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Pat-Downs

What to Know Before You Go

If a passenger cannot or chooses not to be screened by imaging technology or a walk-through metal detector, the passenger will be screened using a thorough patdown procedure instead. A patdown procedure also is used to resolve any alarms of a metal detector or anomalies identified by imaging technology.

If a patdown is required in order to complete screening:

  • The patdown should be conducted by an officer of the same gender. Sometimes, passengers must wait for an officer of the same gender to become available.
  • The passenger can request a private screening at any time and a private screening should be offered when the officer must patdown sensitive areas. During a private screening, another officer will also be present and the passenger may be accompanied by a companion of his or her choosing.
  • A passenger may ask for a chair if he or she needs to sit down.
  • A passenger should inform an officer before the patdown begins of any difficulty raising his or her arms, remaining in the position required for a pat-down, or any areas of the body that are painful when touched.
  • A passenger should not be asked to remove or lift any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive body area.

In addition to the patdown, TSA may use technology to test for traces of explosive material. If explosive material is detected, the passenger will have to undergo additional screening.

Frequently Asked Questions

What triggers a pat-down?
Pat-downs are used to resolve alarms at the checkpoint, including those triggered by metal detectors and AIT units. Pat-downs are also used when a person opts out of AIT screening in order to detect potentially dangerous and prohibited items. Because pat-downs are specifically used to resolve alarms and prevent dangerous items from going on a plane, the vast majority of passengers will not receive a pat-down at the checkpoint.

What can I do to prevent an alarm at the security checkpoint?
The majority of pat-downs occur when a passenger alarms either the metal detector or the AIT unit. To reduce this circumstance, the most important thing you can do is take everything out of your pockets before you go through screening. Also, when traveling, avoid wearing clothes with a high metal content, and put heavy jewelry on after you go through security.

What do I do during a pat-down?
All passengers have important rights during a pat-down. You have the right to request the pat-down be conducted in a private room and you have the right to have the pat-down witnessed by a person of your choice. All pat-downs are only conducted by same-gender officers. The officer will explain the pat-down process before and during the pat-down. If you have a medical device, please inform the officer.

Will children receive pat-downs?
TSA officers will work with parents to resolve any alarms at the checkpoint. TSA has modified screening procedures for children 12 and under that reduces the likelihood of a pat-down.

Latest revision: 16 July 2014