TSA implements a new pat-down screening procedure at nation's airports

New pat-down procedures for TSA agents have combined five methods into one. The new procedure may be viewed by some travelers as invasive.

The next time you catch a flight and get a pat-down at airport security, you may notice a more involved physical search by the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA on March 2 consolidated five previous pat-down methods into a single procedure that some passengers may find different or potentially more invasive.  

Travelers get a pat-down if they refuse to be scanned electronically, trigger an alarm at the checkpoint, or are randomly selected to receive one.

TSA informed Philadelphia airport officials, airport police, and other stakeholders of the new procedure at a meeting last week, said Philadelphia International Airport spokeswoman Mary Flannery.

Previously, if a flier was selected, one of five types of pat-downs was used. The new procedure replaces the other methods. “My understanding is the pat-down doesn’t vary from person to person,” Flannery said. “Everybody gets the same pat-down. Before, apparently the pat-down was individualized, but now it’s standard.”

TSA screeners will “use the back of the hands for pat-downs over sensitive areas of the body. In limited cases, additional screening involving a sensitive area pat-down with the front of the hand may be needed to determine that a threat does not exist,” TSA said on its website.

The new procedure uses “enhanced security measures implemented several months ago, and does not involve any different areas of the body,” the agency said.  A pat-down may include inspection of the head, neck, arms, torso, legs, and feet. “This includes head coverings and sensitive areas such as breasts, groin, and the buttocks. You may be required to adjust clothing during the pat-down,” TSA said. “The officer will advise you of the procedure to help you anticipate any actions before you feel them. Pat-downs require sufficient pressure to ensure detection.”

Pat-downs are used to uncover prohibited items or threats to security such as explosives. TSA said it changes its procedures from time to time to “meet the evolving threat” and “achieve the highest levels of transportation security.”

The change comes two years after an internal investigation revealed TSA security lapses at dozens of the nation’s airports, where undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives and banned weapons through checkpoints. The tests were conducted by Homeland Security teams posing as passengers. 

Upon learning the findings, then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson directed TSA to implement a series of actions to address issues raised in the report. The TSA has insisted that security at the nation’s airports is strong, with layers of security including bomb-sniffing dogs and technologies seen and unseen.

Invasive is not the word I would use,” said TSA spokesman Michael England, referring to the new pat-down. “We feel like this new procedure will be more effective in finding prohibited items. This is a simple change of procedure that 99.99 percent of people are not even going to notice.”

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