With full body scanners appearing in more than 80 airports nationwide, including popular cruising ports such as Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and San Diego, it seems worth the time to describe what these new body scans do and what this new technology requires of travellers.
First, there are two different types of full body scanners in use today: millimeter wave and backscatter X-ray. The millimeter wave technology works by sending radio frequencies at you which can penetrate your clothes (ooh la la!) and detect anything that is “different” from your body. This is why passengers are required to remove anything and everything from their pockets. To answer the $64,000 question, these waves measure just below the threshold for sub-millimeter terahertz radiation range, so TSA’s claims that they are safe seem completely legitimate. For anonymity purposes, the machines blur out your face but they can stop and zoom in on “suspicious” areas. The millimeter scanners are the only ones I have come in contact with to date. They look like big cylinders and the emitters circle around your body. The entire process takes 15 – 40 seconds depending on how much zooming the technicians do.
The backscatter X-ray works by sending two separate (front and back) low-dose X-rays at your body and seeing if any of those rays bounce back. This device looks like two separate rectangular boxes that you must stand between while the X-rays are administered. These rays are also supposed to fall in the range of normal radiation we are getting everyday, again nothing to be concerned about. It seems that this device takes about the same amount of time, about 20 seconds, and apparently results in a more skeletal view of your body than the highly publicized images from millimeter wave scanners popping up on the news.
What to Expect
The entire process works as follows. You enter the machine (either the magic cylinder or the between the X-Ray walls) and stand with your arms above your head for as long as it takes, safely less than a minute. The images are sent to a secure location where someone in a back room looks them over for anomalies. The scrutinizer then wirelessly communicates to the TSA official assisting you that you passed and you are free to go! (Hopefully.) TSA claims that no images are stored but there seem to be angry citizens debating this fact.
Anyone has the right to refuse either of the body scanners. Those passengers who opt out of the scanners will be required to undergo a new, more thorough pat down by TSA officials. It has been reported that passengers who refuse both options will not only be not allowed through security but can also face a fine of up to $11,000. To date, TSA has not actually fined anyone for refusing to participate in airport security but fines have been levied against people who bring dangerous items into the checkpoint. It seems it is more of a deterrent than an actual practice.
The one plus side I can think of, you get to wear your shoes. I have always thought it disgusting to walk through those security lines sock-footed. For me? I am currently 22 weeks pregnant and would MUCH rather get in either of these devices than endure the new and improved pat downs.
Happy travels everyone and enjoy the holidays!
Photo courtesy of publik16.
Tahira Mammen is a travel connoisseur and a Cruise Holidays franchise owner specializing in concierge service for discriminating travelers