In a previous post, National Security, I wrote about my adventures with the TSA full-body scan that they’ve implemented in American airports. At the time the I wrote that post, they were still fairly new. Now, a few years later, people have gotten used to them. The public may still be unhappy with them overall, but the uproar has died down a lot.
So, what more could I have to say about them (and airport security in general)? Well, flying while eight and a half months pregnant sort of changes things.
Firstly, it’s not recommended for pregnant women to go through these full-body scanners. They work similarly to x-ray machines, and if getting your jaw x-rayed at the dentist while you’re pregnant is problematic, then this should also be (although extensive research has never been done – pregnant women tend not to like being guinea pigs). When my turn came and they asked me to step up to the machine, I simply pointed out my belly and let them know that I’m not going through it. After about five minutes of trying to understand what the TSA officer (who had a stutter on top of his really thick foreign accent) was saying, they finally put me through a regular metal detector. (I didn’t even get the full-body pat down that’s the regular alternative for the body scanner!)
As I was putting my shoes back on, I overheard one TSA officer telling another officer that earlier that night a pregnant woman went through the machine. The officer had wanted to say something to her – that it’s not recommended for pregnant women to go through it – but since she hadn’t blatantly said she was pregnant, the officer didn’t want to risk insulting her by calling her “fat.” Who knew? TSA officers can be gentlemen too.
Anyway, after I passed the scanner, my carry-on bag had to be scanned too. I was a bit confused when they asked me if I had anything in my bag that they should know about. After all, I don’t make it a habit of traveling with machetes. Then I realized they were probably talking about my water bottle. In case you’re not aware, pregnant women are supposed to drink… a lot. For the last eight months I haven’t gone anywhere without my water bottle. Naturally, I was not looking forward to parting with it over the silly rule that you can’t bring liquids with you onto the plane. The following is roughly the conversation that ensued:
TSA Officer: Excuse me Ma’am, is there anything in your personal bag that you’d like to tell us about?
Me: (confused, lengthy pause) Oh! My water bottle!
TSA Officer: (Taking my water bottle out of my bag) Ma’am, you are aware that liquids are not allowed on the plane.
Me: Yes, yes, of course, but can’t I hold onto it up until boarding?
TSA Officer: You can drink it now, if you’d like. You’re allowed to take an empty bottle with you past this point.
Me: (Looking warily at the full bottle in front of me) I won’t be able to finish the entire bottle right here and now. Can I drink half of it and save the rest?
TSA Officer: I’m sorry Ma’am, but you can only take the bottle with you past this point if it’s completely empty. You can either drink the whole thing now and go back through the scanner (???!!!) or we can confiscate it.
Lengthy silent pause, during which time I look imploringly at the officer, clearly letting my troubles show on my face. Finally, after an exceedingly long and uncomfortable silence…
TSA Officer: (Dropping the tough guy act) Well, can you think of a medical reason why you’d need to take it with you?
Me: I’m almost nine months pregnant?
Officer smiles and nods, then takes my bottle in hand and walks away, returning a minute or two later and returns the bottle to my bag.
TSA Officer: We checked the contents of your bottle. You’re free to take it with you onto the plane. Have a nice flight!
And that is how I manipulated airport security. (For the second time that night, actually. The first time was when I managed to persuade the manager of the airline to let me take the stroller we’d purchased in America on the plane for free rather than have it counted as an extra piece of luggage that would cost more, as is airline policy regarding strollers when you aren’t traveling with a kid. All I had to do was offer to let her put her hands on my pregnant belly to feel the baby kicking, which she thankfully declined. Ah, the things we do to save some money.)