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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Theall

Airport Pat-Down. Yes, Please.

Here’s an Idea:

Okay, so, every now and then I get these weird, brilliant, flashes of genius (or maybe it’s reflux, hard to tell, really). The latest one had me doing a bit more research—some of it will make you angry or maybe you’ll just shrug, because, well, of course things don’t make sense anymore.

Ever wonder what the TSA agents see when you walk through a 3-D airport scanner and hold your hands above your head? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not what you see when you turn around and look at the screen after you’ve gone through it. No cute paper-doll cut-out with little yellow squares.

Nope. It’s your body, including the outline of your naughty bits. Sizes and shapes, all of it well delineated. I’m not the first one to question this, but if airport scanners can see my lumps and bumps, why can’t they tell me if I have a tumor somewhere? I mean, I already bought a really expensive ticket. I’ve suffered the humiliation of walking barefoot across a floor where millions of people a day have trod (hello, foot fungus?). I’ve had a random stranger open my bag and sort through my underwear, touch my pillow, fondle my prescriptions and toiletries. All this to eventually sit on a plane rubbing arm hairs with a commercial fisherman fresh off the fleet on the 5-hour flight back from Alaska to the Lower 48, getting blood clots in my legs from being wedged into a seat suited for a small toddler or emotional support animal—which I need because of the trauma (to be clear, I meant the puppy, not the baby). It’s truly unhealthy and inhumane. But I digress.

TSA has spent around $150K per unit on the full-body millimeter wave scanners that you use in most airports. A cheap MRI machine in a hospital costs about that much. You can already figure out where I’m going with this but hang with me a bit longer. A TSA machine can identify protrusions that shouldn’t be there, but they can’t see internal organs—they can’t detect disease. That said, a few articles I read suggested that if you keep getting stopped after a scan and patted down in the same area, you should see your doctor. Why? Airport scanners use millimeter wave radiation which penetrates clothing but bounces off other things that reflect back more “energy,” hotspots if you will. Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology say that airport scanners could already detect certain skin cancers. In fact, nodular melanoma, which begins deeper in tissue prior to causing any outward marks or lesions can be picked up by airport scanners. Case in point: a passenger who took 20 flights over 2 months kept being singled out and patted down on his lower left leg. He went to his dermatologist. That TSA screening saved his life.

So, what if…we improved the airport technology to include an area where people could opt to go through a full-body MRI machine once per year, included with their plane ticket? Just start with one machine in each airport and build from there. You could have a doctor present or just hand people their results to take home to their own physician for later analysis. This would be once per year, on an opt-in basis. So you wouldn’t do it every flight. Hell, no. The airport and the airlines are already a giant cluster-f$%$@*. The screening wouldn’t catch everything, of course. But think about it: You’re already at the airport, stripped down, and standing in a line. The machines cost the same. The MRI would still catch security threats, but it also might save your life. We put up with the inconvenience of Covid testing at airports. So I think we could really rally around this.

Stay tuned for my next blog, where I suggest that all middle school and high school athletes who are required to wear mouth guards are given Invisalign instead, so they get straight teeth as well as protection while competing! You are welcome.

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