Opting out of the scanner inflicts punitive measures on the traveler. I speak from experience.
September 11, 2010, I flew out of Atlanta's airport and ended up in the "random pick" line for the backscatter x-ray. I told the already-scowling TSA attendant that - due to personal and religious beliefs - I wanted to opt out of the backscatter scanner.
She rolled her eyes and told me to step around the machine. In a strident voice, she then screeched (and I mean SCREECHED), "I need a female attendant for a pat down!"
This was my first time dealing with this new technology, but I'd decided months ago that I was NOT going to be microwaved on "medium defrost" *and* have my 51-year-old body ogled by a TSA employee.
So the angry TSA attendant parked me next to the scanner, and I kept looking at the scanning device and wondering (and hoping) that the Plexiglas shroud blocked all the radiation generated by the machine. What a perfect punishment for someone who fears being exposed to whatever health risks: Park them NEXT to the machine so that they get mega-doses.
Meanwhile, my personal belongings hit the end of the conveyor belt, having survived their trip through the x-ray (or whatever it is). But parked in my spot beside the scanner, I could barely see the gray bins containing my brand-new Toshiba laptop, my small leather wallet, my cell phone and my keys.
I literally pleaded with the TSA attendant to allow me to retrieve my personal possessions and she refused. I was traveling alone (as I often do). I then pleaded with her to allow me to at least be in the line of sight of my wallet and cell phone and she again ordered me - again in a loud voice - to remain still. She was demanding, harsh and unyielding.
I kept thinking to myself, "this is what happens when you opt out. You lose your wallet and your laptop. Very, very effective."
I watched the hordes of travelers moving through the "traffic lanes" of the security line, retrieving their personal items and realizing, anyone one of them could easily lift and pocket my things and no one would be the wiser. I was about sick with fear. There were no TSA agents near my belongings. No one watching out for them. All my things just sat at the end of that conveyor belt, about 20-25 feet away from me.
The minutes ticked by. I kept edging over a little more and a little more until I could at least SEE my personal things. The angry TSA agnet would periodically screech, "I need a female attendant for a pat down."
Each time she screeched, I watched dozens of heads turn in the long line, eyeballing the crazy woman who'd been removed from the regular line and set aside. I served as an excellent example. No one else dared opt-out of the scanner.
Dozens of passengers went by as I stood there, moving so close that they literally brushed past me. They'd look sideways at me - some with pity and some with a "what-the-heck-did-you-do" glare. I was forced to remain immediately next to this TSA person. It was truly awful.
I was treated like a criminal and it was a very upsetting experience. Finally, after a 30-minute wait, a female appeared and moved me several feet away to another area. Now, I was closer to my things and could at least keep an eye on them.
Despite this, I was still in plain view, within five or six feet of the main traffic lanes. The attendant started patting me down. She used her palms and fingers, and stroked and touched every piece and part of my body.
Again - it was hugely humiliating - as she rubbed her hands over my groin, my inner thighs, my breasts, etc - right in full view of the traveling public.
Next, she ran a circular pad all over my clothes and then put it in the sniffer. This is where I nearly threw up with fear. You see, I'd worn these jeans last time that I went to the target range to practice shooting my Smith and Wesson .38. Had I washed these jeans since then? I couldn't remember. I knew the gunpowder residue from firing my .38 revolver would show up on that sniffer.
It was terrifying. I was nauseous and started to feel light-headed and faint.
Finally - 45 minutes later, it was over.
The entire affair was very punitive, and humiliating and time consuming and emotionally distressing. When I retrieved my things, I walked into the women's restroom and wept.
Make no mistake - this was intended to be misery. I opted out. I'm a rebel, and according to the TSA's behavior, I must be punished.
It worked. My flying days are over.
Rosemary in Norfolk