As we’ve discussed before, TSA’s screening procedures change regularly based on the latest intelligence. Pat-downs have long been one of the many security measures TSA and virtually every other nation has used in its risk-based approach to help detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives like the one we saw in the failed terrorist attack last Christmas Day.
Pat-downs are primarily used to resolve alarms that occur at a walk-through metal detector, if an anomaly is detected during screening with advanced imaging technology (AIT), or during random screening. If one of those situations arises, you will be given a pat-down before you're able to continue on to your flight.
Pat-downs are also given to passengers who opt out of screening by AIT or walk-through metal detectors.
There’s nothing punitive about it - it just makes good security sense. And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we’ve found during pat downs speak to this.
It’s worth mentioning that only a small percentage of passengers end up needing a pat-down. The best way to be prepared at the checkpoint is to remove everything from your pockets prior to screening. Also, if you have a hidden medical device, you may want to bring it to the officer’s attention before screening. We’ll be better able to help expedite your screening that way...
A few other points to keep in mind:
- Pat-downs are conducted by same gender officers
- All passengers have the right to request private screening at any point during the screening process
- Anyone has the right to have a traveling companion present during screening in the private screening area.
TSA Blog Team