I just got a pat down from a TSA agent with one arm…

Before anyone posts “lucky, how dare you discriminate against those with a disability,” hear me out.

I was flying out of Orlando this evening and was directed towards the full body scanner at the TSA checkpoint. As usual I refused and asked for a private pat down instead. After the agent yells “male assist,” a guy comes up to me who is missing an arm. Fair enough, there’s nothing wrong with that. I figured he would get assistance, as they always do, since private screenings require two agents.

When you get a private screening you’re not allowed to touch your bags until the screening is done for obvious reasons, though he carried all of my bags over to the private screening room. He put my laptop bag over his shoulder with the limb, and then clamped the bin with my Macbook between his limb and body, while carrying my 22” carry-on in the other hand. Even those without disabilities usually take two people to carry my stuff over, though this guy had it all. Unfortunately in the process, he placed my very old shoes on my very new Macbook Air, which I really didn’t appreciate. Then again, I didn’t want to be a douche and ask him to carry them separately, given that his hand was full.

We go to a screening room and a supervisor is called over to “observe” the screening, which is always done when requesting a private screening. When you get a pat down they always use gloves, though in this case, he could only wear one glove, again, for obvious reasons. The issue was, he used his limb to pat me down as well! It’s not that I have an issue with him using his limb, but rather that it didn’t have a glove on it, which is required. And I really don’t like people working a checkpoint touching me or any of my belongings without gloves, given how much stuff they touch on a daily basis. At the same time, what could I really say? “Could you put a glove on your limb?” or “Could you please not use your limb?” The guy was incredibly nice, though it was rather awkward as he swooped his limb between my legs and up to my crotch… really caused me to have to spread my legs wide.

Look, I’m all for the TSA hiring those with disabilities and this guy was especially friendly, but couldn’t they distribute labor a bit better? This guy would be much better off working the scanner or being on the other end of the metal detector or full body scanner, as those areas aren’t as physically challenging.

Not only did he delay me by taking more time than otherwise necessary (he worked at about half the pace), but he was touching me without a glove, which I’m never comfortable with (but I didn’t want to make the situation even more awkward), be it a hand or a limb. Beyond that, while he was incredibly nice, he repeatedly complained about his disability as he got up and down on his knee, having forgotten that he has one bad knee. So clearly he wasn’t enjoying it either.

Am I off base to expect all the contact someone has with me to be via gloves, and to maybe think they can make both of our lives easier by assigning him to a more practical position that isn’t as physical, given his disability?

Filed Under: Security/TSA
  1. I have to agree with you on this, specially as someone whose role has involved helping people with disabilities attain and retain gainful employment.

    Regardless of the disability, one of the key issues is finding work for the person that they have the capability to perform without undue hinderance to or from their existing condition.

    I would concur that the assignment of this agent to a position where it would have to perform duties such as handling heavy luggage and being in extreme close contact with pax might, in the light of his disability, not be the most appropriate use of his skills.

    While he or others with this condition would, depending on the functionality of their limbs, be able to distribute the load – there is no doubt in my mind they would preference their working limb, thus increasing risk of strain and other injuries, therefore exposing the employer to increased risk of future compensation liabilities.

    Further, I can understand the hygene concerns – but I think that having the staff member place a glove over a false limb is a bit steep. In your view, would an alternative option, such as application of a disinfectant spray or fluid such a Purell to sanitise the limb be enough to satitisy the intended goal without undue hinderance to the process?

    And yes, having TSA using liquids in the screening/secure area is a whole other can of worms – but I’m sure if they can accomodiate someone with a disability working in the role they could work out a way to reassure pax their hygene isn’t being compromised in such close contact circumstances.

  2. My thought on the issue is that the TSA agent presumably has no sense of feel in the false limb. Which means that if someone really was trying to sneak something in, would the agent be able to feel out the bump/bulge/anomaly with the false limb? I’m not sure someone with a false limb would be as effective as they would need to be due to the limitations of the limb.

    As Michael H. above said, there’s probably other positions in the TSA where this person would be a better fit.

    On an entirely different note- have fun in Argentina, Ben! I’m heading to BsAs myself in about a week for the first time. I can’t wait to read what you think of it.

  3. Is the wearing of gloves meant to protect us or the worker from germs or grime? I mean, I don’t see them changing gloves between each pax, or even frequently at all, so whatever they’ve touched would still be transferrable to me. If I were the one armed screener, I would want to a glove or something on the limb for my own good.

    I’d agree though that it doesn’t seem like the ideal position for him.

  4. This situation has really opened a can of worms in my opinion. What about the magic wand that is waved over people? Why is the magic wand not trojanized for the sanitary good of the traveling public? TSA does claim to be doing all this for our protection.

    Come on TSA, no love without a glove!

  5. so yesterday you didn’t like that they asked your name; today because a disabled guy wasn’t wearing a glove on his limb.

    the constant TSA nit-picking gets a bit tiring at time. and all these totally pointless complaints cheapen your arguments when the complaints actually hold merit

    and this is also from a guy who opts out of the body scan

  6. There is no way an “enhanced pat-down” can be properly executed with a LIMB. It sounds like it made both the passenger and the TSA agent uncomfortable- physically and emotionally.

    If a flight attendant were missing a hand he/she wouldn’t be able to preform their duties… Airport screening is not the place for the handicapped to overcome their disability at the expense of the traveling public. Safety is safety- right homeland security?…

    Lucky, this is almost as ridiculous as the time CVS hired that blind pharmacist who gave me Courtney Love’s happy pills…


  7. @Michael & Elizabeth – I could be mistaken, but I didn’t get the impression that his “limb” was a prosthetic arm. I was picturing more of a partial limb. Though in hindsight that probably makes the most sense. Hmm….

  8. I find it ironic that you could have solved the problem like a responsible adult by suggesting he glove his limb or asking the supervisor who was there to have him do so. But now here on the internet you are manly enough to mention it. Private screening is where you were it wasnt like others would hear you there were only three of you in the room. You sound like a coward and the American with Disabilities Act protects him the disabled worker.I pray your Karma doesnt effect anyone you know or love that has a tragic event that causes them to lose a limb or become disabled You began with hear me out I did you could have fixed your issue but you chose not to so you would have a reason to complain You sir are next to the word coward in my dictionary!

  9. That is my friend Peter. He is very Hanicapable. Do you think that writing a blog about a handicap person is really that mature? Im glad people laughed, but if your mom was given fertility drugs in the early 70’s which gave you a birth defect, you would be in a different boat. Continue blogging about flying 300,000 miles on someone else’s dime and stop harassing people who are less fortunate.

  10. @Friendly skies

    I’m confused too, why do you like the nude o scope so much.

    @ Ben

    I believe the correct term is “nub”, at least that’s what my friend, likes his to be called. and they are surprising nimble, my friend actually play on my High school Curling team 🙂

  11. @ Marie, it’s called exercising restraint. I’ve never been one to censor myself, but I just can’t imagine how the “please glove your limb” request would flow off my tongue.

    Lucky is par for the course. It’s the clubhouse that’s broken.


  12. @Sam… Lucky does *NOT* like the Nude-O-Scope. As you can see, he opted-out of the RapeScanner.

  13. putting a glove on for his limb that touches your clothes is pointless – and would just be an example of “germ theatre”, the allusion of adding sanitation when it really isnt. a bit pointless IMO

  14. What a douche bag. You asked for the private screening, they gave you the private screening. Deal with it. People deal with disabilities, they have to make a living and you sir, just have with it.

  15. STOP PICKING ON Marie , you guys are smart enough to understand what she wrote. I guess you just do not like people ( like in woman ) who speak up. This 2011 not 1011 .

  16. Lucky – I have to be honest, you’ve had some odd/off posts lately. I actually do have an issue with the fact that you’re comfortable enough posting this on the internet, but you weren’t comfortable speaking up at the time. It’s not like the guy’s disability was a secret. If you’re willing to post this here, you should have been willing to address the guy directly or at least ask for a supervisor.

  17. For the passenger, the purpose of requesting fresh gloves is so the screener doesn’t deposit any nitrates on you that will in turn trigger a resolution pat down. If the screener came into contact with nitrates from food, say bacon or barbecue flavoring, the nitrate will be on their hands and show up as explosives on the swab.

    If this happens the passenger will be taken to a back room and forced to remove clothing to confirm that they are not concealing explosives. This is clearly stated on the TSA website which adds that the passenger will be given a “paper drape” for privacy”. Anyone with doubts about this may visit the TSA website and search “paper drape” for confirmation.

    Unless the passenger wants to run the risk of a strip search with only a paper towel to cover themselves, the sensible option is to demand fresh gloves. TSA apologists are quite cavalier about these abusive practices but may change their view once they or a family member are the victim of these perversions.

  18. “Then again, I didn’t want to be a douche and ask him to carry them separately, given that his hand was full.”

    This struck me as very funny for some reason.

  19. Another point of the gloves would be to avoid transferring germs from one passenger (or passenger’s belongings) to another.

  20. “Another point of the gloves would be to avoid transferring germs from one passenger (or passenger’s belongings) to another.”

    That only works if they change gloves after each use.

    I notice customs wears the same gloves for several searches, and shakes some meds out of the container onto their gloved hand to examine them.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *