TSA: Enhanced pat-downs coming nationwide Oct. 31?

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By Christopher Elliott

When it comes to the Transportation Security Administration’s new security measures, it’s hard to know who to believe anymore.

Take enhanced pat-downs. A few months ago, I asked the TSA if it was was giving people who refused the full-body scans a more thorough once-over. It denied it.

Then it un-denied it, admitting that it had been testing a more aggressive pat-down technique.

So when I asked TSA about what reader Andrew Burmeister heard when he was flying last week, I had to read between the lines. Here’s what he told me:

In Charlotte, I was selected for a body scan screening. I just went through the process flying out of Chicago last week and did not care for it. I think it is a bit invasive, a bit creepy and very, very ‘big brother,’ so I elected to ‘opt out’ as the signs told me I was permitted to do.

Immediately, the screeners we very rude to me and ordered me to sit down, which I did. I waited with no communication and no acknowledgement that my wallet and carry-ons had long since come through their screening, and were waiting on the other side for anyone to pick up.

Finally a team came over, had me go through the metal detector, collect my things and go to a separate area. These screeners were very pleasant, if also thorough–they took every single item in every pocket of every bag and swabbed each separately, and scanned for explosives. They patted me down and asked a lot of questions.

The screeners were chatting with me as they swabbed and mentioned that I was ‘lucky.’ Apparently, as of October 31, the ‘opt out’ screening will be a lot more ‘intimate’ (the screener’s word). I am just wondering if you have heard anything about what’s in store.

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OK, so the screeners told him he would have gotten the full search after Oct. 31. Interesting.

I put that question to my TSA contact.

Here’s our conversation:

Me: This comes to me by way of a passenger, who was speaking with an officer in the field. Can you verify that your “opt-out” requirements will change on Oct. 31, and can you tell me how they will change? Thank you.

TSA: TSA constantly evaluates and updates screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats. TSA is in the process of implementing an enhanced pat-down at security checkpoints as one of our many layers of security. While we cannot share specific details of our procedures for security reasons, pat-downs are designed to address potentially dangerous items, like improvised explosive devices and their components, concealed on the body. TSA takes passenger privacy very seriously and builds privacy protections into its security procedures. Pat-down procedures are developed in conjunction with other screening techniques such as advanced imaging technology and the expanded use of explosives trace detection technology to improve our ability to detect explosives hidden on a person and keep the traveling public safe.

Me: Got it. So Oct. 31 — if I printed that, I would not get a call from you.

TSA: (off the record)

Me: OK, let me make sure I get this right. Boston and Vegas were testing enhanced pat-downs. But they’ll be rolled out nationwide, starting Oct. 31, but can you tell me how long the rollout is expected to take? I’m just trying to give air travelers a sense of what to expect.

TSA: No, a phased-in roll-out nationwide. Already in some airports and will continue to be rolled out nationwide.

Me: Do you know how long it will take to phase it in?

TSA: For security reasons we are not providing more specific information than TSA is in the process of implementing an enhanced pat-down at security checkpoints as one of our many layers of security.

Who should I believe?

I have absolutely no idea who to believe. Neither do you, apparently.

This was a quicke poll of more than 300 readers …

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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