The continuing flight saga: I get goosed AGAIN

Once again the TSA (Transportation Security Agency) can’t keep its hands of my tuchus.  Going through the see-you-naked machine, having carefully removed everything from my pockets, the detector image nevertheless showed a small yellow patch on my right hand and a very large yellow patch on my right buttock. And you know what that means. The TSA agent asked if I had a wallet in my back pocket, and I did not.

I didn’t even listen after that; I just nodded as the guy went through the can-I-grope-your-buttocks-with-the-back-of-my-hand litany. I was soundly goosed, had my hands swabbed and tested with the Sniffer Machine, and then proceeded onward.

What is WRONG with these machines? I had nothing in my pockets and yet my buttock was still flagged in yellow. I have no metal implants in my rump, nor anything else to set off the machine. Yet in planned tests, agents regularly get dangerous stuff past the machines and agents. (Read this site for a lot of posts about the abysmal failures of the TSA.)

Perhaps I’ve just been flagged in the “AB” class (Attractive Buttocks). Regardless, this has happened to me the last three or four times I’ve flown—except out of Heathrow. If this happened in the workplace, it would count as sexual harassment.




We’ll see if Canada treats me any better!


  1. Wildhog
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I suspect that people who have always wanted to goose Dr. Coyne have been applying for jobs with the TSA.

    • Posted February 21, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Which Dr Coyne? PCC(E), or the Jesuit astronomer-priest and boss of the Vatican observatory?

  2. GBJames
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    The see-you-naked machine inevitably shows me to have a big yellow who-knows-what in my left front pocket, despite the pocket always being empty. I’m convinced, despite denials by the TSA people, that it is picking up my metal replacement hip… a left-side feature of my maturing years. It never triggers the right side, where nature allows me to continue using the original bony hinge.

    But they insist that the machine doesn’t make such distinctions. I do not believe them.

    • Wildhog
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      The big yellow thing in all the TSA photos is a banana. 10% of men carry a banana in their pocket. The rest are just happy to see you.

    • compuholio
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      I do believe them (at least in that regard).

      Since these machines usually pick up Terahertz radiation it is highly unlikely that they will react to implants which are buried deep under the skin.

      They are however known to be sensitive to wrinkles in clothing and I could imagine that they might be sensitive to large scars.

      • GBJames
        Posted February 21, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps the scar hypothesis explains it. I do have one of those.

  3. rickflick
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I think the gloves are supposed to make it alright.

  4. BobTerrace
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Flagged in yellow… Was it in the shape of a Star of David?

  5. Posted February 21, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I always get groped in Heathrow, Jerry. My boobs and your bottom are fair game. I love the thought of the bullet point in a TSA job description: “to consistently goose Jerry Coyne.” They probably have targets and financial incentives for meeting them!

  6. W. Benson
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Travelers’ Warning: if you put valuables in your checked luggage, the TSA is not responsible for items, such as artwork protected in mailing tubes, that TSA employees damage or destroy when opening during baggage inspections.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      Oh, no, I suspect something terrible happened to you?

  7. Posted February 21, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Please post a photo of your buttocks so that your readers can judge for themselves what makes them so gropable. The world wants to know.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Damn, I was warned about places like this on the internet.

    • Posted February 21, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      The dear doctor has already posted a photo of himself in the buff, climbing up a hill, in his heyday. I can attest that his tuchus is mighty fine indeed. 🙂

      • Posted February 21, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        Seriously, my sympathies, Jerry. Is there a remote possibility that your name is being flagged for body-checks, unbeknownst to you?

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 21, 2016 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

          Hmmm… I wonder if other prominent atheists get more than their share of gropings?

          3 out of 4 is really bad odds. I’ve only been groped once in dozens of flights.

  8. Merilee
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink


  9. Bernie
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    The machines consistently flagged my lower back on my recent vacation flights, with an additional few false positives on my right shoulder and left ankle.

    Having a Nexus card I assumed I’d get the TSA Pre-Check line and avoid that malarkey, but apparently the TSA doesn’t know about Nexus cards unless you specify you have one at flight booking. Customs and Border Protection know though, and waved me through with nary a word.

    And people without Nexus cards got Pre-Check privileges…

  10. CaptTu
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    You’ve become AB normal…

  11. Randy Schenck
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I understand the TSA has a new special training center and program they are sending all employees through, kind of like Burger King University or McDonald’s. Then they should be able to give you a proper going over. Probably put you down on a flat grill, I mean table, and flip you over until done.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear. Maybe you should change your name on your passport to Jerry “yellow buttocks” Coyne as might suffice as to an explanation. 😉

    I don’t think you’ll fair much better in Canada since Canada has to comply with all the stupid rules the US has in order to transport people and goods between the two countries.

    You’ll like Nova Scotia though. The people there are why Canadians have the reputation of being friendly and polite. Ontario ruins it for the rest of Canada (I say this as someone born and raised in Ontario). 😀

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      There are people in Nova Scotia?

      Years ago I drove all over the place and could have sworn it was uninhabited. Just about the only people we saw the whole trip were at fish joint we stopped at to eat not far from the Joggins Fossil Cliffs.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 21, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        You’ll definitely see people in Halifax.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    … showed a small yellow patch on my right hand and a very large yellow patch on my right buttock …

    Not sure about your hand, but I think there’s a cream you can get for the patch on your ass.

    Damn, Jerry, you must be on somebody’s “watch grope list.”

  14. Posted February 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    around 2002 or 03 It happened like clockwork to me. I noticed, though, that every time I went to the counter to get my boarding passes, the agent would be ready to process, then would see something, go “oh”, then try to hide an emotion or two, reach for a red pen & make a checkmark on my boarding pass.

    After catching this exact same procedure on about 7-10 consecutive trips, I risked getting detained in a white room somewhere by sweetly remarking to the next ticket agent that made the red mark: “hmmmm, I wonder why I get red checks on my boarding passes EVERY SINGLE time I fly? And then I’m ALWAYS singled out for special attention later by security. Awfully strange that it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.”

    The red checkmarks and special searches stopped abruptly after that.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I had a similar history at that time. Every time I checked in I would be pulled aside and a special inquiry occurred. It seemed that my name was on the watch list. After a delay, they would let me proceed with the check-in.

      Then, for reasons that were never explained, it suddenly stopped happening.

  15. David Harper
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I got thoroughly and intimately groped by a TSA agent whilst passing through Seattle in December. And I mean the kind of close contact that’s normally restricted to my doctor or my wife. No explanation, other than the See-You-Naked Machine showing a yellow region of terror around my lower abdomen. I blame the in-flight meal that I was served on the flight over from London.

    The TSA always opens my wife’s suitcase and inspects the jars of home-made plum jam that her sister has given her. We joke that my sister-in-law is the Chief Jam-Maker for Al-Qaeda. But not within earshot of any TSA agents, for obvious reasons.

  16. Scott Draper
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be the odd-man-out and say that I have a bit of sympathy for TSA employees. I’m pretty sure that groping strangers all day can’t be a fun thing to do.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      This is why I’m polite, though very abrupt, to unsolicited sales telephone calls. It must be a shitty job cold-calling people.

      Their employers, now, if I could get hold of them in a dark alley with a length of rubber hose…


      • Posted February 22, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        This is also why I just hang up on those fraudulent computer help calls that were big a while ago. I don’t blame poor saps in India or whatever who want a little money to live on. But I do blame the people who encourage such fraud.

  17. Posted February 21, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    See you Tuesday night Prof at Dal, excited to hear your lecture.

  18. Hempenstein
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I think a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $85 required for one of those cards would be subscribed in an hour @ $1/per, with the prize a randomly selected contributor getting an autographed copy of the fine book of their choice, with a drawing of an honorary c*t inside.

  19. Diane G.
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    One answer from the internet:

    What causes false positives in body scanners?

    (answer by) Anderson Moorer, Former paramedic

    Sweat, oils or some skin cremes can cause false positives, as can folds in clothing, small objects like buttons, and even certain quirks of otherwise normal anatomy which results in a particular portion of a persons body being consistently flagged. But perspiration is the major culprit, it seems.

    Both millimeter wavelength and even backscatter scanners have pretty high rates of reported false positives, supposedly ranging from 12-53%.

    To avoid it you might try wearing a different clothing type (like a tshirt or sweater instead of a button up cotton shirt), positioning yourself slightly differently, relaxing your muscles more, making sure your skin is dry, or even shaving the fine hair on that portion of your body.

    Or, simply refuse the body scanner and get a patdown, if this is an option.

    Written 24 Mar 2014

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 21, 2016 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

      And another report implicating perspiration, clothing folds, etc.:

      (Disclaimer: this is not in any way meant to imply that PCC has sweaty buttocks!)

      • Merilee
        Posted February 21, 2016 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        Or hairy ones?
        (The devil made me ask it)

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 22, 2016 at 5:16 am | Permalink

          And that would be a tough area to shave…


      • Posted February 22, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        I was wondering how talcum powder and deodorant would affect these scans. Many contain aluminum. This should be easy for the TSA to test.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 22, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

          Do you mean remotely, such that people waylaid by positive results from these products could avoid the pat-down?

          • Posted February 24, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

            Well, I was just wondering if people using these and other products could cause a false reading on the scans. I think this could be tested, so that if necessary the scans could be improved to do a better job. People shouldn’t be subjected to unnecessary pat downs.

            • Diane G.
              Posted February 25, 2016 at 2:26 am | Permalink

              Agree. Surprised they haven’t done something about this by now.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 22, 2016 at 12:54 am | Permalink

      So sweat causes false positives in the scanner, huh?

      Can’t blame Jerry for schvitzing at the sight of a magnetometer, what with how he gets felt-up like a prom queen every trip through TSA.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 22, 2016 at 5:25 am | Permalink

        “schvitzing” That’s got to be Yiddish?

        How dull life would be without it! 😀

  20. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted February 22, 2016 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    When I fly in the US my suit-case, which is old and battered and covered with lots of faded airline stickers, invariably gets opened and, on arrival at my destination, I find a polite notice from the TSA inside it explaining that this has happened. Colleagues on the same flight with new suit-cases never seem to experience this. I don’t particularly mind my suit-case being opened and checked but I find it a bit worrying that the criteria for selecting which cases to open seem a rather odd. Does the TSA really believe that a terrorist would only ever use an old and battered suit-case?

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 22, 2016 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      That seems bizarre! I’d have thought brand new shiny luggage would be more suspicious!

      I’ve gotten quite a few of those notes, too, but the last time I got one the clothes were in my suitcase were damp! WTH? Eeuwww!

      • Merilee
        Posted February 22, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        My nightie once had a foot print on it…

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 22, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

          Srsly?!! Eeuwww-cubed!

  21. Posted February 22, 2016 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Maybe the solution is to not feel like a victim and just fight back! I’d suggest snorting a dozen or so ground up Viagra just before you get your ticket.

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