Airport pat-downs will soon get more physical
Audit noted that officers had failed to detect weapons.
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.