My latest TSA experience

As you may recall, I’ve managed to earn myself a place on the “soft no-fly list” for various stunts (bringing and photographing and blogging knives and box cutters on airplanes) and my politics. Now any time I fly through or into the United States, when I get my boarding pass it pops up a bunch of warnings on the agent’s screen, and after a confused phone call they have to write “SSSS” on my boarding pass, meaning that I have been chosen for Secondary Security Screening. Essentially this means that at every point where searches are done, they need to do the most aggressive searches that they offer. It’s a little annoying not just because it’s a complete waste — obviously I am not a terrorist threat since no actual terrorist is going to draw attention to themselves by loudly blogging about security weaknesses — and just highlights my (obvious) point about it being theatre, but also because it means that I have to add fifteen minutes to every airport visit due to the searches.

In Toronto it wasn’t too big a deal. They just made me step through the “nudie scanner” that takes an x-ray-type picture of you and shows a vaguely naked picture to someone in a closed room. Since that scanner showed nothing of consequence, I was just let through without anything else. However, in Richmond flying back to Toronto it was much more aggressive. They dedicated four agents to me the entire time, and the senior agents used it as an excuse to “train” the juniors.

They began my putting me in a little roped off area where they asked me basic questions about who I was and where I was going and filled out a page of information about me. Next I took off my shoes and jacket and emptied my pockets and put my stuff through the normal x-ray machine, while I walked through the “nudie scanner” (the only option for everyone). This scan showed my pony tail and strangely, an object on my left thigh, which was a complete malfunction. They immediately checked my pony tail and patted my leg to confirm there was nothing there, and I thought at first that would be the end of it, but they told me I was going to get an “enhanced patdown” and offered to do it in private. I told them I would rather do it in public. It seems to me that you give up a lot of personal safety when you go into a private room with authority figures!

The agent started explaining the search to me and I told him I’d had it done many times before and he didn’t need to, but it was “procedure” (oh, they love procedure), so I had to listen to his long explanation about how he was going to go up the inside of my leg with the back of his hand until he “encountered body resistance in the groin area” (a very boring way to refer to the scrotum). The search was very thorough, touching me absolutely everywhere, with a couple of very obvious omissions.

I will use this as an excuse to update you on my leg pocketings or macrodermals (here is my initial post on them and the first update if this is new to you). To remind you, these are done using 0ga (7/16″ diameter) silicone posts with a flared bottom like a giant labret stud to hole them in place. They come out of the skin about 1/4″, and since they’re still healing, I sometimes wear protective covering over them (you can see that in the third photo). They are rather hard to miss, and the day of the search, I was wearing longer posts than in these photos, making the jewelry somewhat the same size as 9mm bullets, so they were more prominent. Here are some photos that I took two days ago to update you on the healing.

Again I want to emphasize that the pinkish scarred up looking skin is not from the pocketings!!! It is because of the neurological damage resulting from surgery to remove a bone tumor in that leg. These modifications are there in part to “reclaim” my awful leg.

Anyway, these piercings were covered up with a sock but even the most casual touch would have made it seem like I had hidden an object under the sock — with the bandages included, an object as large as a box cutter. I was not looking forward to having to explain the pocketings, but to my great surprise, the agent (and it was a senior agent that did the pat down, not some noob) didn’t notice. He didn’t even touch my ankle or lower leg!!! I could have had a knife shoved in my sock and he’d never have noticed. To say nothing of being able to put anything else in my sock or on the bottom of my foot. I found it shocking, that even with them spending fifteen minutes searching me in a variety of ways, in the most aggressive search short of a strip-search, they were completely unable to find even the most obvious objects “hidden” on my body. I could easily have brought in a knife or even a zip gun.

The whole process is a joke. Not only are they wasting effort harassing people who are obviously not matching any reasonable terrorist profile, but the searches themselves are totally incompetent. Caitlin has accidentally brought a metal box cutter (ie. razor blade knife) in her purse. I have accidentally brought a composite automatic knife clipped into my pocket with the top of the knife actually sticking out of the pocket! And now I’ve been searched and had the objects in my sock missed. Why do they bother?

Oh and they also searched my stuff, and that process was also completely incompetent. Because we were going there for my daughter’s birthday, I had an entire bag full of wrapped presents in my carry-on, which didn’t bother them in the least, and when they did the aggressive search on the way back, they did only the most cursory check of my stuff. Mostly they just moved it all about and made a mess, but they missed stuff in the pockets and they didn’t take a close look at any of the electronics hardware. Again, a complete waste.

I did however break the shoelaces on my ancient shoes having to untie and tie them in a rush a few times. When we got home Caitlin bought me some new laces so I looked up different ways to lace shoes and had some fun with it. Here’s the style that I went with:

You can see it, right?

The plane we flew on was a little Beechcraft, the smallest plane I’ve ever taken on an international flight. I think it had 18 seats in all, and only sat two across. That is, a seat, the aisle, a seat. Everyone gets a window! It was a prop plane rather than a jet, but actually still felt really speedy and accelerated quickly on take-off. On each flight, both there and back, we went through stormy patches that were absolutely wild. I felt like I was in a fighter jet, not just because of the turbulence but because the pilots’ cockpit was open to the passenger area and it felt almost like being part of the grew, maybe the gunner.

Now to get to work… I have writer’s drawer’s block but I have to get a logo drawn for a friend’s restaurant. Gonna watch 90210 with Caitlin and maybe do some sculpting to clear my head, but ultimately I will just have to force myself and keep my fingers crossed that inspiration strikes.


  1. Twwly wrote:

    Scott & I got the Secondary Security treat when we flew back from Vegas. Screened two times after we got off the plane, both with long waits.

    BOTH times the person handling us asked us a couple of very basic questions (how often do you fly to Vegas) and then the clincher… “why are you here”?

    How about you tell ME. I didn’t write that series of Ss on my customs card for FUN.

    Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  2. Shannon wrote:

    The SSSS rating can be either a “random” thing, in which case you’ll get it once in a rare while when you meet certain criteria, or it can be permanent, like in my case, where you get it every time. Fingers crossed you are not the latter!!!

    Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  3. BitMedler wrote:

    I sense a great knuckle tattoo in this to just speed things up…. “S|S|S|S”


    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  4. Shannon wrote:

    Quite brilliant!

    Friday, May 4, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  5. Bill Fisher wrote:

    You’re absolutely right about TSA being a joke and an abusive agency. There re groups working to replace this agency with something that makes sense.

    Please join us at

    Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  6. Saul wrote:

    I had to double check the flashes on the laces wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me. Until I saw what you wrote underneath.


    Monday, May 7, 2012 at 2:25 am | Permalink
  7. Neko wrote:

    I love that shoelace site. I found this too, it would be cool to make your own shoelaces!

    Monday, May 7, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  8. thomas wrote:

    The airline thing has become absurd. If there were no security – simply the “threat” of terrorists – would people really choose not to fly? I can’t speak for Canadians, but to me the spirit of being an American is that if I’m on an airplane and some whackjob decides to cause a problem, there’s somebody on there with the balls to simply deal with it. Either that or we just die – it’s not like America is facing extinction. Fuck, overpopulation a lot bigger threat to humanity than terrorists…

    Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 2:49 am | Permalink
  9. ed b wrote:

    Hi Shannon!

    Recently I bought a dvd of a show called Urban Legends, and lo and behold — guess who I saw on there. I didn’t know you were on there.

    Have a great day!!! :)

    Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink
  10. Shannon wrote:

    Ed B, that’s bizarre, I had no idea. Tell me more!

    Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink
  11. Ed B wrote:

    Hi Shannon! The TV show was called “Urban Legends: Is it truth? Is it fiction” The host is Natasha Henstridge. The episode that has “Home Liposuction” has some video of you showing the backdrop of BME (the cover at the time is the “100% Beef” on a buttcheek. Also, they show you pulling out a digit (not sure if be toe or finger ) from a jar. I could take pics of the images/video they have and email them to you, if that would be helpful.

    BTW- They show you a few times — and it was before the COBM forehead design you have — so it is some early video for sure.

    Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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