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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 Margierat on

Actually, in Heathrow, on several occasions my son's diaper had to be looked into as they had found explosives in someones.

Submitted by ReasonableMom on

Agreed. Everybody getting their knickers in a twist over a pat down. Too much coddling and hand wringing.

Submitted by Mary Clarke on

I would doubt that would be your view if it were your child

Submitted by Michael on

There are almost as many comments that have been REMOVED by a TSA overlord than are still here. I'm sure they didn't all contain profanity.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Having come from a military police background, I can tell you whatever standard operating policy this agent was operating under likely has very little wiggle-room. The agent cannot be held responsible for this episode. However, the TSA as an overall organization does have the ability to affect change and empower its agents to use discretion in certain instances.

Submitted by Charles on

You and so many of the people submitting comments here need to spend some time on your grammar and sentence construction. Your comment is hard to read and you sound like an idiot. Learn proper syntax and grammar and maybe you'll be able to write comments that can be easily understood.

Submitted by None Of Your Bu... on

After watching that video I will be avoiding airplane trips. I do not see how groping a child makes a travel safer. Once in a while we hear news that people bring stuff through security. 9/11 - terrorists went through security; dude that wanted to blow up plane on the way to Detroit went through security. It is an abuse. Why do you spend so much money on equipment and still touch children.

Submitted by None Of Your Bu... on

We let through thousands of people unchecked through southern border, but grope a child for safety.

Submitted by Blue T Stormz on

I can only imagine, The Only thing that was found to be explosive, was the Smell!

Submitted by Stormz on

I can't figure out the thought process of The Laptop caused the explosive machine to chime, But Why Did The Child Have To Be Patted Down ?The Little Boy Had Nothing To Do With TSAs Faulty Equipment from Sounding off Some Kind Of Alarm

Submitted by Shoshanna K on

Upon watching this video, I find the pat-down procedures are incredibly intrusive at the level of being pornographic. NOT EVEN MY DOCTORS touch me with that much pressure!!! As a physically larger individual with knee replacements that would alarm during a tech scan, I would be absolutely incensed to be "patted down" in the manner shown in the video. It is invasive, and very abusive. This kind of touch by a non-TSA agent is called criminal sexual misconduct and needs to be abandoned. It is not conducive to safety -- only to abuse and intimidation of passengers.

Submitted by Obie Dorfman on

I have an artificial knee & am ALWAYS
Tpatted down. Last time the officer pulled my underwear out,looked down it, & touched my skin. Disgusting. In public. And searched my groin area twice. There’s probably nothing I can do about it. Next time I will attempt to have my husband either watch or video especially if is the same officer. This happened in Fort Myers. I have recently lost weight & I feel as if loose skin is what is setting off the scanner. We can go to the moon. Why can’t we invent a scanner that can tell the difference between skin & contraband?

Submitted by Obie Dunkel on

But you are NOT efficient. By targeting older women with artificial joints and looking down their underwear, you are wasting time. What if someone carrying non-metal contraband goes through the metal detector? Would you catch that?