TSA: Turbans, Skirts and the AIT

“She said ‘spread your legs.’ And then she took her full palms and started at my neck and ran all the way down my body, full palms, constant contact. And when she got down to my feet, she was in constant contact from my ankles all the way up to my groin, across my groin, and down the other leg. And she did that twice,” Gigliotti said.

The TSA allegedly finds skirts as suspicious as turbans, according to a recently-searched Wendy James Gigliotti:

Gigliotti believes she was targeted because the TSA employee suggested she could be hiding something under her skirt, and she challenged the government to come up with a better way to detect a threat.

How similar does that sound to the TSA advisory about the additional screenings for all passengers who wear turbans:

The TSA says that because a turban is “non form-fitting,” it is more capable of concealing dangerous items than other forms of clothing.  The TSA also says that its new AIT machines cannot see through the folds of a turban to determine if it is concealing a dangerous item.

So, here is where we are at with the TSA:

  1. All turban-wearing passengers are to have their turbans checked (metal detector), double checked (pat down) and triple checked (wand) when going through security.  This has a heavy implication of racial profiling.
  2. Anyone – turban-wearing or not – may be selected at “random” to be scanned by the AIT machine. Evidently, if there is no AIT machine available, you must be subjected to an invasive pat down that includes the TSA employee touching your genitalia.
  3. If an AIT machine is present and you refuse the AIT scan, you will be subjected to this pat down.

Let’s not forget that we don’t even know whether the AIT can actually screen through layers of clothing.  The Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and SALDEF bring up the inconsistency in what the TSA has stated above about the non-form fitting nature of the turban and the limitations of the AIT, and what the Department of Homeland Security says about the AIT machines (bolding added for emphasis):

Advanced imaging technology is designed to bolster security by safely screening passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats – including weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under layers of clothing. The ARRA-funded machines will include the latest security enhancements to detect new and evolving threats.

Let’s not even get into the privacy or health issues that come with the detailed body images that the AIT scan produces.  Further, as much as the TSA is calling all their procedures “optional” – i.e. a choice between an AIT scan, an invasive pat down – passengers must accept these procedures under duress for fear of being denied the ability to travel by air.

A public uproar is developing as more people are being subjected to these aggressive screening procedures.  It’s sounding uglier by the day.




  1. pk

    It’s interesting, the juxtaposition of the turban versus the skirt, which by and large among the flying masses is a garment for middle-to-upper-class white women. A constituency which has a large voice, and many ears to listen. I wonder, even if the uproar for the larger population grows, will it be enough to also include the issues of invasiveness and targeting of the Sikh turban by the TSA? I am doubtful that the issues of burly bearded turbaned men will get the same ear, despite these being similar indignities. I suspect continued sidelining and “anomaly”izing will persist.

    Also, I’m very much enjoying your blog.

  2. Thanks for the kind words about the blog. I agree with your assessment. I’m pretty sure turban-wearing men won’t get the same mass sympathy. The type of screening procedure (turban vs. skirt) is very different, but I think there’s a legitimate concern that pulling a turbanned male (or female) out of a line for additional screening also makes them open to being subjected to the invasive pat down simply because they wear a turban.

  3. A time.com interview with a TSA spokesperson clarifies the policy:

    If I submit to a full-body scan, could I still be subjected to a pat-down?
    Yes. Pat-downs will still be performed on a random basis, or if a traveler sets off traditional metal detectors, wears bulky clothing or refuses to remove headwear.

    How intimate does TSA get these days with the pat-downs?
    Pretty intimate. With the new rules in effect, the TSA can now use a sliding motion to pat down travelers, which can include checking inner thighs and buttocks. That sliding technique prompted the viral “don’t touch my junk” video. If a traveler is wearing baggy pants, inspectors may also slide their hands beneath the waist line to check for objects.

    The TSA therefore does have a policy whereby they will perform the invasive pat down on passengers who wear headgear, such as turbans.

  4. Sandesh Kaur

    I wear a turban and I am a woman. My mother is non-sikh and even trying to talk to her about these issues, I didn’t receive much of a open ear. She told me to just not wear my turban to the airport and put it on after flying.
    If my own mother won’t listen, why would anybody else?

    However, when I traveled last year I received a really nice reply from the workers. They only asked to pat my turban and I said okay. It was fine.

    It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few days…

  5. Pingback: Are we taking it too personally? « American Turban

  6. Pingback: TSA, USA cont’d « American Turban


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