A TSA Hair Pat-Down

“We need to check your hair.”

My what?

Before I knew what was happening, gloved hands were on my head.

10 minutes earlier, Tom and I had arrived to the airport for a whirlwind weekend in Vegas. It was 6 in the morning. I staggered through the airport line after 4 hours of sleep and grudgingly took off my (barely-baggy) zip-up sweater, slipped off my shoes, and waited in an annoying line for my turn to go through the controversial x-ray machine, which may or may not be giving me cancer each time I fly. Usually, I try to be patient with the TSA regulations and workers. The whole process might seem pointless, but it’s not going away anytime soon so there’s not point getting upset or annoyed by it.

This particular morning, though, I was crabby. The week had been crazy busy and I was tired and didn’t feel like having anyone else control my time. I needed coffee and I needed to sit down and I needed to board the plane ASAP so I could get another hour of sleep.

Of course, this was the morning the machine decided I was a threat.

I went through the machine, held my hands up in a V above my head, closed my eyes (I don’t know why, but I always feel the need to close my eyes when I’m in there as if the X-ray is going to blind me…despite knowing x-rays can see through eyelids), and wandered sleepily out of the circular device to wait my turn on the footprints until I was excused. This usually takes 5 seconds. Today, however, I was not getting a signal to mosey on over to collect my bags.

“Please wait,” a gray-haired, skinny TSA man instructed me, and then he muttered something into his headphone and darted forward.

Oh, great. What had they seen? I patted my jeans pockets. Empty.

And that’s when a stocky, young woman appeared before me uttering “We need to check your hair.”

And a nanosecond later, before I’d even had time to react she’d scooted behind me, reached up her hands (she was quite a bit shorter than me) and began patting my head.

What the…?

I’d never seen someone getting a pat-down on their hair before. My hair was hanging straight down to my shoulders, wasn’t in a ponytail, didn’t have any bobby-pins or anything in it, and I couldn’t be bothered to blow-dry it that morning so it didn’t even have a hint of volume. What on earth could they think is in my hair hiding? I get that hair could possibly be a weapon hider – but my hair? Particularly today? I could not figure out what about it could have set off the alarm on the x-ray contraption thingy the TSA seems to think so highly of.

I’m really not a fan of people touching my hair either. As a child I hated having my hair brushed by my mom, bemoaning that it hurt. I still have a sensitive scalp and the only person who gets to brush my hair besides me is my hairdresser. Besides, as an adult, when do you ever have your head touched except by a hair dresser? So, since I’m already not a fan of anyone besides my hairdresser playing with my hair, this TSA lady’s hands on my head made me immediately cringe.

Tom was already collecting his bag and looked over at me with the lady caressing my hair with a “what the hell is going on” expression and I wrinkled up my nose and stood still as a statue, tensed, waiting for it to be over. She patted down each section of my head and hair and then picked up the ends of my hair and felt them for…I don’t know what.

And then, after a final fluff of my hair, the inspection was over.

I didn’t even look back as I hurriedly walked over to Tom, still cringing. “I feel violated.”

“Why did they need to do that?” he asked, still incredulous over my “terrorist” hair.

“I don’t know. They didn’t say.”

Later, I reasoned to Tom that it must be because I have superpower hair and I just don’t know it. Like the princess in Tangled. He didn’t agree with this hypothesis for some strange reason, but I’m sure it must be it. Why else would I need a hair pat-down from the TSA?

TSA Hair Pat-Down
Airport security line when we got to Vegas. Did my hair set off this machine? Nope, not even a little bit.



    • Gina says

      It does! It made no sense. On the way back, my husband’s arm set it off – except he was wearing a T-shirt. Again, what did they see in the machine? He doesn’t have a steel plate or anything in his arm. So weird.

  1. says

    That is so strange! I wonder what they saw?! Especially since they inspected it that close! I think you are right, the only explanation could be superpower hair.

  2. says

    That’s more than creepy and actually makes me feel less safe in the airports knowing idiots like that are manning the xrays.

  3. Kris says

    Got my hair pat down today. No one even told me they were doing, the tsa lady just grabbed my hair. My hair was not done, not volume, nothing. Really think that my hair is the least of anyone’s concerns.

  4. Ainsley says

    I had this happen to me today too! I looked it up online afraid they had caught some sort of brain tumor or something. I feel much better now. I definitely felt very violated as well.

  5. Anne Wayson says

    Happened to me tonight leaving Vegas for LA. Mid-length straight fine hair. The only thing I can think is the TSA has been accused of racially profiing black women with Afros. Maybe they are doing damage control?

  6. Anne Ciochetto says

    I recently received the hair patdown after going through X-ray. My hair is short and flat-flat-flat in back. My friend is flying today and received the same treatment. We both feel it is very creepy, especially since neither of us have anything close to a pouffy hairdo. I also object to the same gloves being used on other people as are now being placed on my head. All I can think of is, what next? Personally, I will avoid flying whenever possible.

    • Gina says

      Oh my gosh, Anne! I think the SAME thing about the gloves and my husband rolls his eyes at me whenever I mention it, lol. I’m excited to share your comment with him to show him I’m not alone in this. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. John M says

    Totally overdramatic… I don’t know if you think you’re above the protocol of the TSA or something but the fact that your complaining about this is ridiculous. They have steps they need to take, and complaining about it or asking questions as to why this is happening is only going to make e process longer for everyone. If you don’t want them to touch your head, don’t fly. They have all the right in the world to touch your delicate little head to check for hidden gods knows what. It’s people like you that complain about the most innocent things that cause useless laws to be enacted that complicate the world beyond reason. I hope you’re happy, you changed absolutely nothing except people’s opinion on how petty you are.

    • Gina says

      John, I agree with you that if you want to fly, you need to put up with certain protocols and that it is what it is. Which is one reason I haven’t bothered to ever opt out of the x-ray machine. However, in this case, I think even a one sentence explanation would have gone a long way to putting myself – and others – at ease. We may be flying, and security has the right to pat us down if they feel it’s necessary, but it’s still our body and it’s my opinion that we should be given a reason why something related to it is happening.

  8. Becky says

    Gina, Very weird! Had the exact same thing happen to me today going through security in St. Louis. Since I have straight, fine texture, shoulder length hair, I couldn’t imagine why TSA had to pat down my hair – after going through the naked body scanner! As a 50+ year old woman, I too felt violated by this additional and completely unnecessary physical contact. This nonsense does nothing to increase our security. A complete farce.

  9. Sandy says

    TOUCH MY HAIR ?? WHY? with those filthy gloves she touch everyone with and all kids of filthy objects! Touch my clean hair with dirty gloves violation of health codes if ask me!! I don’t have any hair it was slicked back thin almost can see my scalp. Lice from someone else’s hair can be transferred to her gloves to my hair GROSS!!
    The AFRO in front of me did not get inspected hands in hair!!

  10. Olivia says

    I feel some type of way about most of the comments that I read. I particularly agree with John. I think that no one is exempt from the task. It’s merely their job. Do I think it weird and creepy? Yes, but you do have some lunatics out here that will try to hide things in their hair. I honestly don’t think TSA wants to put their hands in your hair any more than you want them to, which is why they have gloves, lol. And as for the “Afro” comment I’m just going to disregard that, because I think it was a little ignorant. We work with what God gave us, and if it was coarse hair, then cool we have an Afro. But here’s a question: What if this same situation occurred and you were wearing a head full of weave? You were minding your own business coming home from a trip to LA and TSA decides they need to search your sew-in (Sew-in: real hair braided and “tracks” of hair are sewn onto braids). One, that’s pretty embarrassing to have your tracks “felt up”, two, now all of TSA knows you have weave in your hair. You think your situation was bad? Yea well, I’m glad you blogged about it, but can you please keep in mind that some of us have it worse off then others.

  11. Emma says

    I’ve had my hair patted down before. My hair is to my lower back and it’s super curly, and YES. It happened to me recently and I was scared. Lol

  12. Lois says

    I flew from Chicago to Columbus yesterday and I got the hair pat down and I was STUNNED. I have long straight hair and agree the shoes off, liquids out, jacket off, getting scanned with my arms in the “your under arrest” position is humiliating enough – especially for a 48 minute flight. And who KNOWS where those blue gloves had been! Why is this still going on? What risk does HAIR pose after all???

  13. Mac says

    I realize this is an old article, but TSA is touching people’s hair (among other parts…)
    I understand the need to feel some strangers’ hair for security. But why not put on new gloves before touching someone??? Who wants someone else’s germs???

    Also, what if someone wore an angora or mohair sweater and walked through the xray machine?
    How effective are the machines if they can’t get images through hair?

    It is a very sexist and racist and perverted practice, and just another crazy way to intimidate the public in the theater of security.

  14. Clariece says

    9/27/14 I just returned from Portland, ME. After I exited the X-ray machine the TSA agent said she needed to touch the top of my head. With a confused look on my face, I stood there and she patted my head like a pet dog. I have blonde thin hair, no poof, just straight to my shoulders. I wasn’t wearing a head band or anything. I still have no idea why. You could probably see my scalp through my hair if you looked. WTF?

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