Security scanners are the bane of every traveler's existence. They slow you down, invade your privacy, and add stress to an already stressful day.
What about the Los Angeles International Airport? If you're going to be flying through LAX and are wondering if you'll have to face the millimeter wave and backscatter imaging devices -- those are the ones that beam your naked body to a TSA employee as you pass through -- I'm afraid the answer is yes.
These special security scanners were implemented as an airport screening security measure by the TSA and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) post-9/11 and a few other air travel security incidents. Also referred to as advanced imaging devices (or AIT's), the scanners take an x-ray-like photo (see an example at the left) of your naked body underneath your clothes; the picture is then sent electronically to a TSA employee. Incidentally, that employee is seated some distance away from you with the intention that the employee be unable to mentally put together your face and the image of your naked body.
The TSA employee uses the photo of your naked body to determine whether you have concealed weapons or bombs or other contraband on your body underneath your clothing. This body imaging is done at airport screening points, and you and your belongings will have to pass through one of these screening checkpoints in order to get on a plane.
Can You Opt Out of the Security Scan?
You can opt out of having your body scanned by the imaging scanner and request a pat down instead. I've done the patdown once; it's not particularly distasteful, though it's more intimate contact than I made at my first boy-girl dance (the employee assigned to one's patdown is of one's own gender, by the way, so you don't need to worry about that).
Keep in mind that you will receive a more thorough check if you opt out of the scanners, as the TSA employees will be looking to see if there's a reason why you want to avoid passing through like everyone else.
I always go for the security scanners, because I don't really mind if somebody ends up seeing a blurry outline of my naked body. Going for the scanner is easier, results in less hassle, and raises less suspicions.
Be Prepared to Wait
LAX is one of the busiest airports in the country and if you request a pat down because you're among those who don't want images of your naked body being beamed from the backscatter x ray machine or because you dislike the idea that you'll be bombarded with radiation through the process, know that you should arrive at the Los Angeles airport early so that you'll have plenty of time to wait: though the TSA says it isn't so, waiting for a patdown at airport security is always a long ordeal.
I would aim to arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight if you'll be heading to a domestic destination, or three hours if you'll be flying internationally. If you'll be transiting through LAX, make sure you have at least two hours in which to make it to your next gate, as queues can be long and flights can be delayed.
What About the Rest of the Security Process?
Provided you have complied with all airport security rules and have packed your liquids and gels in three ounce containers and in the correct sort of plastic bag and are not attempting to smuggle any weapons or bomb-making materials aboard in the form of Swiss army knives on your keychain or a full sized tube of toothpaste, you'll be free post-scanner, patdown or metal detector to collect your belongings and get re-dressed and go actually get on the plane.
Don't forget your laptop, which you'll have had to take out of your backpack and send through the x-ray machine separately from your other belongings; fortunately, you're unlikely to forget your shoes.
When it comes to the security process in American airports, expect aggression from employees and don't try to cause an argument. Accept that it's a necessary evil in order to travel, and that the thorough searches are what will keep you safe in the air.
This article was edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.