Saturday, May 14, 2011

wherein I am irritated and irradiated by the US government

Thursday I flew home, and had a tight hour-long connection in Houston.  Since I knew I would have to go through customs in Houston, I decided just to travel with a carry on... not checking a bag then having to pick it up and recheck it after customs should have given me enough time to get to my gate easily.  Should have, but we all know how flying goes.  We actually left Belize early, and got in about 20 minutes early, amazingly.  Unfortunately, there was a thunderstorm in Houston, which shut the whole airport down (?  really? Because I would think that they get thunderstorms a lot....).  I ran of the plane, and then ran to customs... only to encounter the longest line I have ever seen.  One hour and ten minutes later, I got my passport checked and ran to my next stop-- security.  At this point it was 3:42, and my flight was scheduled to leave at 3:55.  In customs an employee had come around with a list of delayed flights, but mine was not on it.  So I am operating on the assumption that I have 10 minutes to get through security, ride a train to my terminal, and run to my gate.  No problem, I could do that.  And here is where I encountered my moral dilemma.  That particular day in Houston, every person was selected to go through the xray machine (usually it's like 1 in 3).  I had absolutely no intention of going through the xray-- I don't even stand in front of the microwave when it is on.  When I got to the front of the line, I asked to opt out.  Ok, the TSA lady said, but you are going to have to wait.  How long?  Don't know, but that girl over there has been waiting 10 minutes all ready.  Miss, I said, I have 10 minutes to catch my flight.  She just looked at me.  My options are to miss my flight, or be subjected to an xray which I most certainly do not want to receive.  Yep.  So I got the xray.  As I was running out of security, I saw that the girl who had been waiting finally was being checked.

My flight ended up being delayed, information that wasn't available until I had passed security.  Sitting on the plane, I realized I was really, really upset about the whole situation.  Throughout this whole media  storm about the xray machines, the choice has always been xray vs pat downs.  I have no problem with a pat down; I work in medicine and understand that impersonal touching can be required in certain professions.  Having to choose between missing my flight and a test that is not without risk to my future health-- that is upsetting.  I can only hope that my situation was an isolated one.  I don't know why there weren't personnel available for pat downs, but I do know that there was only one other person waiting, and I didn't see anyone being given a pat down at that time, so I don't think they were occupied with a long line of pat downs.  Security was not super busy.  Now I am curious about the quoted statistics that say most people don't opt out of the xray-- how many of those people would if they had the time?  I think the only way I can avoid this situation in the future is to make sure my layovers are way longer then I ever think I could need. Normally I would not risk an hour layover, this was an unusual situation, but I still think it was fairly reasonable when only traveling with a carry on.  I also think the TSA should ensure they have adequate personnel on hand at all times to deal with pat downs-- after all, isn't that their job?  So to everyone traveling in the future:  be aware, xrays are becoming the norm instead of the exception.  Plan for it, and give yourself lots of time if you know you don't want to be given an xray.

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