Air­port pat-downs will soon get more phys­i­cal

Au­dit noted that of­fi­cers had failed to de­tect weapons.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Bach­man Bloomberg News

The Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion is chang­ing to a much more “rig­or­ous” pro­ce­dure for those cho­sen to be searched.

While few have no­ticed, U.S. air­port se­cu­rity work­ers long had the op­tion of us­ing five dif­fer­ent types of pat-downs at the screen­ing line. Now, those have been elim­i­nated, re­placed in­stead with one univer­sal ap­proach. And this time, you will no­tice.

The new pat-downs — for those se­lected to un­dergo them — will be more in­va­sive in what the fed­eral agency de­scribes as a more “com­pre­hen­sive” phys­i­cal screen­ing, ac­cord­ing to a Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion spokesman.

Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port, for ex­am­ple, no­ti­fied em­ploy­ees and flight crews on Thurs­day that the “more rig­or­ous” searches “will be more thor­ough and may in­volve an of­fi­cer mak­ing more in­ti­mate con­tact than be­fore.”

“I would say peo­ple who in the past would have got­ten a pat-down that wasn’t in­volved will no­tice that the (new) pat-down is more in­volved,” TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson said Fri­day.

The shift from the pre­vi­ous, risk-based as­sess­ment of which pat-down pro­ce­dure an of­fi­cer should ap­ply was phased in over the past two weeks after tests at smaller air­ports, Anderson said.

The TSA screens about 2 mil­lion peo­ple daily at U.S. air­ports. The agency doesn’t track how many pas­sen­gers are sub­jected to pat-down searches after they pass through an imag­ing scan­ner. Peo­ple who de­cline to sub­mit to the elec­tronic screen­ing are au­to­mat­i­cally sub­ject to phys­i­cal searches.

While pas­sen­gers may find the process more in­tru­sive than be­fore, the new screen­ing pro­ce­dure isn’t ex­pected to in­crease over­all air­port se­cu­rity de­lays. How­ever, “for the per­son who gets the pat down, it will slow them down,” Anderson said.

The change is partly the re­sult of the agency’s study of a 2015 re­port that crit­i­cized as­pects of TSA screen­ing pro­ce­dures. That au­dit, by the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s In­spec­tor Gen­eral, drew head­lines be­cause air­port of­fi­cers had failed to de­tect hand­guns and other weapons. An­other change prompted by the re­port was the TSA’s de­ci­sion to end its “man­aged in­clu­sion” pro­gram by which some ev­ery­day trav­el­ers were al­lowed to use PreCheck lanes to speed things up at peak times.

Phys­i­cal screen­ing has long been one of the trav­el­ing pub­lic’s strong­est dis­likes re­lated to air­port se­cu­rity protocols. The TSA con­ducts all pat-downs with an of­fi­cer of the same sex, and al­lows for a pas­sen­ger to re­quest a pri­vate area for the screen­ing and to have a wit­ness. Like­wise, the trav­eler can re­quest that the pat-down oc­cur in pub­lic view.

The new pol­icy also ap­plies to air­line pi­lots and flight at­ten­dants, clas­si­fied as “known crew mem­bers” who gen­er­ally re­ceive less scru­tiny at check­points. The TSA con­ducts random searches of these em­ploy­ees. The number of random searches for air­line crews isn’t chang­ing, Anderson said, al­though air­port em­ploy­ees may face more random checks.


A Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cer checks lug­gage at Fort Laud­erdaleHol­ly­wood In­ter­na­tional Air­port last May. TSA’s new pat-downs will be more in­va­sive in what is called a more “com­pre­hen­sive” phys­i­cal screen­ing.

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