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TSA Mythbuster: The Rest of the DFW Pat-down Story

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
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***Update*** When a pat-down is required, TSA can offer reasonable accommodations for individuals with sensory processing disorders or other conditions that sometimes result in pain when touched. However, those individuals still need to undergo a pat-down to maintain security. ***Update***

As you may have heard, on Sunday at Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), a 13-year-old passenger underwent enhanced security screening, which included a pat-down, after his laptop alarmed an explosives trace detection machine. In total, the pat-down took approximately two minutes, and was observed by the mother and two police officers who were called to ease concerns of the mother. The passengers were at the checkpoint for approximately 45 minutes, which included the time it took to discuss screening procedures with the mother and to screen three carry-on items that required further inspection.

The mother filmed the pat-down and posted it to Facebook. It has since gone viral.

So is this standard procedure? TSA screening procedures allow for the pat-down of children under certain circumstances. In this instance, a laptop alarmed the explosives trace detection machine, which requires additional screening to resolve the alarm.

We get it. Nobody likes to be patted down. And nobody likes to see their loved ones patted down, especially children. TSA screens thousands of families every day, and our officers are trained to communicate with parents, explain screening procedures before they begin, and find the best way to get everyone to their plane safely and efficiently. Many of our officers are parents too.

All of our procedures are based on current intelligence and our adversaries are always looking for ways to inflict harm, including recruiting young children to carry out attacks. Bottom-line is that passengers, including children, and their property are screened prior to boarding a plane and any security alarms must be resolved.

So why does TSA conduct pat-downs? Pat-down procedures are used to determine whether prohibited and dangerous items are concealed. You may be required to undergo a pat-down procedure if the screening technology alarms, as part of random or unpredictable security measures, for enhanced screening, or as an alternative to other types of screening, such as advanced imaging technology screening. Even passengers who normally receive expedited screening, such as TSA Pre✓® passengers, may at times receive pat-down screening.

What should you know about pat-down screening?

  • Our officers will explain the procedures to you as they conduct the pat-down.
  • We use modified screening procedures for children 12 and under that reduce the likelihood of pat-down screening.
  • A pat-down may include inspection of the head, neck, arms, hand, back, 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.
  • Pat-downs require sufficient pressure to ensure detection.
  • Our officers 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.
  • You should advise the officer if you have difficulty raising your arms or remaining in the position required; an external medical device; or areas of the body that are painful when touched.
  • You may request a chair to sit if needed.
  • You will receive a pat-down by an officer of the same gender.
  • At any time during the process, you may request private screening accompanied by a companion of your choice.

Bob Burns
TSA Social Media


Submitted by Tosh Mcintosh on

Of course new technology has a need for the travel industry even different ideas and protocol advancing the mission of the T S A . However many great technologies have been brushed under the rug by the powers that be that would surely advance the mission with new and interesting technology never used by the T S A . For example there is a technology out there that will let passengers e ticket direct to luggage 128/250 2 color bit map image display for data luggage check in and control . But what do you see only paper tags and kiosk printing the old caveman way to move luggage about . The technology I am speaking of is awarded by the TSA 2012 as the viable solution for luggage check in and traffic the new way luggage is checked thus leaving the primitive way of tags and kiosk printing behind and going wireless data

Submitted by RB on

Reported by media was that the laptop was found in a book bag as it went through x-ray not that it alarmed.

"Williamson said the whole thing started when agents found a laptop in his book bag as it went through the scanning machine. They then said her son would have to submit to a pat-down, even though he did not set off the body scanner."

When did x-ray incorporate an explosives detector?

How does groping the boy resolve the laptop alarm, if there really was one?

If explosives were truly a concern, and I doubt that was the case, why not use ETD on the boy?

And I certainly question this TSA accounting given the lack of honesty demonstrated by TSA on this very blog in past stories, like some of the original Whole Body Imager claims.

This is a perfect case of TSA retaliation because the laptop was left in a bag!

And exactly which TSA idiot authorized this aggressive pat down, especially on children?

Someone should be prosecuted for what happened to this boy.

Submitted by Smoke on

Please give TSA a break! If the people as much time thinking as they do bitching the world could be a much safer place. Anything to post video on Facebook or the web.
Imagine the bitching if TSA missed one!

Submitted by Amanda Tighe on

Job well done to the TSA officer from the video this article is referring to. Nothing about the video seemed excessive, as a frequent traveler I appreciate them going the extra mile to ensure the safety of the masses!

Submitted by RB on

"All of our procedures are based on current intelligence and our adversaries are always looking for ways to inflict harm, including recruiting young children to carry out attacks."

One example where a child has been recruited to carry out an attack against U.S. based aviation operations please?

Otherwise you're blowing smoke, TSA!
Submitted by Ufusn01 on

I have to respectfully disagree with parts of this. As a frequent traveler, I do appreciate the tighter security concerns and have been patted down a few times. The officers have always been professional.

What disturbs me is that this TSA officer went over the same "sensitive" areas 2 and 3 times. Plus, this boy was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, not anything bulky or large. While I am not accusing this officer of any wrongdoing, I think these specific procedures need to be revisited, especially for children. I have a 14 year old daughter and if a woman TSA agent started in the same manner, I would have stepped in and put a stop to it, whatever the consequences.

Plus, why did the entire event take 45 minutes??

Submitted by Karlene Strayer on

You are blind if you don't think that was an excessive pat-down!

Submitted by Brian Klawitter on

Dear Parent,

Next time drive. Seriously.

Submitted by Dhana Hicks on

Thank you

Submitted by Michael Owen on

The TSA would be monumentally derelict in its duty if they didn't search everyone to the degree necessary to assure safety and security.

Otherwise, it would be "Here kid (or grandma). Put this bomb down your pants.

Terrorists aren't stupid and don't care about sacrificing other people of any age or relationship.

Submitted by Unknown on

The child did not seem to be having an issue. Mom blew everything way out of proportion and probably the reason why the entire inspection took 45 minutes. She needed to just let them do their jobs and move along.

Submitted by Angus MacTavish on

Media got it wrong if that's the account you read. Or, equally likely, you misread.

Submitted by Jason Abbitt on

Paperless biarfing passes are accepted by TSA

Submitted by Truth Warrior on

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Submitted by DANIEL BREIG on

It was a computer that alarmed, so why does the kid get a pat down. Why not just re-screen the computer, turn it on, and take the battery out and things just to confirm it was a false alarm.
If I saw the correct video, the kid had a form fitting T-shirt, and shorts. Not much room to hide stuff. Did you pat down the adults with him??
I have a knee replacement and get frequent pat-downs, none of which has ever taken longer than 10 Minutes, and most of that time was waiting for a TSA worker to come. How did you drag this out to 45 minutes?
A lot of TSA workers have an attitude act like they are better than the travelers and are not customer friendly. I am thankful for those who work with an attitude of service

Submitted by Unknown on

If people spent just a few minutes when they are planning to travel and think about what it takes to go through security, there would be far fewer problems at checkpoints. Something as innocent as a laptop or a bottle of water may seem trivial until it alarms the TSA technology. Then more invasive procedures go into effect. There is plenty of information and signage at airports and online to assist travelers. Most frequent travelers know well the do's and don't s of getting through the checkpoint. If bad guys weren't out there doing bad things to airplanes, we wouldn't have to go through any of this.
God bless the TSA for what they do!

Submitted by J L Callison on

In tests, they miss most.

Submitted by Cate McNeary on

Sounds like an airline issue rather TSA,
Transportation SECURITY Administration. Airlines are who tag bags for transport.

Submitted by Cate McNeary on

Sounds like an airline problem rather TSA..
Transportation SECURITY Administration.
Airlines are in charge of tagging luggage for transportation.

Submitted by Unknown on

I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and Canada last week, and got the pat-down in three of seven airports. Let me tell you, the TSA got nothing on Canada - their pat-downs are like massages - vigorous, probing, almost therapeutic. I asked him for a date when he got through.

Traveler's tip: Spend $15, bypass all this "security" and buy the "TSA Pre✓".

Submitted by Cate McNeary on

Contact your local congressman to have changes made. The TSA officer is performing a screening procedure put in place by the federal government in which the president of the United States has agreed upon.

Submitted by Cate McNeary on

There are other means of transportation in which you will not be screened by the TSA. Those means are extremely vulnerable to a terrorist attack because they have little to no security screening.

Submitted by Unknown on

Oh stop. My laptop was swabbed and they found something that alarmed them and I was strip searched. Yes...took my clothes off and searched! This was over a year ago. The boy was pat down thoroughly and that's just the way things are these days.

Submitted by Iknowthis on

You have wrong information.
Pat downs are not given as a primary screening method unless the pax opts out of the body scanner. The laptop might have been inside a book which then prompted tsa to bag check it in which the laptop was then tested by the officer for explosives thus causing the machine to alarm and the patdown to be performed

Submitted by Roc Mutawassim on

I have to agree with another writer, I understand scrutiny really I do. It's for our safety but I must question the amount of time spent on anyone boy or adult who is wearing a t shirt & shorts. It just does not seem efficient at all not talking about bending he rules but common sense has to come into play and I too observed the agent go over the same areas twice. I'm not s nomb expert but it seems like time could have been better spent on the other passengers who posed a real threat. I also read where it's retaliation if so that's just wrong. I agree some folks can be just down right silly & act entitled to try to walk through with something they shouldn't but TSA want to be respected as a law- enforcement authority well if that is to be then you cannot retaliate...ever. I don't want to see the agent fired I want to see the supervisor who allowed it to occur be demoted just bad tactics from a law enforcement perspective & senseless based on the boys attire

Submitted by Suzanne Lord on

Thanks for taking the time to clarify what happened - we figured there was more to the story. In any event, the pat down did not look "very aggressive" as claimed by the mother.

Submitted by Yes4TSA on

Hi Dan,

With a quick Google search I found that the underwear bomber got on a plane in another country overseas. Germany. Tsa does not secure other countries airports, but maybe they should?

Submitted by Yes4TSA on

Yes! People do not realize how good they have it with tsa. If people flew out of the country and back they would be wishing they were waiting in a tsa line then another countries security line.

Submitted by Unknown on

Dan your post is comical.

The ATR machine that you stand in, is not an X-ray machine nor does is provide "Naked Images". The image looks like a ginger bread man weather you are a male or female with a yellow box appearing where something alarmed on the person.

Sexually violated? I don't even know how to respond to that, it's so incredible incorrect.

Why do you think pat down's of sensitive areas were started by TSA? Because of the Uni Bomber. Why do you think you are required to take your shoes off if going through the standard screening lane? Because of the shoe bomber. There are reasons why TSA does the job that they do.

Please do a little research and get your facts straight.

Submitted by TJT on

Sad as this situation is and I recognize the anguish the mother and child went through, these are the realities of our world today. We seem to loose focus as to who the real culprit is here - the terrorists who have pledge to undue our world. Perspective is often a difficult thing to achieve and at times we result to blame. TSA should go out of its way to accommodate those of us that are not able to assimilate the brave new world in which we exist. They could work on their etiquette and "bedside" manners (We are not all guilty until proven innocent) From our part, I an tell you I was uncomfortable having a stranger touch my privates and probably said something to that effect but I did not file a complaint, I endured. Empathy will eventually stop the terrorists. It should begin with us.

Submitted by Chip And Andy on

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

This is a lot of words trying to refute the story of just one mother.

Just sayin

Submitted by RB on

TSA states that all screening procedures are approved. Where does that approval come from? Are Privacy Impact Statements issued? Are procedure changes published in the Federal Record allowing for public comment? Or does just TSA just roll out whatever procedure that TSA fancies without any input from the public who will be TSA's victims.

Submitted by Joe Jackson on

job well done by TSA following rules. If you don't want pat downs, drive!

Submitted by Doober on

"Pat-down procedures are used to determine whether prohibited and dangerous items are concealed."

How many times has TSA ever found a "dangerous item" when performing one of these assaults absent an alarm by WTMD/ETD/MMW? Drugs don't count.

Why does TSA refuse to answer that question?

screen shot/DHS IG statement

Submitted by Doober on

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Submitted by Doober on

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Submitted by John G Thompson on

I was initially surprised about the laptop causing an alarm. However, the mother has clarified the situation and the laptop DID NOT cause any alarm.

This blog entry is at best, a misunderstanding, and at worst, an outright lie. The former can be corrected. The latter may require something more.

The child has a diagnosed mental issue, as the TSA was informed. Instead of using that information to help smooth the situation, it appears that the TSA agents took it as an attempt to get something through security.

As a frequent traveler myself, I do greatly appreciate the efforts of TSA agents doing a tough and unheralded job. I do my best to to avoid causing "issues".

I have no doubt the mother was trying to do the same. Informing the TSA of his condition so as to avoid the boy making a scene if he became overwhelmed with anxiety.

There are several questions I would like the TSA to answer in future blogs.
- Who said the laptop alarmed?
- Was the reason for the search that the boy forgot to take his laptop out of his bag?
- If the laptop didn't cause any alarms, what the reason for the search?
- Why wasn't the mother's information about the boy mental condition used?

I have a high respect for the TSA rank and file. But, as with every organization, mistakes are made and some people should not be in certain jobs.

This incident and this blog entry cast a very bad light on the TSA. I am angry that it has been handled badly, twice. The initial mistake in searching the boy and this blog entry which is at odds with the mother's statements.

TSA, you need to get issue cleaned up and fast. A letter of apology to the mother explaining why what happened and what has been done to prevent it happening again. Then a blog entry stating the complete facts and what actions have been taken.

Anything less will only reinforce the worst ideas about the TSA.

Submitted by Avnav on

As an Airline pilot, I have witnessed, and been subjected to numerous pat-downs because of a metal implant. I have never seen a patdown as invasive as this one. The agent cleared the same areas 4 times. I have never seen a pat-down that lasted 2 minutes, and 45 minutes to clear 3 bags? Come on.

This was clearly retribution against this family because they complained, and they used a 13 year old to get their point across. The agent appeared to be done, but was ordered back by a supervisor to continue the screening. This was an abuse of power, and these agents should be held accountable.

Submitted by Fluffy on

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Submitted by Karen Brady on

Exactly! And if people REALLY watch good ole Moms video (WHY would you put your kid out there like that?)you can SEE the TSA agent talks to the kid and the kid shakes his head "ok".. looks like they were explaining things to him the whole time.. Quit coddling your 13 year old.. Everything is a damn "disorder" these days..Apparently her kid dances..God forbid he has to touch or be touched by another dancer! Get over all this! OMG! I cant stand another second of it!

Submitted by Karen Brady on

thank you!

Submitted by Karen Brady on

hahahahaha.. I can finally smile over this ridiculousness!

Submitted by Karen Brady on


Submitted by Karen Brady on

Yep it WAS a computer and the computer belonged to the BOY... Im quite sure the computer was screened too but the computer doesnt have a touch sensory disorder or whatever BS disorder a Dr comes up with these days.. The pat down took TWO minutes..MOM made it longer arguing then asking for police officers... they dont just automatically appear out of thin air.. so if people would comprehend what they are reading they would know this too.. I read that...and a TSA agents attitude? could YOU imagine dealing with thousands of people a day? Not me!