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Pat Me!

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A revolt is apparently growing at the grassroots level -- being fanned by politicians and right-wing talking heads -- against the new procedures being used by the TSA to ensure that people with bombs and weapons don't get on airplanes with you and me and our loved ones. If you ask me, it's ridiculous. The revolt, I mean.

Are people's memories so short that they have forgotten that it was just last Christmas when a man with a bomb hidden in his underwear was caught on a flight to Detroit?

Have we forgotten the "shoe bomber"?

Have you turned on the television lately? As I write this, bomb-sniffing dogs have located a suspicious package at Logan Airport, and the cargo area has been cleared.

And people are complaining about TSA pat-downs?

I'm behind the TSA 100 percent in their efforts to secure safety in the sky. If anything, they need more discretion and more leeway to do their jobs properly.

I travel a lot. I put my money where my mouth is. I've been through those full-body screens. Big deal. I've had TSA officials (women) poking at my underwire bra. Couldn't care less. If it means the plane is more likely to take off and land safely, you can poke away all you want.

Of course, having had children, mammograms and the occasional surgery, I'm way past worrying about modesty. I am lucky and blessed in not having any prosthetics, or the like, that need to be removed. Even so, I'd like to think that those who suffer from such great inconveniences would also be grateful -- understanding the possibility that prosthetics could be used to hide explosives.

To be sure, not all of the rules make sense. In an effort to avoid the appearance of profiling (even though every seasoned traveler will tell you to avoid the security line with the Muslims ahead of you), I've been subjected to full searches by agents who recognized me from television. Why me, I asked one of them, a Fox fan, as we discussed whether Sean Hannity was really a nice guy (he is). He pointed out the mark on my boarding pass, which had assigned me randomly for supplementary screening. I've seen elderly ladies singled out for searches because they were traveling on one-way tickets. A waste of time, to be sure, but if it makes the system "seem" fairer, fine with me.

But to limit searches in the name of personal modesty is just plain nuts. It's particularly nuts when the people complaining are half-naked in the first place. I really did start laughing when a woman who looked like she was planning to hit a Hollywood club the minute we landed (top cut down to her navel, skirt cut up to her underwear) started complaining about the intrusiveness of the search. As for the men complaining that they don't want their "packages" touched, I've got news for you: The TSA folks couldn't care less about any package unless it's potentially explosive.

Have there been instances of TSA officials acting unprofessionally? No doubt. The same is true of doctors and nurses and orderlies, but we don't have them examine us with our clothes on. By all means, people should complain if they are mistreated. But that has simply never been my experience. The TSA folks I see in action are overwhelmingly hardworking men and women trying to do a job that allows for no margin of error. My hat is off to them. And so is anything else they want taken off.

Happy holidays. And travel safely.

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