In the past, TSA employees had some leeway in what type of physical search they used on a passenger. The new policy eliminates that leeway and instructs agents to do a thorough, full-body pat-down on every passenger they pull aside, which may involve agents making through-the-clothes contact with passengers’ private areas.
“I would say people who in the past would have gotten a pat-down that wasn’t involved will notice that the [new] pat-down is more involved,” TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson told Bloomberg News on Friday. Even airline employees, who normally breeze through security as “known crewmembers,” will face more random checks, according to the new directive.
The change is the result of the fact that TSA agents found a record number of firearms during routine screenings during the week of Feb. 20: 79, more than four times the previous one-week record of 18. Anderson said the new searches will not slow down security lines overall, although they will definitely slow down passengers who are pulled aside.
The TSA screens roughly 2 million passengers a day in U.S. airports. There are no figures on how many are pulled aside for closer scrutiny.
The traveling public greeted news of the policy with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, judging from the posts trending Monday morning on Twitter.
Travel writer and frequent flier Joel Stratte-McClure, who called the new policy “groin scrutiny,” posted an account of his own experience at the airport in Redding, Calif., when he left for Egypt late last week. Stratte-McClure said TSA agents told the waiting passengers: “You’re not going to like the new pat-down regulations. We don’t like it either.”