Sunshine Chai

A Muslim American woman on life, living in the sunshine and sipping chai.

Flying while Muslim: Close encounters of the TSA kind


I got my hands out, they’re swabbing my palms

Bomb residue won’t be OK


It’s a party in the TSA.


I’m not as suave a traveler as George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air.

Flying While Muslim is a condition with which I find myself unwillingly afflicted. Side effects include embarrassment, fear, indignation and inappropriate giggling because you just can’t make this stuff up.


My shoes are off. I’m praying they don’t confiscate my tweezer in my carry-on because I’m dying to dig out that one ingrown hair — No, no! Not dying. Not mixing the words “dying” and “airport” together. Oh God, does Department of Homeland Security have a thought crimes unit?

The TSA agent asks me to hold out my hands, palms up. I comply. He wipes my palms down with some sort of damp cotton square.

“What’s this for?” I ask.

“Testing for bomb residue,” he replies.

“Oh,” I say. It’s all I can think of because I’m floored.


I’m nursing a Starbucks drink as we slowly inch toward the gate, boarding pass in hand. Should I smile first and then hand her my pass? Hand her my pass and then smile after she tears off the stub and hands it back to me? Will she smile back?

Human interaction is so tiresome.

As I near the gate, I see two TSA agents standing nearby with a push cart on wheels, the kind of cart that held overhead projectors in high school. I pay them no mind.

My mind is still occupied with smile-timing when I hear, “Miss, miss? Can you step over here please?”

God, freakin’ TSA. Such groupies. Instead of an autograph, they want my drink.

They ask me to put the cup down on the cart. The Starbucks Siren smiles serenely up at me, oblivious.

One of the agents holds a test strip over the steam emanating from the sip-through.

Satisfied that my latte isn’t going to kill anybody, he hands it back to me. I want to say they apologized or made some concession to the fact that this WAS NOT OK but I can’t remember.


I walk through the metal detector but I know it’s not over. I’m asked to step to the side.

“Female agent!” calls the male TSA officer. Here comes the hijab pat-down.

A frazzled female agent approaches. She clearly disapproves of my selection as Potential Threat to the Nation but says nothing. She pokes and prods about my head and neck and sends me on my way.


I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air, so there  –– Lorde, “Team”

I place my feet inside the yellow footprints. I’m standing inside a futuristic body scanner that looks like a food processor. This is the one that makes naked pictures, yeah? I try not to think about that. This is so wrong.

It boils down to fight or flight. Literally. I could make a fuss and get the full-body frisking instead. Or make an even bigger fuss and potentially miss my flight.

I don’t resist. I just want to get to where I’m going.

I have to strike two poses. The machine’s movable walls whump-whump around me.

Then it’s over and I can go. I feel icky.


The TSA agent moves her hand down my stomach as she frisks me. I flinch.

She asks if it hurt.

“No,” I say. “But it kinda tickles.”

She looks at me, surprised, then bursts into a full-out guffaw. Her head tilts back from the force of it. I can’t help but giggle, too.

“–kinda–tickles!” she cries out, gasping for breath.

It’s ridiculous, we’re ridiculous; a $7.6 billion outfit flows around us, snaring anyone with a beard or a strange name, circling the letters “SS” in red, compelling grannies to totter out of their wheelchairs — but right now we’re just two women, doubled over in laughter.

She doesn’t even finish the pat down and playfully waves me away with her hand. “Get out of here, girl.”

I get.


“TSA Checkpoint” by phidauex

1 Comment

  1. Dear American,
    I go thru the same shuffle you do because I choose to fly with my service dog. Which is, by the way, all of 3 lbs. I have TSA precheck but still need to have my hands swiped every time and on occasion have been asked to have my diet coke cup pass inspection. If my jewelry triggers the metal detector then I get a free pat down. Because I carry the dog (Otherwise she has to go thru Xray with my carry on) thru the process I can skip the WHUMP WHUMP . My point is I choose to travel with my dog and you choose to travel in your outfit. Are they profiling me? Are they profiling you? Get over it. The TSA is doing the best they can with the resources they have been given.
    If this is all you have to whine about then you are one fortunate woman. Take the bus.


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