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Strip Search A Nine Year Old? Heathrow Airport Security Threat Goes Too Far

Is this legal?

LHR, London- My nine year old daughter forgot to remove her watch when going through airport security in terminal three of London Heathrow Airport. The metal detector beeped. She was called off to the side by an inspector.

No big deal. She will just have to put her watch in a bin and go through the metal detector again like at every other airport in the world, right?

Wrong.

“That is not our policy,” the agent informed me.

Apparently, their policy was a little different. We were offered an ultimatum: go through the millimeter wave machine or be taken into a backroom for a strip search. Seriously.

“But she’s a child,” I protested.

“Age is irrelevant,” the spiky blond haired hawkish older woman who was the security manager politely informed me.

Age is irrelevant? Maybe … if you’re a pedophile.

A child being stripped search by a stranger is much different than an adult, and the long-term emotional and psychological trauma is likewise potentially much greater. We have age of consent laws, etc … for a reason.

However, I’m getting a little beyond the primary point:

Nobody, regardless of age should probably be stripped searched in an airport for nothing more than forgetting to remove a watch and not wanting to go through the millimeter wave machine. Passengers are afforded the right to “opt out,” and the standard procedure is a pat down. Not a strip search.

But, as I’ve found, airport security doesn’t really like dealing with passengers who opt out. It’s a cog in their machine … or too much work for them … I imagine it probably takes a lot more energy to pat someone down than just stand around watching people walk by all day. In the USA, TSA is known to intentionally inconvenience passengers who choose to opt out — such as in an unfavorable experience that my family had at Atlanta airport in 2015.

It is my impression that the agent was simply trying to intimate me. She was trying to bully me into sending my kid through the millimeter wave machine, stating that they were completely safe — a claim that if she had the knowledge to rightfully make she probably wouldn’t be working in airport security.

In addition to the threat to strip search my daughter was an accompany threat for my wife and I: if we still refused to send our kid through the millimeter wave machine and opted for the strip search everyone in our party would receive an in-depth manual luggage check, where we’d have to empty out every article that we were carrying to be scrutinized by airport security … even though our bags had already successfully passed through the x-ray machine.

I thought about calling this lady’s bluff …

But what if she was serious?

Why can’t she just put her watch in a bin and go back through the metal detector?” I asked again, unable to understand why this standard operating procedure wasn’t applicable here.

“Sir, that isn’t our policy.”

I relented. I let my daughter make her own decision. She said she didn’t care, and walked through the millimeter wave machine. It was the first time in her nine years and 20+ countries of travel that she was ever required to do this.

***
Why didn’t I want my daughter to go through the millimeter wave machine?

It’s generally a standard operating procedure for children to be sent through a metal detector rather than the millimeter wave machine when going through airport security. My daughter has probably logged over 100 flights so far, and she has never before been required to go through millimeter wave or backscatter machines. I believe this is the case for a reason:

Like backscatter machines, which airport authorities falsely claimed were safe for a number of years, the millimeter wave machines that replaced them still blast the body with radiation — essentially microwaving the skin. This is not good for you:

Research suggests that anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year could get cancer from the machines. Still, the TSA has repeatedly defined the scanners as “safe,” glossing over the accepted scientific view that even low doses of ionizing radiation — the kind beamed directly at the body by the X-ray scanners — increase the risk of cancer.

Tearing apart DNA:

Alexandrov and co have created a model to investigate how THz fields interact with double-stranded DNA and what they’ve found is remarkable. They say that although the forces generated are tiny, resonant effects allow THz waves to unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. That’s a jaw dropping conclusion.

What’s the difference between backscatter and millimeter wave airport security machines.

While I don’t have specialized knowledge on this topic, what I do know is that there is enough doubt about their safety that children are almost universally — anywhere in the world — not sent through them.

I walked away from this encounter with a bad taste in my mouth. I suspect that I was being pressured by the security agent with empty threats that served little purpose but to make her job easier.

However, a lingering thought remained:

What if she wasn’t bluffing? Are they really strip searching children in Heathrow Airport?

Filed under: Air Travel, Airports, England, Travel With Family

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3533 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Astoria, New York

6 comments… add one

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  • Trevor June 5, 2019, 6:55 pm

    Greetings from Transnistria

    Seriously???

    there has gotta be rules against a kid being searched!!

    i lodged a verbal complaint at London City airport on the security section one time. My belongings tray was wisked away b4 i had finished. so i proceeded and got a mouthful for still wearing my belt and my money belt.

    there is no uniformity across all airports. even within UK.
    Guilty until proven otherwise.

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    • Wade Shepard June 5, 2019, 10:13 pm

      I think (hope) it was bullshit. I kind of wish I pushed the issue to see what would of happened.

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      • Trevor June 6, 2019, 8:47 pm

        Everyone the world over except maybe Latinas, have 1 word on their mind. England. I have really no idea why.

        We even have a TV program called RIP OFF BRITAIN. its like Ryan Air’s FB page I HATE RYAN AIR yet people still fly with this shite and are still coming across the water in their frigging inflatables. They’ve been mislead.
        Transnistria is a great place . 50x cheaper but no ones wanting to come here… oh they probably never even heard of the place, and theres no free health service.

        Yeah u should have pushed it.

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        • Wade Shepard June 6, 2019, 9:03 pm

          Transnistria? I’d like to go there. Soon, perhaps.

          Link Reply
  • Trav June 8, 2019, 3:26 pm

    Even if this was an adult that would be messed up.

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    • Wade Shepard June 8, 2019, 3:27 pm

      I know.

      Link Reply