I was randomly picked for a paper swab at Bilbao airport. I was asked to come behind a screen with a male security guard, although I am a single female. He asked me to lift up my blouse and proceeded to swab my bare stomach and also swabbed my expensive dress in my suitcase. Is it actually legal to ask me to lift up my blouse, as I find it a bit indecent?

I would also like to know what is on the paper, as I started to itch afterwards.

  • 8
    It is legal. It is just not appropriate however there is no issue about legality, at least not in Spain. Maybe in the Islamic countries it is illegal. May 14, 2018 at 10:36
  • 12
    I don’t know for sure but I’d imagine you could politely ask for a female security guard instead
    – Traveller
    May 14, 2018 at 11:25
  • 7
    In Canada you have the right to have a person of your sex perform this sort of procedure, but you will be asked and not automatically offered, as it adds time to the endeavour. May 14, 2018 at 12:48
  • 3
    Bilbao is not in Canada.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 15, 2018 at 20:44
  • 3
    @WGroleau the question is posed in general terms, however.
    – phoog
    Jun 15, 2018 at 20:49

3 Answers 3


Is it actually legal to ask me to lift up my blouse, as I find it a bit indecent?

Yes, its "legal" because it is not against the law. The security personnel have asked me to remove shoes, belt, lift up my shirt, turn over my pant waist, all in the name of security and all in the public area.

I guess the question in your mind is if it is okay for a male to do that for a female. In many airports, you can ask for a person of the same gender to screen you in private, or have one present while screened. However, as mentioned in the comments this has to be requested and even then it may not be practical as there may not be someone available; which may add to a delay for you.

As for the reaction on your skin, simply apply any topical allergy cream or ointment. It is likely a reaction against the fiberglass strands in the swab. If the rash persists or it becomes itchy, consult a medical professional.


Unfortunately, aena, the Spanish airport authority/operator, provides little guidance on you first question.

However, if you travel to the US, Canada or Australia, you can always ask for a same gender screener and they have to comply.

The most common swabs are Teflon coated fiberglass. See: Sample Traps.

You may have a simply allergy to one of those.


First, for your information, they may not give you a hard time if you just lift your shirt a little without actually revealing skin. I realized this when I was traveling from Germany and I was asked to lift my shirt. I was wearing a dress with cardigan on top. I lifted my cardigan a little, and the agent didn't seem to mind that my skin was covered with my dress. From my experience, it seems to be common in Europe to be asked to lift your top so they can swab your stomach and waist area, though sometimes they do it on top of the clothing.

Regarding opposite genders, it appears to be legal in Spain, as well as most European countries. I even recall seeing people getting patted down by the opposite gender in Europe. I personally was swabbed my a male agent (I am female) on one of my trips to Europe. In the United States, however, if security need contact with your body, it will be done by someone of your gender.

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