In March, the Transportation Security Administration instituted a new pat-down procedure for airport security, and it is more thorough — and more invasive — than most previous pat-downs.
I learned this when a man told me of a “groin search” he endured at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The Minnesota native living in Texas set off an alarm — but the resulting experience was quite different from any he’d had before.
The agent warned that he would need to touch the man’s groin area with the back of his hand. The flier said he thought that is illegal; the agent replied, rightly, that it is not. The man put his hands over his intimate parts during much of the pat-down. “I fought this as best I could, but he managed to brush my privates with the back of his hand,” the man wrote in an e-mail. He told the agent he was angry. He told me it felt like sexual groping.
The procedure has gotten more thorough because “that’s what intelligence says we need to do,” said Lorie Dankers, TSA public affairs manager. The change came after Department of Homeland Security undercover tests found that airports were failing to detect guns and other weapons.
The new pat-down procedure does not eliminate the targeted screening performed when an imaging machine sends an alarm about a particular part of the body; that is what seemed to have occurred with the man who wrote to me.
According to Dankers, one way to avoid such pat-downs is to clear your body, especially sensitive areas, of anything that could set off the machines, such as belts and coins.
Even in the face of uncomfortable searches, remember that TSA agents are doing their best to mitigate threats. Also know that you can request a search in a private room and bring along a person of your choosing. A second TSA agent would also be in the room.
According to a TSA statement on pat-downs, “TSA continues to adjust and refine our systems and procedures to meet the evolving threat and to achieve the highest levels of transportation security.”
Contact Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.