Airport pat-downs: exercise in futility

Is this really a shock? Pat-downs don’t work well. Aviation experts say that government rules limit where the security folks can check, which means that would-be bombers only need to stash their illicit goods in the uncomfortable places that can’t be touched. Any frequent traveler has been subject to this ritual at least once – and has probably wondered what good it does. Arms, armpits and legs are felt … but is this where anybody would stash something illegal or dangerous?

Making the ritual more troublesome is that the pat-down only occurs when there is a triggering event, specifically the chirp of the metal detector. Clear the technology, and the effectiveness of a pat-down is irrelevant.

The current pat-down technique was shaped by a 2004 TSA list, which was based on complaints by female passengers … and even the revised approach, which protects sensitive body parts and hasn’t been released to the public, hasn’t been enough to prevent the occasional irritation over underwire.

A Government Accountability Office report last year led to some changes, because federal investigators were able to sneak liquid explosives and detonators through airport security checkpoints. The changes that followed opened up the areas open to search – including breasts and groins – but only in certain situations.According to a statement by the TSA, “This new procedure will affect a very small percentage of travelers, but it is a critical element in ensuring the safety of the flying public.”

Of course, the Christmas bombing attempt has prompted a renewed interest in airport pat-downs. They may not be effective, but action is better than nothing, right? Yet, passengers again pushed back, with Gerry Berry, a Florida-based airport security expert, telling The Associated Press, “People just wouldn’t stand for it. You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t.”

And, there’s always the fear of litigation when normally covered and protected body parts are involved. The TSA says that security balanced with privacy concerns is its top priority.

Meanwhile, the comforting touch of a TSA staffer could become more common. As full-body scanners are deployed more widely, passengers will be able to choose personal contact over a total scan.

[Photo by The Consumerist via Flickr]

Ten products to avoid when passing through airport security

The Transportation Security Administration spends millions of Dollars each year trying to inform airline passengers what to leave at home, and how to safely pack things.

We should all know by now that liquids come with restrictions, and that swords and other dangerous items will be taken away from you.

Now, these guidelines can be a little vague, so we have compiled ten products that will probably get you in trouble at the airport. Remember, this isn’t an open invitation to taunt the TSA!

The TSA absolutely loves offensive T-Shirts
. And by “loves”, I mean hates.

Nothing is more entertaining at the airport checkpoint than a really insulting t-shirt. In fact, they love them so much, that they may have airport cops arrest you, and force you to wear a different shirt.

Yes – the T-Shirt picture above is real, and there is indeed a real site where you can order it. It’s just one of many really offensive shirts being sold at $19 will get you your very own very offensive shirt, and a chance at being Tasered at the airport.

Pick the blue wire

Harmless alarm clock, or surefire way to get pushed up against a wall with your legs spread. You feeling lucky enough to try and find out? (On sale at for just under 3000 Yen).

This is actually an alarm clock that requires you to disarm it by plugging the wires in using a sequence shown by lights. It is made for people who have a bit of a hard time waking up in the morning.

Make your own bomb guides

Here is one that doesn’t cost anything more than a couple of pages of printouts.

If your bag is being searched, and the agent comes across a stack of “make your own bomb” guides, do you think you will a) make your flight or b) not make your flight. (Hint, pick B).

Dirty bomb emergency kit

I’m sure you could come up with 20 different reasons why you are carrying a dirty bomb nuclear decontamination kit in your luggage.

Sadly, none of those reasons will help get you back to the US mainland, and it is a really long swim from Gitmo. (Image from, where this handy kit sells for $249.99).

Personal doomsday detonator

To you, this is just a 4 port USB Hub, to Mr. Officer, this is a bomb detonator.

If they find this, don’t make any sudden moves, and whatever you do, don’t flip the cover open to press the detonator button. (On sale at for $39.99)

Designed for a really explosive wakeup call

I’m not an X-Ray specialist, so I have no idea how this will show up on the TSA screens. But somehow, I don’t think they’ll find it as funny as we do.

This is obviously a gag gift, so if you want to really piss someone off, gift wrap it, and tell them to open it once they reach their destination.

Yes sir – I’m just naturally curious about radiation and dirty bombs

Unless you have a student ID showing your related studies or an employee badge for a national lab, you’d better have a great story for the screener that finds these books.

They may look like harmless reading material to you and I (and they are), but $10 says any number of these titles will get you pulled aside for some extra special screening.

The fake grenade USB memory drive

These USB hand grenades probably won’t look too authentic on the X-Ray machine, but they’ll sure make for a funny gag when your bag is being searched.

And by funny gag, I mean pain in the ass. Security personnel don’t take too kindly to fake grenades, and if you catch them on a bad day, you may end up being involved in a terminal scrub. Other things to avoid are grenade replicas or disarmed grenades.

Nothing says “strip search” faster than rubbing bomb making products on your belongings

Ever had your belongings “swabbed”? The security agent will rub your laptop or other item with a swab, then stick it in an expensive machine that says “ping”.

At least, in most cases it should say ping, because when that red light starts flashing, it’s telling them you have bomb residue on the item. Know someone with a heart condition? Don’t borrow one of their patches to rub it all over your laptop. It’ll end badly for everyone involved.

Jacket + wires = fighter jet escort

It was back in 2004, back when everyone was a little more security aware than they are today. A Saudi woman was on board Delta Airlines flight 43, on its way to the US when it got flanked by fighter jets, diverted and forced to land. All because of a jacket with a couple of wires.

To the untrained eye, it looked like a suicide bomb jacket, to everyone else, it was just a winter coat with internal warming pads. Or how about airline passenger/tech student Star Simpson back in 2007 – her art project/fashion statement also combined wires, lights and batteries, and it nearly got her shot at Boston Logan airport. Of course, this idiot was also holding a piece of Playdough, so the combination really could have been a problem.

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