At a London airport, a security screener ordered my granddad to the full-body scanner. As a Luddite, he requested a full pat-down. But this screener, and 3 others, kept rebuffing him:

Screener: Why don't you just use the body scanner? What's the reason?

Granddad: I don't like technology. I prefer the pat-down please.

Screener: But most people are OK with the body scanner, even people with implanted medical device. Why make this harder for everyone?

Granddad: As I said a minute ago, I shun technology. Please pat me down.

Screener: But what's the reason? If everybody chose pat-downs, then we'd be here for days.

This circular interrogation continued for 10 minutes. A supervisor came, but asked again the same questions for another 10 minutes. Then they asked him to await another screener, who finally arrived after 15 minutes. My granddad was too frightened to ask why they needed another screener, when 5 of them were already standing there. He passed the pat-down flawlessly.

11 Answers 11

up vote 27 down vote accepted

I also refuse body scanners whenever possible (i.e. I'm not running late and I can accept a delay).

Yes, they always try to argue and you will never make them stop, because it is always a different person. I've never had them argue with me for 10 minutes, though. If I had plenty of time, I'd like that. They are ignorant of the actual technology and I am not, so it would be interesting.

But your granddad is probably not. So from my experience here are the two answers that don't get you talked back at. I answer in a friendly way, but without smiling or otherwise showing that I am anything but entirely serious:

The science on their safety is still preliminary and I fly too often to take the risk.

and, of course, one that always works:

I prefer not to.

Which is unassailable. Just don't let them drag you into an argument. Stick to that reason and that reason alone and repeat it as often as necessary. I've never had to go beyond three repetitions.


In my experience, it also helps massively to demonstrate that you are familiar with the procedure.

For example, at an airport that I used regularily I noticed that the security guard in front of the scanner would tell the one behind "100%" in various phrases to indicate a pat-down. So I started using the same phrase when requesting it, instead of talking about body scanners and optional I'd simply say "100% please". Got my pat down with zero talkback several times.

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    What does "100%" mean? – Mazura Jun 6 at 0:11
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    I am not entirely sure. It was a phrase they used. – Tom Jun 6 at 4:10
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    I know that this isn't really the place for this but I strongly oppose your first statement. I could list a few papers to illustrate my point but I will stick with a recent review in the second 'best' internal medicine journal: jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/… – Bas Jansen Jun 8 at 11:46
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    @BasJansen 1. How does this relate to the first statement (which merely states that he refuses scans when possible)? 2. The link is not helpful because the article is behind a pay-wall. – JBentley Jun 9 at 3:25
  • @JBentley - he means the first answer about safety. It doesn't matter if it is true or not. The purpose is to shut them down. They are unlikely to be up-to-speed in current science. If they talk back you can always look at them with big eyes and say "you hold a PhD in radiology?" – Tom Jun 9 at 7:11

You can't convince them.

You will always get questions about why you don't want to go through body scanner. A colleague of mine, which always refuses body scanner, always gets multiple questions exactly like your granddad had.

Sometimes their behavior is kinda intimidatory, but I don't think you can do much, he just got used to it.

I think the only thing your Grandad is doing wrong is exercising a right that, as the answer that Zach linked makes clear, HMG (Her Majesty's Government) really didn't want anyone to have, but was forced to grant.

Some might argue that the EU's habit of imposing arbitrary regulations on the UK had a lot to do with Brexit; certainly the issue cropped up during the run-up to the referendum. Others might note that many of those regulations tend to benefit citizens to the detriment of government and business, and that that is not such a bad thing.

My point is that this is a local "hot button" topic, your Grandad has the misfortune to be pushing on it, and I suspect the only thing he can do to avoid the lengthy round of stupid questions designed to make him change his position and not assert his EU-granted right is to avoid doing so in the first place.

If he decides to persist, then understand that nothing he can do will make this quick and easy, and that a polite but dogged persistence may continue to be his only viable strategy. He may benefit from more general advice on crossing borders, for the issue of hot buttons at borders is not limited to the UK, and he's not the only border-crosser in the world to run into this sort of thing. I quote here from Chris Scott's excellent Adventure Motorcycling Handbook (having removed a few suggestions specific to motorcyclists):

After a few countries, you'll have the hang of crossing frontiers, or at least be resigned to the inevitable hanging-about and the power games which sometimes need to be played to win the day. Nevertheless, adopt this Platonic strategy at any official barrier:

  • Remain calm and polite
  • Be patient and smile a lot
  • Never grumble or show unnecessary irritation, even in the face of provocation
  • Obey all the petty instructions
  • Accept delays

If you're being given a hard time, stoicism and good humour may diffuse (sic) a tense situation... Remember that, no matter what many overland travellers assume, they're not just picking on you.

You absolutely cannot convince the screeners as a group. Nothing you say to screener A today will cause word to spread through the screener community so that tomorrow, screener B will not ask you. The best you can hope for is to shorten the conversation with screener A.

To do that, you need to understand why they are asking. Some people opt out for what the screeners consider to be "Wrong" reasons, such as "I don't want anyone to see me naked" -- and they can "correct" you and perhaps you'll agree to the scan. Alternatively, they may be trying to pass the time while walking you to the pat-down area, or to settle you if you are upset. Perhaps knowing this will reduce the objection to answering. Perhaps not.

The only strategy to shorten the conversation with screener A today is not to engage.
"What's the reason?"
"As you know, I don't need a reason. I am choosing the pat down today."
"Yeah, but why?"
"I am exercising my right to choose a pat down today." Any reason you give will be a reason that can be argued with, "corrected", or rebutted.

That said, it is not necessarily a wise strategy to attempt to shorten this conversation. What you would presumably like is to minimize the length and unpleasantness of the patdown process. You don't want the person squeezing or hurting you, or saying something that upsets you. The sad reality is that too high a dose of "I am exercising my rights" will get you a less pleasant patdown. Smile a lot. Look sympathetic, like you know this is more work for them and wish things could be different. Say "thank you" a lot. Example:

  • "Why don't you just use the body scanner? What's the reason?"
    "Thanks, I know that would be simpler. I'm going for the patdown today."
  • "But most people are OK with the body scanner, even people with implanted medical device. Why make this harder for everyone?"
    "Thanks, I know most people are ok. I'm not. Let's do the patdown please."

You might even throw in the odd "I appreciate you taking the time to do the patdown for me when the scanner is quicker" sort of thing.

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    +1. Always great to hear from you! Thanks again. Please don't hesitate to edit my post; you are right that I "absolutely cannot convince the screeners as a group." Rather, I was trying for "The best you can hope for is to shorten the conversation with screener A." – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jun 5 at 17:30
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    +1, Put more pithily: don't explain; demand. Giving reasons invites argument; you are simply asserting your rights. – Jack Aidley Jun 6 at 13:44
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    I'm not saying the screeners don't consider 'I don't want anyone to see me naked' to be 'wrong' and they'll 'correct' travelers, but (at least in the US) they absolutely can and do and do ogle/chortle. 'Oh this technology is different' is more generally a hoax than anything legitimate. – lly Jun 8 at 1:00

I think the easiest would be to say

I am afraid it will give me cancer.

... and stick to it over their arguments.

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    How is that a good suggestion? Giving a bad reason that's easily defuted and invites more counter-arguments is really not the way to go if you want to avoid discussion. – xLeitix Jun 5 at 9:28
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    That's actually a great answer, nobody wants to argue with a kook, so I think screaming about cancer, electrosmog or chakras would be very effective in this case. – JohnEye Jun 5 at 10:19
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    @xLeitix - argument that you are afraid is not defuted that easily. Moreover, from the OP's description it looks like it might actually be the case. – Edheldil Jun 5 at 10:36
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    I find this best answer. Many times we read about 'new and safe' technology that turns out to be not so safe after all. If he explains his level of fear they will know immediately that no matter how much they will talk into him, they will not overcome this fear and let him get the pat down instead. Just make sure you sound convincing in this fear/belief. – mrg Jun 5 at 11:20
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    I'd prefer something like "I'm old and don't get out on dates much anymore... with the cost of this airplane ticket, I'd like to get something out of it" :) – ivanivan Jun 5 at 13:19

Luddite, in the most general sense, could be seen as a kind of religion (well, not really, but kind of), and you can most certainly consider yourself a minority.

So, the likely best way to deal with this would be to politely let the screener know that you do not want to dicuss or justify your beliefs, and you ask him not to interfere further with your human right of self-fulfilment and freedom of faith. Few people are too dim to not take the hint, and few want to get into a discussion which is going that way.

Shutting down the discussion fast and early is important because you cannot win. Not only can you not win because (other than it may appear) there is no discussion happening there. A discussion is about exchanging points of view, and the screener isn't interested in your point of view at all. He wants you to do the body scan, nothing else. Also, you are a rookie who is having a discussion with a professional. Mind you, that guy is having that same discussion ten times every day, and dim-witted as he may be, he's heard all the arguments before, you couldn't win a discussion if there was one.
That being said, I am not going to ask in what way boarding an airplane is compatible with being opposed to modern technology.

What I have been doing for years (though, amusing as it can be, I grew tired of dealing with these people, so now I'm simply not flying any more) is to make such a scene that they're finally happy if only you move on already. Note that this is possibly not the smartest thing to do unless you bring an extra hour of time. If you miss your flight, that's bad luck for you (hasn't happened to me, but could very well).

Staying firm but polite is almost certainly the better choice.

On the one hand side, there is no legal base for the screeners to have you undergo a body scan, much like there is no legal base for any items to be "confiscated" (i.e. stolen) by them.

However, on the other hand side, you want to get to that gate. And, guess what, you have no legal base to get through to your gate unless the examiner is satisfied, whatever that means. Yes, they can't force you to take the body scan, but they can refuse you entry. Yes, the scan (and the entire examination) is complete bull. No, it doesn't have anything to do with security.
But whatever it may be, finally the only thing that counts for you is: Do you get to your plane before it leaves, or do you not. Airplane gone, bad luck for you, no money back.

So, the smartest thing to do is probably to stay calm and polite, but firmly explain that the body scan is not a viable option for you, and you do not wish to justify or discuss your beliefs. Or, well, don't fly, which is what I'm doing now.

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    "Sorry, it's against my religion" seems like the sort of argument that doesn't brook any further questions. – Valorum Jun 5 at 17:15
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    I was going to suggest 'because of my religion' and keep to it. If 'religion' is not what the man want to say, call it 'believes' which is a wider word that will cover his position. – Willeke Jun 5 at 17:36
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    i can't claim to know much about luddites, but are you suggesting that being in favor of technology that improves human life, while being against technology that degrades human life is hypocritical? – dn3s Jun 7 at 3:21
  • @dn3s No, but that wouldn’t be an instance of luddism. By definition, neo-luddites object to technology/progress because they inherently oppose it, not because of specific, reasoned grievances. By contrast, “I don’t like technology” is a prime example of neo-luddism, and fully in line with Mick’s observation. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 7 at 9:06

"I have privacy issues and concerns about exposure to both unnatural sources of backscatter radiation and to millimeter wave radiation".

They can argue, but you don't have to do anything but repeat until they either refuse to let you pass security or use the method of your choice.

There are many cases where things were claimed to be safe and were years later found to be less so. It may be some individuals are more sensitive than others, for example, but if your goal is to minimized the time wasted, I would think that simply being firm/unwavering about it and not engaging in a discussion would be the best way.

Think of it like dealing with a salesperson and try to stay off their script.

Why they are insisting

They may be required to offer pat-downs but aren't required to do it with a smile. If you insist enough you'll get your wishes, but it's not their job to make going through security as fun as possible. Since the scanners are easier to use for the operator, are the most effective technology currently available to detect metallic and nonmetallic threats [1], it is normal for the screeners to ask that you use the technology.

Also, and this is just a hypothesis, perhaps the training for pat-downs is a different one than for using the scanner, hence only some screeners have the required certification to give pat-downs. Maybe that's why they needed to bring someone else in, and this could change from one country to another. It might be one more reason screeners insist on using the technology.

Bottom line is that you can't keep them from wanting you to use the scanner.

What you can do to keep them from insisting

Your excuse may be seen as a poor one: if you shun technology, why are you jumping into a plane? If the screener doesn't see the logic with your excuse, they won't sympathize and are less likely to help you. Try using some other explanation. Perhaps try saying that

you feel scanners are more invasive.

or

I don't need a reason. Pat me down.

instead.

[1] Passenger Screening Using Advanced Imaging Technology

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    Citation needed for the scanners being "better at detecting weapons." That may be true, but I doubt it and I've not seen any data that would support it. We'd probably need an operational definition of "better." – Adrian McCarthy Jun 5 at 22:39
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    For those who don't want to follow the citation, be aware that it's the TSA's highly-disputed assessment based mostly on policy issues and not on actual quantitative data such as false-positives and false-negatives and specifically considered only technological solutions on the bases that pat down were too resource intensive even if they were the most effective screening method available. – Adrian McCarthy Jun 6 at 21:31
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    I wouldn't say "I don't need a reason", since that sounds like you're telling them what to do (and those in authority don't like challenges to that authority -- even if they have to do a pat down, they don't need to make it easy or quick). Better to say "I dont have a reason". – Johnny Jun 7 at 22:56
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    @AdrianMcCarthy This is nothing to do with TSA (question is flagged as UK). Department of Transport adopted this obstructive policy on purpose after EC 1147/2011 came into effect. Before then there was no opt-out option. – Calchas Jun 8 at 16:10
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    @Calchas he was talking about the study I linked, which established that the scanners used are the most effective method of detecting threats. That study has been conducted by the TSA. – Alexandre Aubrey Jun 8 at 20:24

"I would like to confirm if your team is still well trained in performing pat downs"

There are two main benefits with this response:

1) It reduces suspicion on the agent's part by stating you expect a "proper" pat down and you are not attempting to squeak by with a substandard screening.

2) Any additional refusal after this statement can be turned around to suggest they are no longer well trained and are attempting to cover it up.

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    I wouldn't recommend this. Saying it implies that, suddenly, instead of them checking you it would be you checking them. I'm certain they wouldn't like this role reversal (who likes being judged?), and it could backfire, that is, they could force you to waste a lot of time, enough for you to miss your plane. – Fabio Turati Jun 7 at 23:01
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    You're patently not an inspector or higher up; whatever 'secret shopper' they might have wouldn't announce themselves. You're just advocating coming across as a lonely perv, which might get them to hurry up with the process but is just as likely to cause a host of other problems as they attempt to use inconvenience to discourage needing to deal with you again. – lly Jun 8 at 1:27
  • @Fabio OP has already wasted time with your suggestion that he ought to maintain a "them checking you" situation. In general, the people I see taken advantage of the most are the ones who do not know their right and/or decline to assert them. – HanniballRun Jun 9 at 0:00

I always require a pat down but for a different reason - I want to waste the security staff's time. When I am asked about why I want a pat down, I am honest "I want to waste your time". They always accept that (not with a smile, of course). I can then argue about the whole process while getting patted: "You should object to this stupid security theater".

It probably won't change anything over night but in the long run, small steps of resistance will make a difference. Little strokes fell great oak!

There is no magic phrase you could use.

Every time you will most likely encounter a different person.

The best option is to say you prefer not to, are uncomfortable with it or afraid of potential health risks. If they insist on being difficult, show them a printout of the legislation allowing you to opt out.

Prepare yourself for an unpleasant time either way.

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    'Carry around a printout of the relevant legislation'? I'm not saying coming across as a kook isn't one strategy you could employ, but if they aren't too busy it's just as likely they'll go out of their way to inconvenience you out of spite. If they insist on being difficult in the face of 'I prefer not to', you just thank them and repeat it. It's not like the legislation isn't in effect or they forgot about it. – lly Jun 8 at 1:30

protected by JonathanReez Jun 6 at 21:30

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