Pat down

I’d been lucky in the six-ish months since the Tray Stacking AgencyTransportation Security Agency introduced the Freedom Frisk enhanced pat down procedure for air travelers to, from, and within the United States. Not once in my travels had I been forced to go through the Nude-o-ScopeAdvanced Imaging Technology scanner, and not once was I subjected to the Government Gropeenhanced pat down. I had been tagged for a trip in the microwavemilimeter wave scanner at YVR transborder a few months ago, but politely declined and got a relatively benign CATSA-approved physical search. And that’s been it: every other time I’ve had to be screened in the United States it’s been at a priority lane or some other kind of checkpoint that hasn’t used the AIT devices, or I’ve ended up in a normal lane, so I didn’t have to opt out.

That changed on the way home from the islands last week. I got my first grope, thanks to the screeners at PHNL. Honolulu uses the milimeter wave devices (the only AIT gadget I’d even consider going through), and they were using it — much to my chagrin — as a primary screening tool for one lane. I have a big problem with this: it’s a strip search for some, but not others, and the whole point of AIT was that it was supposed to be used for alarm resolution only, not the primary screening. So when the glove-snapping TSA screener directed me to the MMW scanner, I said, “Yeah, no, I’d rather not.” “Opt out!” he shouted, snapping gloves some more.

I knew what was coming, of course. And I didn’t really care: ACA048 was delayed leaving (the inbound was late), so Lovely Wife and I had several hours to kill airside. I was willing to wait all day if necessary. So I went and stood in the penalty box and watched as the same screener tried to send Lovely Wife through the MMW scanner. Lovely Wife, who was right behind me — yep, that’s random — is now a badged radiation worker, with a lifetime dose profile at the National Dose Registry and everything thanks to her need to spend long hours in close proximity to a 30 mGy/min x-ray device. Though the MMW doesn’t use ionizing radiation, and though the total dose to both of us from flying ACA048 was probably higher than a backscatter x-ray device, I didn’t care: I told her to use the “badged radiation worker” excuse if they ever tried to send her through a scanner, and it worked like a charm. “Opt out!”

I was so proud. It’s a family thing.

The patdown itself wasn’t so bad — to me. I didn’t find the behavior particularly intimidating, and I didn’t think the search was as bad as it had been portrayed. They do, in fact, tell you exactly what they’re going to do before they do it. They do, in fact, run their hands up your legs until they meet “resistance.” They do, in fact, peer inside your waistband. The fact that I didn’t find it particularly intimidating or uncomfortable, however, doesn’t excuse the fact that I’ve seen people being arrested searched less thoroughly, and doesn’t change the way the whole process seems tailor-made to trigger anyone who has ever been sexually or physically abused.

Lovely Wife reports that her screener seemed more uncomfortable than she did. My guy didn’t seem particularly happy about the plan, either (I guess groping sweaty guys isn’t his idea of a good time). More than anything, I felt sorry for the screeners; any anger I had was directed at John Pistole and the rest of the TSA hierarchy for deciding that this is what life in the United States, circa 2011, is going to be like.

On a brighter note: ACA048 was, for the first time in what feels like eons, operated by a non-non-retrofitted aircraft! Normally the flights to and from Hawaii are worked by a trio of 767-300ERs that are oddballs in the Air Canada fleet — they have eight doors, four on each side, rather than two cabin doors and two window exits as was/is standard on 767s. Those of us who fly Air Canada a lot call them the “Three Amigos” (one of these planes was originally delivered to Spanair; the other two came from Asiana), and to say they’re not a nice product is… well, let’s put it this way — given a choice between an Amigo and a standard economy seat on Untied, I’d probably pick the Amigo. But it would be a tough sell.

The Amigos didn’t get the cabin refit, so they don’t have the lovely XM ExecutiveFirst suites with the lie-flat seats. Instead they have a wholly convention J seat in the “front” cabin. Air Canada sells this as “Comfort Plus,” and really it’s not bad — it is, after all, essentially what you get in J on a narrowbody Air Canada flight, plus it’s what we put up with for years while flying long-haul in J — but it’s not a pod. Anyway, I’m well acquainted with GHPD, GHPF, and GHPH, having flown all of them at one point or another, and generally many times. HPD is probably the worst of the lot — the audio controllers are built into the armrests and stick out about 1.25″ into the seat itself, making it kind of uncomfortable — and HPF is probably the nicest. This is a relative thing.

Anyway, Lovely Wife and I had noticed that the J cabin seat map for our return flight, rather than having the old 2x2x2 seating pattern that we’d come to know and love with the Amigos, was instead showing the new 1x1x1 pattern of an XM’d 767. With great trepidation, we burned some upgrade credits and secured seats in the front cabin. I listened to LiveATC while sitting in the Red Carpet Club, and when ACA047 checked in with PHNL tower we sauntered over towards Gate 24 to get a glimpse of our ride home.

One of the nicest things about PHNL is the open-air concourse, with great views of the ramp and exposure to all the jet noise and exhaust you can tolerate. Naturally, I love it. So I stood on the walkway and watched as the big Boeing made the turn off of Z and onto the apron. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see GHLV pull into position. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I cheered and gave a little fist-pump as soon as I saw the two overwing exits. HLV instantly became my new favorite 767 on the planet.

Owing to the late departure out of PHNL, we missed our connection from CYVR. But much to my surprise, after turning my iPhone back on in customs, I was greeted with a text message from Air Canada and their mobile application: specifically, did I know my booking had been automatically modified, and did I know I’d been rescheduled for a different set of flights? I was shocked — I’d never had a schedule change like this while flying with the iPhone app, and I was amazed it worked as well as it did. Picked up boarding passes at the connections desk and away we went; everything was already done.

It was probably the nicest batch of flights I’ve had in a long time. Very impressive.