Zipping through the Zapper at Airport Security
Written by
Virginia Russell
August 2011
Written by
Virginia Russell
August 2011


I’m not a morning person and I recently made the mistake of scheduling a flight at 7:00am. Amazingly, there were at least 50,000 people (and a dog) who also had a 7am flight. The line at security snaked all the way back to the parking lot.

There are now multiple security options for travelers to select and I had plenty of time in line to review the ample security option signage. The first sign read “If you prefer, you may be searched in private, your security is our priority.” No wonder the line was so long. I bet a whole bunch of people were off in little rooms getting searched and chatting about their travel plans with TSA personnel.

Another sign read “You may choose the New Millimeter Wave Technology that detects metallic and non-metallic items. You may have an additional pat down. Additional information about the New Millimeter wave technology can be found on the website.”

My mind was swimming with choices. There was so much to process with so little coffee at such an unreasonable hour of the morning. I could go through the traditional x-ray used by millions of people for decades. Should I try the new millimeter wave technology or perhaps a private session with TSA security? What would we talk about? What would they find out about me? Needless to say, I’m a chatty traveler and thought better of a private session with security. I decided on the new millimeter wave technology machine. I then learned that our belongings go through the traditional x-ray machine but our bodies go through the new millimeter wave technology machine. Everyone in my line dutifully removed their shoes, belts, wallets, keys, hair clips, and spare change and placed their belongings in the bins for the x-ray machine. That’s when I noticed that our belongings were zipping through the x-ray machine at a brisk clip but our bodies were moving at a snail’s pace.

If you haven’t seen the new millimeter wave technology machine, it looks very similar to the round glass elevator in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You walk inside the glass elevator and place your feet on the bright yellow footprint of a giant. Then you are supposed to raise your hands so that your body is in the shape of a giant gingerbread man cookie. Nothing happens but you’ve obviously been zapped by waves the size of a millimeter.

Additional security guards were immediately outside the glass elevator zapper. The guards communicated with each other via microphones attached to their shirt pockets and earpieces reminiscent of a 1977 James Bond movie. Not four inches from the exit of the new millimeter wave technology machine was another set of bright yellow giant footprints on the floor. TSA security professional Chris told me to stop and stand on the footprints while he analyzed the results of the new millimeter wave technology machine. Mysteriously, this took a few minutes and since I was doing absolutely nothing I had some time to get to know Chris. I asked if he found any malignancies or fractured bones. I couldn’t help myself. His glare spoke volumes.

Chris waved me ten inches forward to yet a third set of bright yellow giant footprints on the floor. TSA security professional Cecilia was carefully guarding the third set of giant footprints and she said “stand still please.” I asked her if I needed to stand like a gingerbread man cookie and she also glared at me and told me to “please remain quiet.” Chris whispered into his microphone, “right front pocket.” I wondered if Chris knew that I knew what he and Cecilia were talking about. Cecilia asked, “Do you have anything in your right front pocket?” I looked around at the other guards to make sure she was talking to me and said, “Nope.” Cecilia whispered into her microphone, “front pocket empty.” I looked back at Chris to see what he would say and he whispered back into his microphone, “pat down.” I panicked. Would we have to go into the private room I had so carefully tried to avoid? Luckily, all I had to do was stand very still while Cecilia patted my pocket. I was busted. The new wave millimeter technology is so effective it found a hair tie I had forgotten. No wonder my handbag couldn’t go through the glass elevator zapper, Cecilia and Chris would have been there all day.

Past Cecilia, it was total bedlam and an impromptu scavenger hunt. Travellers were sorting through belts, shoes, and laptops. My shoes and handbag had gone through x-ray long ago. Shoeless children were wandering around and empty strollers gathered in the corner. As I collected my belongings I noticed a line for airport employees and airline personnel with no ID check, no new millimeter wave technology machine and no x-ray machine. These fortunate few briskly walked straight through security with a calm and confident stride. I began to reconsider my career choice as the benefits of the airline industry shown in a new light. I guarantee you the bad guys aren’t wasting their time with the pedestrian x-ray machine, new millimeter wave technology machine and additional pat down. They’re going through the fast line.

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