I think the scanner may even be supplied to TSA by the airline.

  9. Now that I think about it, a good reporter would have ‘hidden’ things on their body and gone for the full strip search to test the system for the good of the story…….lol

  10. Go D-backs! Too bad they lost to the Brew crew, but you can’t have everything. I’m pulling for the Brewers going forward (since virtually all of my family is from Wisconsin and my first team as a kid was the Milwaukee Braves. I know, I’m old). But the Cardinals are hot right now. I was pulling for a D-backs-Tigers series (the new D-backs vs some old D-backs, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth and “Papa Grande” Jose Valverde.

    I got frisked on the way to see my mother when she died (the morning after I arrived). It was not pleasant, so I can sympathize. But it happens. There are some beautiful views out the windows flying out west. One of the best is from SFO to SEA. I could see both Candlestick Park and the Oakland Colliseum during the climb out, and flew above the string of volcanos up the coast, quite a sight.

    I’ve heard of “trailer trash” but this is ridiculous (not you, the airport). Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  11. Michael says:

    I’m surprised that the TV didn’t work considering you weren’t that far off shore. It always works flying to/from LGB/LAX-FLL when crossing the Gulf of Mexico, even last time when we crossed from Key West direct to Galveston.

  12. James says:

    For the record, the security screening staff at SFO are not Federal TSA employees. SFO is one of a small set of airports nationally approved that employ a private contractor for security screening process.

  13. Vidiot says:

    SFO also makes you state your name, right? If they’re still doing it, it’s in contravention of what the laws actually allow/require TSA to ask.

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