Stewart Airport, 5:00am, Sunday morning. Still dark outside and not much movement at the airport. The morning rush for flights had not begun.
I entered the terminal and walked over to the rental car counter to turn in the keys. I dropped the keys in the box and turned around meeting the gaze of a TSA agent. I smiled and continued the process of checking in and getting my flight ticket from the JetBlue kiosk. I had the feeling I was being watched and I looked around and noticed the same TSA agent (known from here out as Skeletor) still watching me. He was making me feel uncomfortable. I took the last sip of my peppermint tea and dumped the styrofoam cup in the garbage can.
As soon as I walked up to the TSA line, Skeletor asked to see the palms of my hands. No hello, how are you, or other form of greeting? He informed me he needed to scan my hands. What the heck? After all my years of traveling, this was a first. What could he possibly be checking for? The only thing that came to my mind were drugs.
Wrong! The lights of the machine turned red and I immediately got the “uh oh” feeling. Skeletor asked me to step aside and called for his supervisor. Long story short, my hands tested positive for explosive residue. Over the next 30 minutes, I was subjected to a humiliating and invasive pat down and my suitcase and purse were ransacked.
After being questioned, I was placed in a holding room where two female TSA agents rambled on about where they were going to touch me and how they would use the backs of their hands and fronts of their hands during the dreaded “cop a feel.” At this point it didn’t matter what part of the hand they were going to use. They were still rooting around in areas I would prefer them not to be. It was disgusting.
After they were done with me, I was dismissed with a wave of a hand and left to re-pack my suitcase and put myself together. I was mad. No one else had been targeted nor had their hands been scanned. Why was I randomly selected? Why did Skeletor have his eyes on me from the second I walked in the door?
I support the fact we have to beef up security, but in this situation I felt there was more to it. How sensitive are Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) machines?
What can cause false positive readings? Did Skeletor know that a styrofoam cup could leave suspicious residue on a drinker’s hands? Is that why he was watching me? Hey, let’s target the tired housewife and make her cry. Five points for the TSA agent who can get her to wail or four points if you make her mad. Is it a sick game in which they tally up the points at the end of the week and the winner gets a free dinner at Bennigan’s?
This experience was scary. I was traveling alone and truthfully, did not know what my rights were in a situation like this. My suitcase, purse, driver’s license and ticket were confiscated from me. They were out of my eyesight and I was at the mercy of the TSA agents.
What would happen if something “magically appeared” in my suitcase or my money/credit cards went missing? It would become a game of he said, she said. And I have a feeling I would not have a leg to stand on.
What are a passenger’s rights in a situation like this? What would happen if a passenger missed their flight?
But this is what I have learned… all the following have the potential to cause false positives on the ETD scan:
- Taking nitroglycerin-based heart medication
- Living in & around agriculture
- Being a legal gun owner
- Using glycerin-based lotion
- Being in the active military, guard, or reserves
- Working in the explosives or mining industry
- Working in the cosmetics industry
- Touching styrofoam/polystyrene
Just to name a few.
The moral of this story… next time you go to the airport, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly… but NOT with glycerin-based soap! Happy travels.